We’re just about halfway between 2018 in Russia and 2022 in Qatar—and the memory of the former is fading against the rising anticipation of the latter.
Some hardcore football fans have already booked their tickets and are vying for those blocks of leave from work, some are probably on websites like these reading up on the tournament. For those who dip a toe in the pool before diving in, here are five interesting facts about the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
#5. This is the first winter World Cup ever, and it will be held in the desert.
True fans know the World Cup is typically held between June and July, but the 2022 tournament in Qatar will be happening during November and December.
This change has ruffled more than a few feathers, but looking at where Qatar is and what the average annual temperatures are like over there, it seems easy to understand the need for a change in schedule.
Most people took issue with the close proximity to Christmas season, which would overlap with other high-profile fixtures around the world. Some teams would be left with winded players due to short turnaround times between other regional and international tournaments.
Sepp Blatter especially, ever the traditionalist, was definitely not cool with a winter World Cup happening between January and February, on account of a potential clash with the Winter Olympics (FIFA and the IOC have a bit of a history, more on that later maybe).
With millions of dollars already having changed hands to make the World Cup happen in Qatar, the location was fixed. But to ensure that a few million football fans didn’t pass out from heat exhaustion in the desert, FIFA endured compensation claims and threats of litigation from broadcasters and other football leagues to schedule the World Cup during the next coolest months of the year. Apparently, the weather will be milder than in Brazil during the 2014 World Cup.
#4. Qatar will be the first Muslim-majority nation to host the World Cup
This will be the second World Cup to be hosted in Asia, after Japan and South Korea co-hosted the 2002 World Cup, and already, the tournament is entangled in a web of political and ethnic lines.
The fact that Qatar is the first nation in the Middle East to host the World Cup is secondary to the quagmire that comes with it. Back in 2017, the Arab world was shaken up by a diplomatic crisis that had Qatar effectively cut out of the coalition of Middle Eastern nations led by Saudi Arabia.
The reasons range from political grandstanding to Qatar failing to fall in line with the rest of the Arab world, with some allegations of supporting terrorists mixed in. None of these matter as much as the potential issues that fans and players from other parts of the Middle East will face when attempting to travel into Qatar during an embargo.
Fans might choose to attend selected matches by taking short-haul flights from Saudi Arabia or the UAE—Dubai and Abu Dhabi are cities which have more established tourism infrastructure and the hotels there might be better able to accommodate the wave of tourists. But unless Qatar’s diplomatic crisis is resolved before the World Cup, fans might have to fall back on alternative plans for travel and accommodation.
#3. Qatar will be the smallest nation to host the World Cup
Qatar 2022 will break many records, one of them for the smallest nation to host the World Cup—both in terms of geographic area and population.
At just over 11,000 square kilometres, Qatar is even smaller than the previous record holder, Switzerland, which covers just over 41,000 square kilometres. The stadiums in Qatar are close enough together, within 55 kilometres of each other, that supporters can attend a historic three matches a day—which you’ll need to do as it will be the most packed World Cup (with 32 teams) and the shortest World Cup (at 28 days), all at the same time.
Switzerland had just under 5 million people living within its explosive-laden borders when hosting the World Cup in 1954 and Uruguay’s population was around 3.5 million when hosting the 1930 World Cup. With just 2.6 million citizens currently, Qatar will also be the smallest World Cup host in terms of population size.
The visitor record during the 2018 World Cup in Russia stands at 5 million people. Even if the other Middle Eastern nations don’t lift the ongoing embargo or make travel allowances, the population of Qatar will more than double during the World Cup.
Despite typically handling around 1.7 million tourists a year, there is an obvious need to effectively double infrastructure in order to accommodate at least twice as many people during the World Cup. But despite the heat, Qatar doesn’t seem to be sweating—because there is a lot of money being thrown into preparations.
#2. Qatar 2022 will be the most expensive World Cup ever, by far
Russia reportedly spent 11.6 billion US Dollars on the 2018 World Cup, and for the previous World Cup in 2014, Brazil sunk in about 15 billion US Dollars. But these numbers are nothing in comparison to the amount Qatar is estimated to have put in just for the air-conditioning.
Qatar is sitting on the world’s third-largest proved reserves of naturally-occurring hydrocarbon gas—for the world’s largest exporter of liquified natural gas, there’s money to spare.
Just to quintuple the number of buses in the public transportation system, that’s 1.3 billion US Dollars. Almost 30 times that number is going into building Lusail, a new city surrounding the stadium where the opening and final matches of 2022 will be played.
With all the stadiums, training grounds, and transport infrastructure, bristling with air-conditioning and high-technology, the total bill might come up to anywhere around 180 to 220 billion US Dollars. And that’s not counting the unknown amounts of cash that went behind closed doors and under tables to grease palms for broadcasting rights and various other contracts during the World Cup host selection process in 2010.
#1. This is the most scandalous World Cup ever, maybe
Aside from the fact that this will be the most expensive World Cup so far, and the first to be held in winter, in the smallest and least populous host nation so far, you might have also picked up on the mention of some money having changed hands earlier on. That’s just the tip of the iceberg that is the campaign of chicanery the bid team is alleged to have embarked upon in order to ensure Qatar’s selection as the host for the 2022 World Cup.
Back in 2010, Qatar was bidding against Australia, Japan, South Korea, and the United States, to host the 2022 World Cup. But despite seeming like the most unlikely choice, Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who is an avid football fan, made sure that votes during the FIFA annual congress went his way.
The Qatari bid team reportedly enlisted the help of a PR consultancy, Brown Lloyd James (BLJ) Worldwide, whose president, Michael Holtzman, had previously done work in Syria for a fellow by the name of Assad. With a modern illusionist on board, the Qatari bid team (allegedly) conducted a campaign to undermine the bids of other nations.
This apparently involved spying and psychological operations, from stirring up grassroots protests in candidate nations, hiring former CIA agents for “due diligence”, all the way to paying writers and academicians to churn out negative reports on competing bids.
At the time of this writing, authorities around the world are chasing paper trails in separate and overlapping corruption investigations, and Qatar 2022 is going full speed ahead regardless of the investigations.
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Kevin Eichenberger wonders how much CIA-level “due diligence” costs. Give him an itemised quotation on Facebook.