Qatar 2022: A Test Case For Holding Mega-events In The Middle East
Qatar will be the first Muslim country to host soccer’s premier event, the World Cup
The World Cup in Russia has come and gone, with the focus now shifting to Qatar 2022. While the “beautiful game” is played throughout the globe, the tendency in the past has been for the sport’s premier event to be hosted either by countries with strong soccer legacies or in the West. Accordingly, European nations have hosted the World Cup 10 times, while it is has been held in South America and North America on five and three occasions, respectively (with the 2026 event slated for the United States, Canada and Mexico).
But this trend appears to be shifting, with South Korea and Japan having co-hosted the 2002 World Cup for the first time in Asia, whereas the 2010 edition in South Africa was the first on the African continent.
And now, Qatar, a conservative Muslim country, is set to become the first Middle Eastern state to host the mega-event.
Qatar does have some experience hosting international sporting events. For example, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) holds a tournament in Doha every year, known as the Qatar Total Open.
“The WTA’s history in Doha stretches back over 18 years, and counting, and we look forward to returning to the region in 2019 to watch reigning champion Petra Kvitova defend her title,” Alex Prior, a WTA communications official, told The Media Line.
However, if a tennis match is characterized by total silence during graceful points, a World Cup game along with the legion of fans attending them, is the complete antithesis. The atmosphere is more comparable to a rock concert, replete with alcohol-fueled partisans chanting, if not screaming or rioting, in support of their national teams.
Paul Brannagan, a Senior Lecturer in Sports Management & Policy at the Manchester Metropolitan University, visited Qatar for eight months in 2016 to conduct research for his doctoral thesis. He thinks the biggest question for FIFA officials is how Qatar’s leadership and citizenry will react to proclivities that contravene the strictures of Islamic Sharia law.
In Qatar, Western trivialities such as holding hands in public is illegal; homosexuality is punishable by death; and consuming alcohol is allowed only with a permit (ironically, Budweiser is an official sponsor of the World Cup).
Nevertheless, Brannagan conveyed to The Media Line that the vast majority of locals he talked to were not overly concerned or potentially put-off. By contrast, many hailed the prospective World Cup as an opportunity to bolster tourism while showcasing the region, in particularly Gulf countries, in a positive light.
There is, however, skepticism that Qatar has enough appeal to persuade international visitors to stay within the country for a period of almost a month. “Qatar won’t like it, but the United Arab Emirates might steal a lot of people as Dubai and Abu Dhabi are more adapted to hosting Western fans who look for the nightlife and the parties,” explained Brannagan.
Moreover, he highlighted the fact that Doha has mainly four or five-star hotels that are out of the price range of many fans who prefer cheaper lodging such as Airbnbs.
One of the solutions proposed by the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the Qatari World Cup organizing group, is to set up massive Bedouin tents in the desert for people to stay in.
“I just don’t know if visitors are going to like heading to camps after watching a game of soccer. I think they would more likely want to head to the bars for a celebratory drink or two,” said Brannagan.
John Harris, Associate Dean Researcher at Glasgow Caledonian University and Co-editor of Football and Migration, believes that because of the enormity of the World Cup the physical location of its games is not so important. “The amount of investment needed makes it possible to hold the competition anywhere with the same experience as past events,” he contended to The Media Line.
In fact, Harris suggested that World Cups are becoming very similar to each other because the planning for and overall management of the event has reached a level of high-quality that is replicable.
“It’s also because the same people who attended previous World Cups are going to be the crowds in the next one,” he concluded.
Majed Al-Ansari, a Professor of Political Sociology at Qatar University, strongly believes that his country is capable of proving the critics wrong. “Qatar has made it very clear since the beginning of preparations for the World Cup that it is willing to work with regional and international partners on issues as long as they don’t hinder the national sovereignty and interests of the country,” he told The Media Line.
“Qatar is a conservative but open society, and it is not new in welcoming strangers as Qatar is home to about 2 million foreigners [out of a total population of 2.5 million],” al-Ansari noted. “There is social dialogue on the issue of balancing the confrontation of cultures, and this dialogue will continue in the next four years.”
For his part, Brannagan believes that the extra attention being paid to Qatar will slowly fade away.
“I have friends who said they wouldn’t go to the Russian World Cup because of security, but, once the football started, things changed.”
(David Lee is a Student Intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program)
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