Qatar’s World Cup dream taking shape

Soccer writer Val Migliaccio recounts his trip to Doha as Qatar prepares to host 2022 FIFA World Cup

THE Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy in Doha are very hospitable people.

They’ve invited me to look over the preparations as the tiny nation gears up to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, awarded in 2010 despite an outcry from the losing bidders — including Australia.

Out of respect I did not drink or eat in public during daylight hours in Doha in Ramadan — a time of fasting for Muslims all over the world.

Nasser Fahad Al Khater, deputy chief executive of the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup Local Organising Committee, says the tournament will be like no other in its 92-year history by the time it comes around.

“The compact nature of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar is one of the tournament’s most unique features that will benefit both fans and players,’’ he said.

“To put the compact aspect into context for your readers — the entire tournament footprint will fit into a little over 600 square kilometres — that’s the eight stadiums we’re currently constructing as well as the planned training sites needed for the tournament.

“Adelaide as a city is over 1800 square kilometres.

“For fans, it will mean short travel times from their accommodation to match venues and importantly from venue to venue, with the furthest distance between any two stadiums a little over 50km (Al Wakrah in the south and Al Bayt in Al Khor in the north).

“This means that fans will be able to watch between two and three games a day live, something that’s completely unique compared to any other FIFA World Cup.”

I was granted a tour of the yet-to-be-finished Khalifa International Stadium in 42C temperatures at 10.30am.

FIFA shifting the tournament from June to a November kick-off has allayed most fears of lives being lost in the desert nation’s extreme heat, which can reach over 50C.

The average temperature for the November/December World Cup in 2022 is a comfortable daytime temperature of 30C down to about 20C at night.

With the sun rising at about 6am and setting just before 5pm, the pending kick-off times will see at least two matches played at night during the group stage but it promises to be the first World Cup with restrictions on free-flowing alcohol and dress codes.

“Alcohol is not part of Qatari culture and while it will not be available everywhere, it will be available in designated areas,’’ said Al Khater.

“With regard to dress code, we merely ask that people remain respectful of our culture.

“We have many expatriate females who live and work in Qatar and have no problems regarding dress codes.”

The Doha skyline

Hosting the World Cup is incredible for Doha and it’s probably likely that the tournament will never again be awarded to such a small nation. Doha, the capital of Qatar, is a third the size of Adelaide.

Eight new stadiums will be built and all will have airconditioning for fans’ comfort in the stands.

The tournament has been shrunk to 28 days — usually it runs between 31 and 33 days — since it expanded to 32 nations in 1998.

The Khalifa International Stadium rebuild is expected to be delivered by the end of the year and an exclusive tour of the megastructure was inspiring. The heat away from airconditioned comfort was bearable for the 30 minutes it took after the on-site safety brief and later the walk towards the top tier of the yet-to- be completed stadium.

Workers’ rights and the treatment of the labour force was openly discussed by officials from SCDL, given Qatar has been criticised by Amnesty International for the conditions of its foreign workforce, in particular labourers.

One of the projected World Cup stadiums.

A report from Amnesty International in March claimed migrant workers — 3180 are employed building the Khalifa International Stadium — have “suffered systematic abuses.” It claimed workers complained of poor accommodation and not being paid for several months.

The report also stated employers confiscated passports, did not issue exit permits to leave the country and workers were threatened for complaining about their conditions.

But SCDL officials assured me FIFA World Cup workers in Qatar are working to new standards that have been set.

A noticeboard which stood outside the impressive stadium site reported accidents were minimal and with no deaths recorded.

At 11am the site was shut down due to the extreme heat and workers were shuttled to their accommodation in airconditioned buses. The site would reopen at 3pm for a new shift.

The 11am shutdown in the height of summer is a regular occurrence. After the stadium visit I was driven to SCDL’s head office in downtown Doha.

On the 40th floor of the building I saw how the tournament is taking shape via videos on huge state-of-the-art screens which could zoom in live on the construction sites.

A day later I met Al Khater, in his huge 30th-floor office. The second in charge of the SCDL was charming.

We talked about Qatari football and the Aspire academy headquarters, which is the centre of excellence for Qatari football.

Nasser Al Khater, deputy CEO of Qatar’s World Cup organising committee.

Al Khater was proud Qatar was now producing players for the foreign market due to the sustained efforts of the Aspire academy.

Akram Afif became the first Qatari to sign for a Spanish club when he penned a deal with Villarreal in May.

Al Khater believes the academy will produce enough talent to ensure Qatar will be competitive at the World Cup, given the nation has never qualified for a major tournament.

And money is no objective for this World Cup.

Qatar is ranked as the richest country in the world, with Qataris earning $170,000 per capita, compared to Australians (ranked 18th) at $63,000 per capita. The budget for the eight World Cup stadiums was set at about $10.6 billion.

As a comparison in Australia’s failed World Cup bid, its 12 stadiums had a budget of $3.1 billion

The nation has about 300,000 Qataris among a population of 2.3 million.

Qatar is building 80 new hotels and hotel apartments which are expected to open in the next five years in advance of the surge of visitors expected during the 2022 World Cup.

The city is also in the process of building an underground metro rail which will take fans to World Cup stadiums.

The system has four lines and 300km worth of tracks with 100 stations.

The new underground, which is estimated to cost $48 billion, is destined to be ready in 2019.