When I first heard the news that Qatar would host the FIFA World Cup in 2022, I was ecstatic. On a personal level the decision was between Australia and Qatar. Both are new frontiers for football and would expand the game’s popularity. I was fortunate enough to spend some time growing up in the Arab Gulf region in nearby Oman. The sense of pride that I shared with many international students and locals who lived in the Arab Gulf upon hearing the news was as real as it was glorious.
Two years on from the decision by FIFA, I’m a lot more skeptical about the viability of a tournament of this size being held in Qatar. Logistically the World Cup is a tougher beast to organize than say, the summer Olympics. The Olympics are usually held in one city, and one major stadium with some peripheral activities in and around the area. In the case of the World Cup, an entire country becomes engrossed in the spectacle. The point I’m trying to make here is that Qatar is a very, very small country. For the Brits out there Qatar is the size of Yorkshire. Let’s think about this for a second. For the Canadians who follow us, Qatar would be the second smallest province by a long shot. How can an area of land that size be expected to host a tournament this big? Of course it’s possible and some may prefer the idea, compared to the experience supporters will have in Brazil and in Russia (having to pay a lot to travel vast distances to watch games), but I can’t help but feel that for the sake of diversity, bigger might be better.
What bugs me more than anything is the fact that many cities will be either expanded or built from scratch in order to host the World Cup. The World Cup is not just about football but it is also about the people, the cultural experience, the sights. If you’ve ever been to Dubai you’ll understand how devoid of true Arab culture the place really can feel. The Qataris say they want to build a “World City” which sounds great. However, the world should be coming to Qatar, not the other way around. That’s where I feel they are getting it wrong. For all I know, the planned city of Lusail may be a true futuristic Arab metropolis but somehow I have my doubts. If the design for the Al-Wakrah stadium is anything to go by, the Qatari’s will need to review their strategy. It’s supposed to look like a Qatari boat but the reality has gotten people’s panties in a bunch.
As an avid football fan and traveler, I think a better way to allow the world to experience true Arab culture would be to have a Gulf World Cup. The Arab Gulf countries have a great history of co-operation with each other as it is. Politically and logistically it wouldn’t be that difficult to do. Safety will not be an issue as any one who has been to the region knows. This is a wealthy, safe and secure part of the world, not to be confused with other Arab countries regularly in the news. Dubai and Abu Dhabi have already hosted international competitions, while Muscat, Oman could do the same thing. Factor in the money in Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar and you’d have a World Cup, booming with world class infrastructure and sporting facilities. This could truly be the best world cup of all time. Of course Qatar would be the main host with the others assisting so the Qatar team automatically qualifying. The economic exposure and gain should be enough for locals to let this slide. Supporters would experience true Arab culture as well as a sense of the diversity that does exist within the Gulf regions. It’s so good of an idea that even Blatter likes it (might not be a good thing then). The FIFA boss thinks Iran could host some games, an idea I think presents some logistical hurdles but could possibly work.
Here are the futuristic stadiums Qatar are planning on building:
There are a few things that this idea doesn’t help to rectify however:
1). That Heat: I know what a true summer is like in that region and it’s not good. I’ve played sports in 45 degree heat and all it’s good for is dehydration and heatstroke, TRUST ME! Since the idea of air-conditioned stadiums has been shut down, the World Cup would have to be moved to the winter to ensure the safety of players and supporters. This is only an issue for the English FA really as the Premier League doesn’t have a winter break (even though we think they should). I also understand that television contracts would need to be renegotiated. I don’t see that as a major issue mainly because… IT’S THE WORLD CUP!! People will watch it, demand will be huge so that’s a non-starter for me. What can’t happen is FIFA not making a decision on this issue ASAP! FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke came out yesterday saying the decision was made to switch the date and his colleagues had to rebuff the notion. FIFA are making themselves look bad and need to take a stand on this issue and see it through.
2). Poor Labour Conditions: Yes, this is a major issue. The media coverage has been a little bit unfair considering this happened in China as they prepared for the Olympics and probably happens in a lot of other countries as well. That being said, it’s unfortunately rather blatant in the Gulf countries. Workers are at the mercy of their employers, unable to switch jobs or leave the country if they don’t like work conditions or just want a change as French footballer Zahir Belounis realized when he tried to leave his Qatari club. Rumours of poor accommodations, sleeping conditions and workers being forced to work during high temperatures when locals would be given the day off are rife and in many cases true. This is not just a Qatari issue but a Gulf issue. It’s one that in my opinion has been overblown but must be dealt with to maintain a good image amongst well wishers and detractors alike.
3). Alcohol and Nightlife: Some may say this won’t be a problem because hooligans will be kept out. Football hooliganism usually occurs when rowdy fans have had a little too much to drink. The local police will have a zero tolerance policy towards that kind of behaviour in any case. That being said, football and alcohol go together and as long as it doesn’t get out of hand it’s a formula for a good match environment. Beer companies are big sponsors of sporting events, and football is no different. Traditionally in the Gulf alcohol isn’t advertised publicly and certain licensed outlets can sell the products. Heineken and Carlsberg have spent big on the Champions League and English Premier League respectively and this is money that FIFA would like to get a hold of. I do feel that Qatar will regulate this accordingly and won’t be the major issue that people are making it out to be, but organizers still need to be wary of this.
So those are my thoughts. I do feel that a wider representation of the Gulf region would make for a better World Cup experience. Unfortunately it might be too late to get the other Gulf nations involved. I’m sure the other nations who submitted bids would be upset and rightfully so if this were to occur. A man can dream though right? There are some issues to be sorted out before the World Cup for sure. Allegations of bribery and corruption will need to handled accordingly before too much money by the Qataris has been spent.
Even though I love the Gulf region, the Qatar bid was full of holes. If FIFA evaluated their options properly then they probably should have given it to Australia, all things considered. The schedule wouldn’t need to be changed and the heat would not be a factor. However, what’s done is done. I’m not in favor of a re-vote and FIFA will need to work around the current issues before they are Under The Cosh. The heat they experience may become unbearable. Nothing a little sunscreen cant solve eh, Blatter.