After upsetting the football establishment by winning the right to host the World Cup, Qatar’s preparations are ramping up with a year to go as they rush to welcome over a million fans and prove their critics wrong.
The tiny Gulf state has a reputation for punching above its weight, but there are few bigger challenges than hosting football’s pinnacle event in a desert peninsula of 2.7 million people with no strong sporting tradition.
Doha, Qatar’s capital, is dotted with roadworks and construction sites that are causing chaos for its residents 12 months before the tournament’s November 21, 2022 kickoff.
With some Qatari infrastructure projects delayed due to the pandemic, the clock is ticking faster than organizers would have liked, just as scrutiny of the preparations begins to mount. However, the majority of the foundations are in place, with six of the eight World Cup stadiums set to host the 16-team Arab Cup beginning November 30.
“I’ve never seen a country in the world that was so prepared so far in advance… When the fans arrive, it will be like a toy store,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said this week in Qatar.
Qatar stunned football in 2010 when they defeated favorites the United States in the World Cup bid process, sparking accusations of vote-buying.
— which were categorically denied — as well as concerns about the country’s suitability.
Since then, FIFA’s old guard has been deposed in a slew of corruption scandals, and Qatar has emerged as a major player in the sport, acquiring French powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain and becoming Barcelona’s first shirt sponsor.
‘A lot of criticism’
Meanwhile, Qatar has been repeatedly chastised for the working conditions of its hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, including those who built the World Cup stadiums.
It has responded with labor reforms, though officials acknowledge that the situation is still a “work in progress.”
“Since we won the World Cup (rights), we’ve gotten a lot of flak.” “We tried to take constructive criticism on board,” Fatma al-Nuaimi, head of communications for the Qatar organizing committee, said last month.
“We also try not to be discouraged by the criticism.”
Qatar has also been chastised for
Resource-rich Apart from football, Qatar has been active in other sports, hosting the World Athletics Championships in 2019 and hosting the inaugural Formula One Grand Prix on Sunday, exactly a year before the World Cup begins.
The World Cup, on the other hand, with 1.2 million visitors — nearly half the country’s population — is an undertaking on a completely different scale.
There are serious concerns about where the fans will stay, with reservations at Doha’s limited collection of hotels already closed.
Officials have discussed providing floating hotels and promoting homestays, while many fans will end up in newly constructed apartments and even air-conditioned tents. Even so, accommodating such crowds — about 300,000 people per day, plus 150,000 World Cup workers, according to one source familiar with the situation — appears difficult.
“This World Cup is being implemented in uncharted territory: there has never been a mega-sporting event with so many visitors and working staff in addition to the regular population on such a small territory who will stay put for the duration,” according to the source.
“There is simply no historical precedent from which to draw.”
The majority of World Cup stadiums will be tested, albeit with small crowds, at the upcoming Arab Cup, which concludes on December 18, a year to the day before the World Cup final.
The Arab Cup will not be held at the Lusail Stadium, which will host 2022 final because it is undergoing “testing and commissioning of… multiple systems,” according to its project manager, who told AFP last month.
Meanwhile, Qatar has promised to vaccinate fans who have not been immunised against Covid-19, and FIFA has moved to assuage concerns about the availability of alcohol in the Muslim country, where it is largely prohibited.
“During the upcoming FIFA World Cup, (alcohol) will be available in designated areas,” a FIFA spokesperson told AFP.
On the field, holders France are heavily favoured, with England also expected to compete, but European champions Italy will have to compete in a playoff next year just to qualify.
Despite their impressive Asian Cup victory in 2019, expectations are low for Qatar, who will make their World Cup debut after qualifying as hosts.