My colleague (and former regular at the Kogarah Hill while cheering on the Dragons) Spiro Zavos wrote that he believed Qatar would win the rights to host the 2022 World Cup. I beg to differ.
Of all the countries in the world that would consider themselves as being capable of hosting a World Cup, I would put Qatar close to the bottom of the list I would want to see hold it.
My view is formed largely on the experience I had from living in the Gulf State for 13 months a few years ago.
Granted things have changed, but in speaking to friends who still live there not that much to make me believe that my original reaction of thinking their bid was a practical joke was wildly inaccurate.
Here is why:
Even if we accept the idea that indoor stadiums might possibly work, the rest of Qatar’s infrastructure would make any sort of World Cup a nightmare. The capital Doha, which is effectively the entire country, is pretty much a number of unmarked roads linked by huge roundabouts. These roads get absolutely choked with traffic every day except the holy day of Friday. Alright, they aren’t Robinson Crusoe on that front but when you are a relatively small city and you have major traffic problems what is it going to be like when your population explodes for a few months?
Everyone points to the statistic that they have one of the highest incomes per capita in the world, I like the one which states they have one of the highest rates of road fatalities in the world. Having taken my life in my hands a number of times every day when I was living there I can tell you, their roads, their drivers, their taxis and their public transport facilities (which are exclusively used by the lowly paid construction workers and go between the camps and the construction sites) would all score a zero on any objective test.
But let’s not knock them out because they have an ordinary peak hour.
Quite simply these will need to be built for the World Cup. The Emir will no doubt claim that he will foot the bill and he’ll need to given the state of the Gulf real estate market following the property crash in Dubai.
We’ve been told that the suits from FIFA will be keeping an eye on crowd figures from the A-League when determining the bid and this implies that the empty seats on the Gold Coast are a bad look. I can tell you first hand that even the worst crowd at Skilled Park looks like a packed Wembley when compared to the Qatari domestic league (I honestly believe it is called the Q-League).
200 is about what you normally get to any sort of match in the local league, despite the likes of the De Boer brothers, Jay Jay Okocha and Alfonso Alves being on show.
The first match I went to with my wife had us sitting by ourselves on one side of a 10,000 seat Stadium (seeing I was attending with a female I had to sit in the family section, which as I found out not a particularly popular pastime). On the other side of the ground about 150 youths with loud speakers cheering on their teams.
The Qataris originally claimed they would win the bid and then stage the tournament in November. They then realised this was as popular as inviting everyone to a cardboard licking party and switched the indoor stadium fantasy land. This is because it’s the middle of the summer in Qatar at this time, that’s 50 degrees (dropping to about 45 at night) and around 100 per cent humidity. Add to that the fairly strict rules about conservative dress and you get the idea why it’s been termed “hell’s waiting room” in the summer months. So everyone gets to go on holidays to the World Cup and spend the entire time inside. Oh joy.
History of big events
Sure the Qataris are known to turn out to watch their country play in stadiums which hold around 12,000 and when they do en masse it’s chaos. Australia at least has a history of organising big sporting events. When I attended the Asian Games, should the ticket inspectors suddenly feel overwhelmed they simply shut the gates to any events. It was madness. Okay it can be fixed but you are starting at ground zero.
Get the beers in
Fact: you can drink at a number of very boring and dull hotel bars in Qatar and alcohol can be purchased by expats who have purchased a permit (which is reasonably straightforward). But on the whole you are looking at a dry World Cup. “Oh, it’s not just about fans getting pissed” is what the critics cry. That is certainly true, but it’s also true that potential tourists go to a place they can enjoy themselves and for the vast majority of fans that enjoyment is linked to watching the football and having a few beers.
What is more complex is alcohol sponsorship. FIFA is very protective of their sponsors, particularly the brewers who fork out big dollars for the right. How do you think they’ll react to, “Hey boys, how about you sit this one out?”
Blood sweat and tears
Those state of the art stadiums which everyone is so excited about will be built by foreign workers, shanghaied into working in the Gulf for a paltry wage, who often choose to live on the construction site because it is better than the “accommodation” they pay a premium to have.
It’s nothing short of a disgrace. This is modern day slavery and even I would be stunned by FIFA should they stoop so low as to condone this sort of treatment.
Here is a question? How does a country that doesn’t recognise the state of Israel host an international tournament that Israel is hoping to qualify for? Do we just hope they don’t qualify and to avoid an embarrassing stand-off? And even if we dodge that bullet (no pun intended) what happens when Israelis or even people who have previously visited Israel decide they want to attend because as it stands Qatar refuses entry to anyone with that said stamp in there passport (yes, I know there are ways around it, but that ain’t no way to run a tournament)?
As Spiro rightly points out, the Middle East is “a powder keg”, one only needs to look at the enormous fight that occurred when Dubai wanted to host the America’s Cup (yes, the America’s Cup) and you get an idea of what sort of bun fight we are in for if the World Cup goes to Qatar, just a short hop across the Gulf from Iran and that other fun spot, Iraq.
Not even the power hungry maniacs at FIFA nor the naive sports fan who thinks that a football match can cure all can even begin to believe that the problems of the Middle East could be solved by hosting New Zealand and the Czech Republic at Al Saad stadium.*
I’d suggest Spiro’s prediction on December 14 last year was closer to the mark when he opted for Australia. The 2022 World Cup is between Australia and the USA (with China looking over our shoulder).
*Al Saad Stadium was down to host a number of Women’s football matches at the 2006 Asian Games until the owner of the stadium decreed no woman could play on its surface. Good luck with the bid boys.