Qatar will start building for 2022 from blank desert
Amid the wreckage and fallout in Zurich yesterday of another failed England World Cup bid, the most remarkable global story of the day was surely Fifa's decision for the 2022 tournament.
It prompted president Sepp Blatter to enthusiastically declare that the World Cup would be going "to new lands," but in selecting Qatar, Fifa has made arguably the most controversial decision in its history.
Some facts. At 1.6 million, the entire population of Qatar is around one fifth the size of London. During June and July, when the tournament will be held, the average daytime temperature is a sweltering 40C. None of the stadiums is yet ready, while the city that is intended to host the World Cup final, Lusail, is still being built.
Qatar is not so much starting from a blank canvas as a blank desert. This uncertainty was enough for Fifa's technical bid inspectors to grade Qatar "high" in overall operational risk. Yet there was also a simple answer to most of these issues. Money. With its vast gas and oil reserves, Qatar will surely be the wealthiest nation to have ever hosted a World Cup.
Projected by the International Monetary Fund to have the world's fastest-growing economy this year and next, Qatar plans to spend €75.7bn on infrastructure projects by 2015. The country will construct a €19bn rail network, an €8.3bn airport, a €4.16bn deep water seaport and a €757m crossing to link the new airport with projects in the northern part of Doha, the capital city. An additional €15.1bn will also be spent on building roads.
One enormous difference for players and fans compared to any previous World Cup will be travel. Qatar is the smallest nation to stage the World Cup since Uruguay in 1930, with 10 of its 12 stadiums located within a 30km radius. Indeed, once a new metro system is operational, venues will be no more than an hour apart, giving fans the chance to watch more than one match in a day.
The question of legacy will also be handled in a unique way. Qatar have unveiled plans for modular stadiums that would be dismantled and taken to countries with poor football infrastructure. And the centrepiece of the World Cup will be the Lusail Stadium, which will have a capacity of 86,000 and be surrounded by water. It will take four years to build.
All this and the vast spending on other futuristic projects may sound alluring, but serious questions remain. The question of the climate in the Middle East has been the dominant issue in the debates surrounding the 2022 process, with Qatar adamant that they have the technology to counteract the problem.
Each stadium will be designed with a solar-powered air-conditioning system that will apparently reduce the temperature to a still balmy 27C.
Yet the problem of the heat must also be tackled in respect of the training conditions for the players and the experience for supporters. The prospect of having to spend much of the tournament in air-conditioned structures will be unappealing to many.
Doubts also linger over whether a country the size of Qatar will be able to handle an influx of around 400,000 fans. Qatar has around 50,000 hotel rooms but is aiming to increase that to 95,000 to surpass Fifa's requirements.
Qatar will be the first Arab nation to host the World Cup and, although it has become increasingly Westernised, the sale of alcohol and the certainty of rowdy behaviour from World Cup fans will provide an immediate clash of cultures.
As an Islamic country where public drunkenness is prohibited, Qatar bid representatives have said alcohol will be allowed in designated areas throughout the tournament. For all the potential problems, yesterday's decision also reflects the vast growth in football's popularity in the Middle East, something the Premier League has done so much to fuel.
Thousands converged on public places in Doha in a spontaneous outburst of joy following Blatter's declaration that Qatar would host the World Cup in 2022. And there was a simple message from Qatar's Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani. "Thank you for believing in change," he said. (©Daily Telegraph, London)