Nearly one month has passed since the FIFA 2022 World Cup ended on December 18 in Qatar. The thriller between Argentina and France will be remembered for a very long time. What will also be hard to forget, but easy to admire, is how the smallest country by population, without any footballing pedigree, for over a decade endured constant scrutiny, criticism and racism mostly from western media and a large number of human rights activists.
For 10 years, they collectively protested against Qatar’s human rights record, producing daily news reports on migrant labourers’ deaths resulting from harsh working and living conditions in a country where temperatures easily soar past 50 degree Celsius. Parallely, they claimed Qatar bought the World Cup hosting rights and is known to fund terrorist activities. To them, Qatar did not only not deserve to host the event, they demanded the country be banned and barred from all international engagements.
The sustained campaign against the country from 2010, when it won the bid, right till the kick-off in November, 2022, was designed to ensure Qatar is stripped of hosting rights.
That didn’t happen. What is happening is that those who produced anti-Qatar stories on a daily basis for years have suddenly decided to move on to other issues. The desire to bring Qatar to justice has faded. Different other theatres of interest are gradually drawing them away. What was once the most pressing issue has lost urgency and they are all dispersing.
But that is all in the past.
Qatar disbursed some $220 billion over 12 years getting ready and equipped to host the championships. It shelled out $6.5 billion to construct seven of the most technologically- advanced stadiums in the world. The athletes are back home and the last of the fans, who extended their stay for leisure, have left the tiny nation.
With the country returning back to normal, there are issues literally staring at them. How will Qatar get the return on the billions it spent on building tailor-made infrastructures and stadiums with a specific event in mind?
The white elephants
Big sporting events are often remembered for the white elephants they leave behind – huge stadiums that cost hundreds of millions in construction that require millions more in annual maintenance. They will never be used again to their full capacity, not even half. Cape Town’s 2010 World Cup stadium has become a cherished local landmark, but the occasional concert and $4-a-person tours are not enough to fund its constant repairs. Eight of the 12 stadiums built for Russia’s 2018 World Cup, spread across a country with a population of 143 million spanning 11 time zones, are faring a bit better by hosting local soccer teams and sporting events, but none of them are likely to recoup the cost of investment.
Ras Abu Aboud’s Stadium 974, constructed using 974 recycled shipping containers (974 isn’t random, its Qatar’s international dialling code), will be taken to pieces and transported to a country needing second-hand sports stadium. This novel demountable stadium could be used as a model for low-impact sports grounds. The adjoining expanse will be transformed into a waterfront business district.
The seating capacity of the remaining stadiums will be halved and the spare seats, numbering around 170,000, will be provided to underprivileged nations seeking to add value to their substandard sporting infrastructure.
The top tier of the tent-like Al Bayat stadium will be detached and transformed into a five-star hotel and shopping center. A sports medicine hospital is planned for the pitch-side lower levels as well. Al Thumama stadium will be renovated similarly.
Khalifa International stadium, built by Qatar’s former Emir, Sheikh Khalifa ibn Hamad Al Thani in 1976, is the only stadium that will remain as it stands now. Considering Qatar’s sporting footprint is beginning to make a mark after the successful completion of FIFA 2022, it will serve as the host to global sporting events. But Qatar will wait before it begins the transformation.
The country will likely host the 2024 Asian Football Cup, of which China was the original host. It surrendered the rights because of its zero-covid policy. Qatar is ambitiously bidding for the 2036 Olympic Games that will be awarded in 2025.