On December 2nd, 2010, Qatar was announced as the host of the 2014 Soccer World Cup. With a population of just over 2 million, Qatar will be the smallest nation and the first Arab state to host the World Cup.
There was considerable support for a Middle Eastern nation to host a World Cup, and as the richest (in terms of income per person), Qatar was in a good position to be able to afford the immense expenditure required for the event. Many members of the Arab League threw their support behind Qatar’s hosting bid, and it came to be seen as an opportunity to reconcile differences between Arab peoples and the West.
Qatar hosted the 2011 Asian Cup in a semi-rehearsal for the World Cup. Unfortunately, the tournament had the lowest attendance since Lebanon hosted it in 2000. Qatar also hosted the Asian Games in 2006, providing further experience and existing infrastructure for a large international event. All reports to date indicate that Qatar is well on track to readiness for the 2022 World Cup. Qatar’s growth in recent years has been incredible, with a large number of the capital Doha’s modern infrastructure rising out of the desert over the past few decades. Built on the back of resource wealth (gas in particular), Qatar has a wealth of experience when it comes to carrying out immense construction projects. As such, constructing the multiple stadiums required will not present too great a challenge.
Grave concerns have arisen in regards to the treatment of migrant construction workers in Doha. Following the trend established by early statistics, 4000 construction workers are expected to die by the time World Cup construction is complete. These deaths are across the board, including roadworks, new buildings and new stadiums. Not all of the reported 900 deaths to have occurred between confirmation of Qatar’s successful bid and early 2014 were related to World Cup construction. However, it raises the issue of health and safety in the Qatari construction industry.
Also of concern is the migrant worker policy. There are reports that migrant workers (of which there are reputedly 1.2 million in the small nation) have their passports removed from them when they arrive in the country. They are then required in many cases to pay off debts, a form of indentured servitude. While this may seem extreme, Qatar claims its conditions for migrant workers are among the best in the Arab world. Nepalese workers, who are the largest group of imported workers, are dying at a rate of one per day.
The Western world has expressed considerable concern at the high number of worker deaths. In response to that and criticism from the global football community, Qatar has promised to enforce new regulations for worker safety, including improved accommodation and sanitation as well as a maximum temperature for working.
One of the greatest concerns surrounding the 2022 World Cup is that of heat. During the summer, when the World Cup is scheduled to be held, average high temperatures exceed 38 °C and can approach or even exceed 47 °C. Rainfall during the summer months is almost unheard of.
The extreme temperatures create a number of issues. Player health receives the majority of media attention. There are concerns that some teams simply won’t be able to play well in the heat, and players are likely to run a high risk of dehydration and heat stroke.
There have been suggestions that the World Cup should be moved to a different period on the calendar. However, it is currently scheduled for the northern hemisphere summer because June/July is the off-season for European teams. There is not a lot of room to manoeuvre around that period. One of the solutions to the issue that has been proposed by Qatari authorities is air-conditioned stadiums. While an absolutely immense technological prospect, it is believed that the temperature inside the stadiums can be controlled to some degree. Considering Qatar has the world’s third largest supply of gas, they are in a good position to cope with the immense energy requirements of cooling a stadium.
Qatar’s successful bid has been followed by numerous reports of bribery and corruption. There have been multiple intimations made by journalists and leading football figures that Qatar used their considerable resource wealth to “buy” the World Cup, either overtly or through subtle economic pressures.
Two FIFA Executive Committee members, including the Vice President of FIFA, were suspended and have both since resigned amid allegations that they received bribes from Qatari officials. A number of other FIFA officials have been accused of taking bribes. The FIFA Executive Committee contains only 24 members and decides the World Cup host nation, so members accepting bribes raises major concerns.
There are also claims that Qatar has brought their influence on world energy resources to bear against powerhouses such as France and Germany, prompting representatives from those nations to align themselves with the Qatari bid or face potential consequences.
The qualification process for the 2022 World Cup has not yet been announced. Depending on the number of nations who will compete at the World Cup Finals (it may increase from 32 to 40), the qualification rounds could differ. There may also be extra concessions granted to the AFC in order to allow more Middle Eastern nations to compete. Sepp Blatter, FIFA president, has indicated his desire to strengthen the game in the Middle East, a region which has not before hosted a World Cup.