Qatar 2022: Ready Already?

The Russian World Cup 2018 is now over: for us here at EuroSavant, roughly four weeks of studious effort to ignore what was going on there, with periodic postings of tweets seeking to remind people what a propaganda victory this represented for Putin. Next up, in World Cup terms, is Qatar in 2022. According to the site, le Qatar est déjà prêt: “Qatar is ready already” (much more gracefully expressed in French, of course):

I guess almost limitless funds, together with a largely formless homeland with few distinctive terrain features, can be useful for efficiently driving such a massive construction project to completion (not to mention the, er, “forced labor” as Amnesty International puts it). Still, that headline is misleading: from the article itself it becomes clear that Qatar is not yet ready to run a World Cup-size football tournament, although its progress is likely more advanced at this stage than any other host has achieved.

The biggest stadium, Khalifa International Stadium, situated in the capital Doha, is now ready to host opening and closing ceremonies together with key games such as the Final. Indeed, in October of 2019 it is scheduled to host the world track & field championships. But that’s about it: Work remains ongoing on the remaining seven, as well as on the subway/metro system which is the country’s first such installation, being purpose-built for the occasion.

(Indeed, in Qatar you get where you need to go by car: highways are plentiful, gas is cheap, and the inside is air-conditioned. If you don’t have the means to do that, then you don’t count. Obviously, that attitude cannot apply to the thousands, even millions, of football fans that mini-state hopes to attract in late 2022 – but who will take the metro afterwards, when they are not used to doing so now?)

How Much Is That in Real Money?

In money terms, writer Emmanuel Cugny calculates that Qatar will ultimately spend the equivalent of around €100 billion on World Cup 2020. That aforementioned subway system alone will cost around €31 billion. Plus, it says here that the authorities promise to have available 1.5 million hotel rooms (versus the normal FIFA requirement of 60,000); this presumably means some level of private infrastructural spending as well. And as Cugny takes care to note, this massive effort is all the more impressive considering it is taking place against what is supposed to be an economic embargo, now nearly 14 months old, against Qatar by its fellow Gulf Cooperation Council states.

That €100 billion is a breath-taking figure: compare it to the $14.2 billion said to have been spent by Russia on the 2018 World Cup – and that’s not even counting the secret-but-massive sums delivered surreptitiously to FIFA officials in in-kind and cash bribes. (In case you’re wondering here whether I’m referring to Qatari or Russian World Cup expenses of this shady type: I refer to both, so perhaps this is a bit of a wash for comparison purposes.)

Naturally, Qatari officials have not yet spent all of that, but Cugny reports that they go through it at a rate of around €425 million per week, building those huge stadiums which obviously will become little-used “white elephants” after the World Cup is over (we can all see examples of this in South Africa and in Brazil), a metro system which to some degree will have overcapacity, tourism infrastructure with the same problem, etc. But all that is going to be built, that money is going to be spent, and one has to think one key reason for that, for why construction is so ahead of schedule, is precisely to nail down the tournament, i.e. to prevent it from being canceled or otherwise taken away: with so much money having been spent, denying its ultimate purpose will seem all the more outrageous should FIFA try to move it and the lawsuits start to fly.

Perhaps you’re now wondering, “What, take World Cup 2022 away from Qatar?” Oh yes, there’s a case for that almost as solid as the one for denying Russia World Cup 2018. Here’s the basic reason: It’s quite clear that Qatar was awarded the tournament in the first place, back in December of 2010, as the result of extensive bribery of FIFA officials. (Note that that infamous meeting determined the host-lands for both the 2018 and 2022 tournament, whereas FIFA had previously only decided one at a time; clearly the FIFA functionaries wanted to double their bribe-money pleasure while they still could.) You might recall that, soon afterwards, the American FBI took on FIFA corruption and produced a series of arrests and indictments that wiped out much of then-FIFA officialdom.

Unfortunately, little was done to revisit the last monumental set of decisions undertaken by that officialdom, namely the World Cup bestowals to Russia and Qatar. True, at least as late as 2015 the head of FIFA’s “audit and compliance” committee was warning that Qatar could lose the right to host World Cup 2022 “if evidence should emerge that the award … only came about thanks to bought votes.” Of course, at the time he was warning both Russia and Qatar about that possibility, and we know what happened with Russia. So yes, it’s highly unlikely that Qatar will lose its World Cup when Russia did not, but at least the theoretical threat is there.

There is also the consideration that Qatar truly does not have any sort of legitimate football culture – it is not known for its football, and while there is apparently some sort of league active there, hardly anyone outside the country has heard of it or bothers to follow it. Egypt, in contrast, scores much higher on both those counts – but, obviously, Egypt is still much too poor to afford the combination of bribes + infrastructure construction that FIFA insists upon.

Arrogant Pre-Christmas Seizure

But OK, you could also argue that a willingness to spend €100 billion on the tournament should more than adequately express either a true football culture or at least a sincere willingness to simulate one for the required period of time. And perhaps it’s important to spread World Cup hosting largesse to a part of the world – and to a culture – that has never experienced it before (although see the above re: Egypt). But there’s an important reason for Qatar’s peculiar brand of footballing culture: the heat. Qatari planners have had to take that into account by manipulating things so that the tournament will not take place during the Northern Hemisphere summer, as is customary, but rather from 21 November to 18 December in 2022 – so it ends right before Christmas.

Naturally, during this time of year it is the club competitions in the various Northern Hemisphere national football leagues that are in full swing; for example, this period marks the end of the European Champions League group stage competition which determines which teams are to proceed onward to the knock-out part of the competition that begins in February. Qatari authorities, abetted by FIFA, basically have taken it upon themselves to seize this period from the national football leagues; yes, many of the club competition games might still be able to go on, but action in the most-followed leagues (the English Premier League, Italy’s Serie A, etc.) will be considerably hampered by the absence of star players away playing for their national teams.

Besides, this is not a time of year when people are used to taking the sort of extended vacation required to go be a spectator at a World Cup tournament. Qatari officials may find their determination to over-fulfill FIFA’s hotel-room demands to be particularly embarrassing in retrospect (then again, it’s not like there is any popular democratic check in place to monitor the spending of national money).

Qatar ’22 < Russia '18

To be honest, while I find the case for denying Qatar World Cup 2022 to be strong, the argument for doing similarly to Russia was even stronger. Yes, on the one hand you have the arrogant appropriation of star football players from their club teams during a key time of year – but on the other you have football tournament as whitewash for the dangerous antics of an out-of-control Russian dictator: invasion of Crimea and East Ukraine; chemical-agent poisoning in foreign lands; election-“meddling”; etc.

We saw what happened for 2018: nothing. Truly, the tribal hold upon the world masses of footballing competition between their national teams remains ironclad (to the upcoming tune of ~€100 billion), as is the cynical determination of those still in charge of world football to exploit that for all it’s worth. Qatar is no Russia; it’s just a petro-dollar kingdom with way too much money on its hands under way too little supervision. But that fact – and its disbursement of such breathtaking amounts of cash already – hardly means that its hosting of World Cup 2022 should not be withdrawn.

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