Qatar: A Land of Legacy

Qatar is a land which, for its geographical minimalism and population - barely 250,000 plus as many or more foreign workers - is a comparative dot on the world map, writes Keir Radnedge, editor/director at World Sport Service.

However Qatar’s control of apparently limitless wealth through natural gas - rather than oil - earned a Forbes label as the world’s richest country. This has been wielded to turn Qatar into an international player in finance and politics, retail (think Printemps), communications (think Al Jazeera) …. and sport.

The development, by the major sports federations in the 1970s and 1980s, of a matrix of exclusive television and sponsorship was enhanced by the explosion of satellite and cable technology.

History is replete with states that capitalised on sports events to promote and develop the venue: most notorious examples were the 1934 FIFA World Cup in Italy and 1936 Olympics in Berlin. And one of the most shining, positive examples was the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona.

But these are events buried deep in comparative yesteryears.

Qatar is an example of how a wealthy state may use this sports/commercial tool to take a shortcut to international visibility and commercial influence.

A string of major sports events have set up shop, happily and lucratively, in the Gulf state. Not only that but Qatar has stepped out beyond its borders, as illustrated by Qatar Foundation’s sponsorship of FC Barcelona and Qatar Investment Authority’s purchase of Paris Saint-Germain.

Nothing compares, however, with the seismic promotional shock achieved by Qatar's success in winning host rights to the 2022 FIFA World Cup finals.

The selection process, within the world football federation, was contentious but that was no fault of Qatar. The state and football authorities ‘merely’ played the bidding game more effectively than rivals from Australia, Japan, South Korea and the United States… who, largely, had been looking the other way.

Qatar's FIFA World Cup proposal was built on a platform already laid down for the development of the state.

This incorporates building development that, while its pace appears far beyond the possible increase in population, is targeted rather more at the business Qatar expects to attract from its new-found fame.

A second international airport is nearing completion alongside the development of a new city (Lusail) to balance Doha plus a metro transportation system of which the state – albeit small – is badly in need alongside all the new highways. A rail link is being built to connect Doha directly to Bahrain.

The airports illustrate perfectly the pace of progress. In 1998 Doha International processed 2m passengers; now the total is beyond 12m.

All these developments, which do and will incorporate all manner of educational, science and technology ‘cities’, were projected with or without the FIFA World Cup.

A structural legacy is planned. Between four and six of the projected stadia have been designed for deconstruction after the finals ahead of donation to nations in the developing world. Similarly the stadia cooling technology can be exported.

The potential was evident when FIFA’s evaluation commission rolled through. Its members saw money-no-object facilities such as the Aspire sports city and an example of stadium air-cooling system being developed to answer the challenge of heat and humidity.

The ‘small is great’ concept of venues all within easy reach of every hotel was a marked contrast to the trans-continental bid from the US.

Recent analytical research has shown that hosting a major sports event is not a wealth-generator. However, the intangible benefits of being a televisual world stage are incalculable. This is where Qatar aims to score, beyond all else.

The 2022 FIFA World Cup – whether staged in summer or winter, an argument for another day – will be the first of the major global sports events to be staged in the Middle East.

Opening that door will be the most important legacy, draped right across the world stage.

As Bid CEO Hassan Al-Thawadi said, when FIFA came calling: “The biggest positive is getting a lot of people looking in a new way at this part of the world."

URL: www.KeirRadnedge.com

Twitter: @KeirRadnedge

 

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