To win the right to host the quadrennial Fifa World Cup, an economy must be strong enough to meet the highest demands possible for the biggest event in world sport.
But until Qatar competed and won the bid to host the 2022 Fifa World Cup 12 years ago, not many people could have predicted that the tiny Middle East nation was an emerging power in global dynamics, writes MARK NAMANYA.
First, Qatar were underdogs during the bidding process for the on-going World Cup. The USA were viewed as favourites with Australia, Japan and South Korea also expressing interest. That Qatar floored all of them was testament to their resolve and how they had invested time and money in understanding the Fifa machinations in the convoluted exercise of World Cup bids.
Today the world is in Qatar to partake in the Fifa World Cup and the host nation has predictably used this grand opportunity to prove to visitors and the world media what a mighty nation they are. We already knew that Qatar had the fourth highest Gross Domestic Product at Purchasing Power Parity per capita.
It also has the eleventh highest Gross National Income per capita. Qatar is also a high-income economy backed by the world’s third-largest natural gas and oil reserves. The country of just under three million people is one of the world’s largest exporters of liquefied natural gas, and is the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide per capita.
Thanks to the power of football, Qatar is no longer living under the shadow of what it was prior to winning the 2022 World Cup bid. The country’s rise is now a global story of transformation and meteoric change.
An insight into Qatar’s vision should have been sniffed when Qatar Sports Investments, led by businessman Nasser bin Ghanim Al-Khelaifi who also doubles as chairman of beIN Media Group, purchased French champions PSG in 2011.
Qatar Sports Investments is a subsidiary of Qatar Investment Authority, the state-run sovereign-wealth fund in the country. Few sectors wash a country’s image better than sports. Golf enthusiasts will have followed keenly how the controversial Greg Norman-steered LIV Golf Tour, fully funded and championed by the Saudi Arabia government, has turned the game on its head.
In threatening the very existence of the PGA Tour, the Saudis have created a sports phenomenon that continues to attract some of the best golfers in the world including major champions like Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Cameron Smith.
Like their neighbours Saudi Arabia, Qatar’s human rights record has been a sticking point particularly in the western press where the country’s hosting remains an issue of contention. Qatar’s ban on alcohol inside and around World Cup stadia has rubbed many visitors the wrong way the same way the country’s unyielding position on LGBTs has angered the English, Germans and Americans.
But sports rises above emotions. Sports opens boundaries. And for Qatar, there couldn’t have been a better event to open the country to the world than the Fifa World Cup. But before the World Cup, Doha, which holds 80 per cent of the country’s population, was selected as a host city for the 2006 Asian Games, the 2011 Pan Arab Games, the 2019 World Beach Games, the FINA World Aquatics Championships and the WTA finals.
The eight World Cup stadia that Qatar built have been designed with the newest technology of sports infrastructure. The 80,000-seater Lusail stadium where the World Cup final will be staged has a look that was inspired by Arabic lanterns and bowls while Al Bayt, which hosted the tournament opener between Qatar and Ecuador, is in the shape of a traditional nomadic tent.
All eight stadia have a fully functional air conditioning system to provide a conducive atmosphere for fans during both day and night games. The other stadia, Ahmad Bin Ali, Al Janoub, Al Thumama, Education City Stadium, Khalifa International and Stadium 974, all conform to the either the country’s history, traditions and culture and sit on vast acreage which allows organisers to form a stadium ring for only ticket-holding fans from at least half a kilometre away.
Basically, the stadiums Qatar built for the 2022 Fifa World Cup conform to the latest Fifa Safety and Security standards. As with every World Cup, there is always free transport to and fro matches for HAYYA card and ticket-holding fans or Fifa accredited journalists like myself.
But for Qatar, that free transport has been extended to any destination in and around Doha regardless of whether one’s journey is to a stadium, FIFA Fan Fest or not. The buses are brand new while the Doha Metro, which can do 100km/hr is one of the fastest driverless train systems in the world.
Seventy-five trains – consisting of three cars, one of which is for Gold and Family Class and two for Standard Class – are with the Doha Metro. Gold has 16 seats, family 26 and standard 88. The freshness and inventiveness make the Doha Metro system better than what Paris, New York and London have today.
Lusail, the second largest city in Qatar located 23 kilometres north of the city centre of Doha, is a thing of aesthetic beauty. Here, there is the Formula One race track where the first Grand Prix was held last year. Lusail City’s imaginative attractiveness is exemplified by the office buildings on Alad Al Sharqi street and the high rises on Al Seenar street.
The skyline with the Lusail Marina Iconic Development and the Interchange Arch are just a glimpse into how transformative Qatar has been in the race to become a tourist destination in the world.
Admittedly, they still comfortably lag behind the United Arab Emirates for whom Dubai and Abu Dhabi attract millions of tourists annually but the impact of the 2022 Fifa World Cup could go some way in swaying numbers in Doha’s favour.
Lusail is rich with island resorts, luxury shopping and leisure facilities, various entertainment districts, commercial districts and marinas that would compete with the best the world has to offer.
Qatar has harnessed adventure to their list of enjoyments for tourists with the Quest theme park becoming a major favourite for locals and international visitors. Sitting on 32000 square metres, it is an indoor experiential theme park located in Msheireb with more than 30 thrilling rides and attractions.
Aware that none of their guests would want to miss out on the World Cup, all 64 matches are being displayed on screens at both Quest and Planet Hollywood.
Rivalling the Quest theme park is the Desert falls water and adventure park that features 18 attractions and 56 rides and slides. While there you will be guaranteed access to the Coca Cola Kids Fan Zone with multiple games and attractions and an unrestricted path way at the Hilton Resort & Spa.
The Souq Waqif, another iconic part of the country’s heritage, is the oldest market in the country. It possesses the best of middle east spices, crafts and artifacts from this part of the world. There are exotic Arabic aromatics like saffron, sumac, zater, dried flowers and endless varieties of dates, honey, tea leaves and coffee beans.
There are quite a number of Ugandans who are earning in and around Qatar, many of them doing jobs for the Fifa 2022 World Cup. I have encountered bus drivers, guards, cleaners, security stewards and stadium marshals. I have also encountered Ugandans managing the accommodation process at the cluster residentials where most World Cup tourists are booked.
The country’s labour force is, like in the UAE, full of immigrants. The Uber cars I have taken are driven by people from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Occasionally you will be driven by a Kenyan or Tanzanian. It is very clear that this is a growing economy that is still on the up.
There is no country which has an influx of immigrants without a sprouting economy. Even the persistent negativity from pro-LGBT countries will have a minimal impact in stuttering the emergence of Doha and Qatar as a major global destination. That is the power of sport.
Source: The Observer