If you would have asked my brother what “Qatar” meant to him a month ago, he would have said :
“It’s the only word that exists that breaks the “QU” law.”
In fact, whenever we played Scrabble growing up he would always look to use the word Qatar (after he cheated and sought out all the high-scoring letters).
Childhood stories aside, my point on Qatar is that no one knows a thing about it. In fact, I’m willing to bet my brother’s mortgage that the majority of people won’t be able to spot it on a map. (For all those who are wondering, or googling it, it is located just east of Saudi Arabia on the Western part of the Persian Gulf. )
Why should you care now? Well, FIFA, the world’s governing body for soccer, decided to grant Qatar the exclusive rights to host the 2022 World Cup. This was groundbreakingly revolutionary for many reasons. Here are a couple:
1) The World Cup has never been hosted by a country in the Middle East. In fact, one does not think of soccer as a favorite Middle Eastern pastime (however it is quite popular). FIFA showed, by granting Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022) that it wants to tap into new, untouched markets. Qatar, and the Middle East more broadly, is just that.
2) Qatar will need to spend $65 billion to host the World Cup. That gigantic sum will be spent on building 9 new stadiums, re-modeling 3 existing ones, and oh yeah, building entire cities to plant these stadiums.
3) Qatar has a population of only 1.6mm people. What is a country of 1.6mm people going to do with 12 stadiums when the World Cup ends? Ok fine, they claim they will be disassembled, shipped to poorer countries, and reassembled to spread the game to less fortunate countries. But what about all the hotels, roads, highways, public transportation networks that need to be built to accomodate the deluge of fans who attend World Cups? Will they disassemble hotels and donate those too?
4) Qatar does not have a very popular domestic soccer league. While many washed up former-super-stars would sign a bling-bling contract for a year, there isn’t much prospect of a booming domestic league post World Cup. Why not tap into a new market where there is an existing league that could really benefit from hosting a World Cup.
I could go on and on. I won’t. I’m torn on whether selecting Qatar was a choice of prescience or the bonehead decision of the decade. I admire FIFA’s decision to tap into new markets – Qatar does have a limitless war-chest (and no offense to my Aussie friends, but Australia does not). All of the other countries bidding for 2022 had already hosted the World Cup.
And I’m all for a World Cup in the Middle East. Soccer has powers (unmatched by other sports due to its global popularity) that reach further than most governments. That is why I believe in a World Cup in the Middle East, but I think it could be better served in a country like Egypt or even Israel, where there is a domestic league, stadiums, infrastructure, and whole cities do not need to be built from the ground up.