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OPINION

Qatar is well placed to foot the bill for the World Cup

The World Cup is set to kick off in Doha on November 20 against the backdrop of recession, war, inflation and rising interest rates elsewhere.

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Workers still frantically slot pavements into place and plant rows of adult palms outside the Museum of Islamic Art to be ready for the World Cup

Fifty-metre-high posters adorn the skyscrapers that cluster around City Center Mall in the heart of Doha’s West Bay.

Each building boasts its own global footballing icon. Diplomat Tower, home to Qatar’s state news agency, is clad in a huge image of Brazil’s somewhat faded superstar, Neymar, a long-time ‘global brand ambassador’ for Qatar National Bank.

The next one over bears nothing but a giant pair of gloves, owned by Germany’s number-one shot stopper, Manuel Neuer.

You don’t have to wander far to see other Brobdingnagian reminders of the weirdly outsized celebrity status of modern-day footballers.

There’s Harry Kane, wheeling away in celebration. Over the road, a forbidding image of Holland’s captain and defender-in-chief Virgil van Dijk looms over the city.

All of this highly elaborate window-dressing is part of the municipal backdrop to the World Cup, the quadrennial football jamboree that gets bigger and more costly every time.

When Qatar won the right to host the event in 2010 critics immediately asked how a country of 2.9 million people could be favoured over a quartet of other, seemingly better placed bidders. Over half of the people who voted for the 2022 and 2018 World Cups – the latter was held in Russia – have been accused of wrongdoing.

In October 2021, the US Department of Justice accused representatives working for Qatar of bribing officials from Fifa, football’s main governing body, to secure hosting rights.

Then there’s the treatment of 30,000 migrant workers hired to build the infrastructure Qatar needed but didn’t have. In February 2021, UK newspaper The Guardian said at least 6,750 workers had died, mostly from searing heat and poor working and living conditions.

Timing is everything

Cost matters little to this wealthy petrostate. The government is reckoned to have shelled out $220 billion on the event. Russia by contrast spent ‘just’ $11.6 billion.

There are inevitable last-minute teething problems. Wandering along the Corniche waterfront promenade in late October, Euromoney spotted workers still frantically slotting pavements into place, and planting rows of huge adult palms outside the Museum of Islamic Art.

Timing is everything. Had the Gulf state won the hosting rights for 2018, it would have come in the middle of a long fallow stretch of economic activity. GDP contracted by an average of 0.32% between 2017-2021, according to the World Bank, a period that included two full years of recession.

Yet right now it’s doing just fine.

In its latest World Economic Outlook, the IMF tipped GDP to expand by 3.4% this year and 2.4% in 2023. In August, it said Middle East states would reap $1.3 trillion in extra income over the next four years, courtesy of rising oil and gas prices.

And let’s consider for a moment the current state of the losing bidders from 2010. The US has the financial wherewithal and logistical capacity to hold a World Cup every year, but it faces a very real chance of recession.

Japan is still recovering from the stress of hosting the Covid-delayed Tokyo Olympics, and Australia only reopened its borders in February, two years after shutting the world out. One of its states, Western Australia, even sealed its internal border, making coordinated preparations for world football’s premier event all but impossible.

Qatar as host of the football World Cup has caused huge anger and revulsion. But in 2022, it feels like one of the places that is best placed to foot the bill.