Qa­tar on course for its im­pro­bable World Cup

Les pré­pa­ra­tifs du Qa­tar pour la Coupe du monde de foot­ball de 2022.

Vocable (Anglais) - - Édito Sommaire -

En 2010, à la sur­prise gé­né­rale, la Fifa dé­si­gnait le Qa­tar pour ac­cueillir la Coupe du monde de foot­ball de 2022. Le pe­tit état du Moyen-Orient, connu pour son cli­mat ca­ni­cu­laire, a par la suite été épin­glé pour les condi­tions de tra­vail des ou­vriers étran­gers par­ti­ci­pant à la construc­tion des stades. Mais, fai­sant fi des po­lé­miques, le Qa­tar met les bou­chées doubles pour pré­pa­rer ce ren­dez-vous qu’il pro­met ex­cep­tion­nel...

It be­gan al­most a de­cade ago as the most un­fea­sible bid ever to host a World Cup: an out­lan­dish pro­po­sal for “air-co­oled” sta­diums in the de­sert sum­mer heat of a ti­ny, obs­cu­re­see­ming Arab emi­rate with one ci­ty, Do­ha, po­pu­la­ted by just 300,000 ci­ti­zens. Qa­tar is though, the ri­chest per ca­pi­ta state on earth, and on that cold Zu­rich night in De­cem­ber 2010 its bid suc­cee­ded in gar­ne­ring a ma­jo­ri­ty of Fifa exe­cu­tive com­mit­tee votes, and clai­med the right to host the 2022 World Cup.

2. Since then Qa­tar’s plan­ned hos­ting of the tour­na­ment – its ubi­qui­tous slo­gan in Do­ha is “De­li­ver Ama­zing” with its sta­ted mis­sion to uni­fy people in the Middle East and pro­ject a po­si­tive Arab ex­pe­rience – has sur­vi­ved a hur­ri­cane of chal­lenges. There have been waves of cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions, which the se­cre­ta­ry ge­ne­ral of the “su­preme com­mit­tee” or­ga­ni­sing the World Cup, Has­san al-Tha­wa­di, re­pea­ted­ly de­nied.

3. In­ten­sive Fifa in­qui­ries in­to the vote did not find Qa­tar’s bid more ir­re­gu­lar than Aus­tra­lia’s – or En­gland’s for 2018 and the FBI’s cri­mi­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to Ame­ri­can Fifa foot­ball ba­rons has pro­du­ced no­thing so­lid against Qa­tar. There has been in­ter­na­tio­nal condem­na­tion of Qa­tar’s re­gime for mi­grant wor­kers, now part of a re­form pro­cess the go­vern­ment is conduc­ting in part­ner­ship with the In­ter­na­tio­nal La­bour Or­ga­ni­sa­tion. In June last year, po­li­ti­cal hos­ti­li­ties erup­ted in the im­me­diate re­gion and Qa­tar re­mains sub­ject to an ac­tual blo­ckade led by its much big­ger, loo­ming neigh­bour, Sau­di Ara­bia, the Uni­ted Arab Emi­rates, Bah­rain and Egypt.

UNTROUBLED PREPARATIONS

4. Yet preparations in­side the coun­try are conti­nuing al­most untroubled, and now Qa­tar looks most li­ke­ly to al­so ride a late ef­fort by the Fifa pre­sident, Gian­ni In­fan­ti­no, to ex­pand the tour­na­ment from 32 to 48 teams and have the coun­try share some matches with other coun­tries in the re­gion. The foot­bal­ling ca­len­dar has al­rea­dy been reor­de­red – mo­ving the World Cup from

sum­mer to win­ter for the first time, to es­cape the de­sert heat.

5. So, still so­me­how un­be­lie­va­bly, in four years’ time, the World Cup real­ly will kick off in Qa­tar, in one of the se­ven en­ti­re­ly new, all air-co­oled sta­diums, with the 80,000-sea­ter in the new­ly built Do­ha dis­trict of Lu­sail the ve­nue for the fi­nal on 18 De­cem­ber. And, as al­ways in­ten­ded when the su­pre­me­ly am­bi­tious Sheikh Ha­mad bin Kha­li­fa al-Tha­ni, then the coun­try’s ru­ler, pu­shed Qa­tar to bid, it will play host to the most wat­ched spor­ting tour­na­ment on earth. Ama­zing, pur­pose-built stages will have been built for the likes of Ky­lian Mbap­pé, 23 by then, Ney­mar, per­haps a ve­te­ran Lio­nel Mes­si and foot­ball’s other stars to cap­ti­vate a glo­bal au­dience. And Qa­tar will broad­cast its cho­sen image to the world.

COLOSSAL BUD­GET

6. In a coun­try grown ra­pid­ly rich beyond ima­gi­ning be­cause of its pio­nee­ring ex­ploi­ta­tion of li­quid na­tu­ral gas, the bo­nan­za has crea­ted a Gulf ci­ty of skys­cra­pers and malls, which can put on a World Cup from scratch. The of­fi­cial bud­get for World Cup-spe­ci­fic construc­tion is put by Thas­mo­the­red wa­di at bet­ween $8bn and $10bn, al­though that is but­tres­sed by the $200bn being spent more ge­ne­ral­ly to have a new me­tro sys­tem and huge in­fra­struc­ture rea­dy for 2022.

7. In Qa­tar it is im­me­dia­te­ly stri­king how ad­van­ced the plans are, the im­pro­bable bid now so­lid­ly ce­men­ted with facts on the ground. The one World Cup sta­dium not being built from scratch, the Kha­li­fa In­ter­na­tio­nal sta­dium – na­med af­ter the fa­ther Sheikh Ha­mad de­po­sed in a bloo­dless pa­lace coup in 1995 – had its re­con­fi­gu­ra­tion com­ple­ted last year.

SCEPTICISM

8. Of the eight sta­diums, per­haps the most sym­bo­lic is the 60,000-seat Al Bayt, which is in ad­van­ced, eye-cat­ching construc­tion at Al Khor, a cur­rent­ly dus­ty dis­trict 20 miles north of Do­ha. It is na­med and de­si­gned af­ter bayt al sha’ar, tents used by the no­ma­dic people of Qa­tar be­fore the mo­ney rai­ned in. Dri­ving past it, we could see the te­le­vi­sual sta­te­ment it will make for Qa­tar in 2022: look, world, we were tent-dwel­lers be­fore, and look at all we can do now.

9. Yet being in Do­ha even for a few days prompts the same scepticism which has al­ways the Qa­tar bid. It is a small, claus­tro­pho­bic ci­ty of skys­cra­pers and malls, where people most­ly do not walk be­cause in the hot, im­pos­si­bly hu­mid sum­mer, on­ly the mi­grant wor­kers, who built it all, spend any time out­side. All so­cie­ties are une­qual and class-ba­sed to some extent, but in Qa­tar the di­vides are ex­treme. While the Qa­ta­ris, ma­ny of them En­glish or US-edu­ca­ted, have been bles­sed with most pri­vi­le­ged lives, the 1.7 mil­lion mi­grant wor­kers are most­ly men from the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent, brought thou­sands of miles from their fa­mi­lies, hou­sed in camps, with no ques­tion of ci­ti­zen­ship.

10. It is a lit­tle dif­fi­cult, too, to en­vi­sage what the pros­pec­tive 1.5 mil­lion fans ex­pec­ted for 2022 will do with their lei­sure time; beyond the Cor­niche, Souq Wa­qif and a couple of cultu­ral centres, Do­ha’s list of tou­rist ac­ti­vi­ties runs qui­ck­ly in­to shop­ping malls.

11. Yet al­most 10 years in­to sel­ling his vi­sion, Tha­wa­di can still brim with en­thu­siasm and be­lieves the tour­na­ment it­self will over­come any re­ser­va­tions: “The wea­ther is going to be fan­tas­tic,” he says. “Sun, sand and beach, you can en­joy that. We’re ad­ding the de­sert ex­pe­rience … a phe­no­me­nal, ma­gi­cal ex­pe­rience. And the simple fact is: the World Cup it­self is a spec­tacle.”

(Olya Mor­van/The New York Times)

Fans of the Qa­ta­ri soc­cer club Al Sadd SC watch a match at the Jas­sim bin Ha­mad Sta­dium in Do­ha.

(Earl Wil­son/The New York Times)

Has­san al-Tha­wa­di, head of Qa­tar’s 2022 World Cup com­mit­tee.

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