What can we do with 220 billion US dollars? Lots of things, including organizing a pop-up sporting event in the most unlikely place on earth, Qatar.
The football World Cup which begins in Doha, the capital of the small Qatari kingdom, is already labeled as the most expensive ever organized. We hope that it will not serve as an example for Canada, Mexico and the United States, which are teaming up to organize the next one, in 2026.
The official budget for the 2022 event, estimated at 11 billion US (14.7 billion CAN), was mainly used to build seven stadiums and renovate an eighth to accommodate soccer fans.
Eight stadiums that can accommodate 40,000 to 80,000 spectators in a country of 2.6 million people is already a lot. It should be added that these stadiums are air-conditioned and that the event will be carbon neutral, according to its organizers.
Since winning the organization of the World Cup ten years ago, the country has taken advantage of the event to invest massively in all kinds of infrastructure: airport, hotels, roads and metro network with three lines and 40 stations.
The total bill exceeds 200 billion, which is enormous for any country, but not for Qatar, where the gross domestic product per capita is one of the highest in the world.
The country is even richer today than ten years ago due to the increase in demand and prices for oil and especially natural gas. The country has the second largest natural gas reserves in the world and is currently being courted by all European countries since they are deprived of Russian gas.
From his point of view, it is certainly worth using the World Cup to appear at its best on the radar screen of foreign investors and tourists.
Under the projectors
Qatar has already managed to get the world talking about it, but not necessarily for the reasons it wants. International attention has mainly focused on the fate of the workforce employed to carry out the labors of Hercules undertaken ten years ago.
Disastrous reports on the treatment of thousands of foreign workers, from both the United Nations and Amnesty International, have documented thousands of deaths and working conditions that amount to slavery.
The pressure has forced the country to question the kafalathe system that has governed the organization of work in the oil monarchies since the 1950s and that allows the exploitation of cheap labor deprived of the most basic rights.
Under this system, it is the employer who hires foreign workers, brings them into the country, houses them and feeds them. In addition to working in oppressive heat for very low wages, these employees are completely at the mercy of their boss and have no right to change employers or leave the country.
Qatar was forced to relax the application of the kafala and to make other major concessions. He had to commit to respecting the rights of the gays he will welcome on his territory, even if homosexuality is a crime in Qatar. But it seems that there are trade-offs that are more difficult to make than others.
After accepting the sale of beer during the event, the organizers did an about-face and banned the sale of alcohol inside and outside the stadiums, two days before the start of the competition. There are soccer fans who will dry up and grumble, but it’s especially Budweiser, main sponsor of the World Cup, who will remember it for a long time…
The other compromise that the country has refused to make concerns women. Women’s rights are still restricted and those who visit Qatar, where it is scorching hot, will not be able to wear short dresses or Bermuda shorts. Jewelry is strongly discouraged, but wearing the veil is welcome, according to the guide published by the organization of the competition.
The event lasts three weeks and 1.3 million visitors are expected. Qatar sees further and ensures that the World Cup will bring long-term benefits that will be well worth its prohibitive cost.
It is hard to imagine that a country that flouts the rights of half of humanity will ever receive the international recognition, foreign investment and tourists it expects.