Middle East World Cup, Part 5
Qatari 2022 FIFA World Cup bid
Qatar is attempting to become the first Arab nation to host the World Cup finals after unsuccessful attempts in the past from Egypt, Morocco and a joint bid from Tunisia and Libya. This bid would probably join the long list of glorious failures, but for one fact…the President of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, endorsed the idea of having a World Cup in the Middle East, saying in April 2010, “The Arabic world deserves a World Cup. They have 22 countries and have not had any opportunity to organise the tournament.”
The last time Sepp Blatter openly declared his support for a host was in 2000 when he threw his weight behind the South African bid to host the 2006 World Cup,  but that bid did not materialise, and Germany won, amongst allegations of bribes and undue pressure to influence the voting.
To make sure South Africa got the world cup in 2010, Blatter went as far as changing the FIFA rules of voting, to a continental rotation policy. “The rotation system only goes until 2014. The rotation was a political decision to ensure the World Cup went to Africa, otherwise Africa would never have it.” So it is clear that his endorsement carries a lot of weight.
Sepp Blatter, whose post is up for grabs in 2011, has led a charmed life, seeing off several vicious challenges, amid charges of corruption and bribery and still survived. It is thought that he only survived in 1998 with the help of African votes, which he secured with the promise of bringing the WC to Africa in 2006.
He may not be so lucky in May. Waiting in the wings to launch a bid on the presidency is, amongst others, allegedly Qatar’s footballing president. If that were the case, this could dramatically affect the tactical voting. Would associations vote for the Qatar bid, knowing that Qatar might provide the next FIFA president? Or is Blatter favouring the Qatar bid in exchange for support in the presidential elections?
The mere fact that the FIFA President has seemingly favoured one bid over the others is not only unusual, but also a major warning to Australia and the USA, whom conventional wisdom assumed would be fighting it out against each other, and to keen observers, who suddenly took careful note of the Qatari bid.
The oil and gas rich state failed in its attempt to host the 2016 Olympics but successfully hosted the 2006 Asian Games. It will also host footballs Asian Cup in 2011 and is already home to successful international tennis and golf events as well as an impressive MotoGP circuit.  But could they host the biggest event of all?
Negatives into Positives
Some of the immediate problems that Qatar faces as a bid have been turned into positives.
Beating the heat. The WC is held in June and July, so they had to create a solution to beat the impossible Qatari summer heat. Air conditioned indoor stadiums would be highly inefficient and be a drawback to the bid, but Qatar’s plans to use solar technology to power carbon-neutral technology to cool the stadiums and to make sure the temperature at the games does not rise above 27 degrees Celsius has won plaudits on 2 counts. Firstly, the green aspect in a world increasingly aware of its environmental impact, and secondly the climate control means that all games will be played under the same conditions.
White Elephant Legacy. Learning from the 2002 WC, where expensive stadiums have been under used for the last 8 years, Qatar knew that it had no need for 10 world class 40,000 seater stadiums, and building them would be a burden to themselves and an expensive memento after the WC finished. In order to meet the reduced demand post-tournament, most of the stadia are designed with modular components that can be dismantled after the world cup, and then donated to national football federations unable to build their own national stadiums! After the FIFA World Cup, these modular components will be partially deconstructed, allowing Qatar to build 22 new stadiums in the developing world. If nothing else, this should ensure the groundswell of opinion, and votes, of most of the African, Asian and Oceanic federations!
Transportation. Japan and Korea in 2002 was a logistical nightmare. Travelling around each country was a headache, but when you added in the travel between countries, it became a real negative to an otherwise well run tournament. Qatar will be the opposite. “Qatar would host the most compact World Cup in history, enabling fans to see more than one game in a day and stay in the same hotel or apartment throughout the tournament. This will save them time, money and hassle. Players would also be able to stay in a single base throughout the tournament with minimal travel between games, enabling them to focus 100% on playing and therefore contribute to higher quality football.”
A new and efficient metro system, with a total length of 320 km will be built in 2021. All stages will be connected to the highway system in Qatar and provide easy access for spectators. Some may also be reached by water taxi.
Press Freedom. Like it or not, this is an area of concern, especially with the world’s media descending on Qatar. An autocratic government which does not tolerate internal dissent is unlikely to be happy with thousands of journalists asking questions, so any decision to award the games will have to come with guarantees of press freedom and the removal of censorship. But if any country in the Arab world is positioned to do so, it has to be Qatar. Al Jazeera is an example of how a free press could work in Qatar, even though their one blind spot is currently Qatar itself, and this WC could be the spur for Qatar to progress to the next level of freedoms of speech, transparency and social change. And this may suit both FIFA and Qatar.
Alcohol. Whilst it is not a part of life in the Middle East, alcohol and especially beer is an integral part of sports spectating around the world, and that is reflected in the amount of money pumped into football by alcohol sponsors. One of FIFA’s major sponsors is Budweiser, so alcohol restrictions could be a major problem. Qatar has said they will create some form of alcohol amnesty around the stadiums, and in specific areas, where it will be available for sale to fans, otherwise, this could be one of the biggest objections to their bid, especially from the fans.
Entertainment. Most fans will travel to a host country and make a holiday of the tournament. Thousands of people will travel in groups to follow their country, and in between match days spend their time exploring the country and watching the other games in bars. Currently, there is very little to entertain football tourists, but with the commitment the Qataris have shown towards this bid, they are sure to be addressing that problem with visionary fan parks and entertainment. However, this is another big objection to their bid and it is hard to see them competing with Australia and the USA in this area.
The winning bids will be those that manage to navigate the choppy waters of world football politics rather than necessarily being the best on paper, making the likely winners incredibly hard to call. Since the expose on votes for money by British newspapers, the English bid is receiving a backlash in support from the FIFA executive committee, making the Russia and England bids almost neck and neck in most eyes.
The legacy of a Qatar World Cup, from new stadiums both in Qatar and developing nations, the sharing of cooling technology with other countries who face challenges from heat, the huge commercial and football development opportunities for the global football family from hosting the World Cup in a region that will number over 700 million by 2022 through to the historic nature of the first FIFA World Cup in the Middle East and what this means for building greater understanding between east and west, and with two World Cups being awarded at the same time and a FIFA presidential election just a few months later, it seems that Qatar have the best chance of any Arab nation so far, of hosting a World Cup, and a close third place to win it.
There are bound to be more twists and turns to come, so don’t be surprised if Qatar make it past the first 2 rounds of voting to fight it out with the USA and Australia. Or even if Qatar goes all the way to win it! You read it here first.