As sports fans await the start of the FIFA World Cup, which is scheduled for November 20, work is still underway in Qatar to find out the final touches before the start of the event.
A report by the New York Times monitored these final preparations and stated that “the noise of the sound of drilling machines among the downtown skyscrapers can still be heard from afar, while the newly planted palm trees, their branches wrapped in brown paper, along the coastal promenade, and meanwhile the minute dancer spins on the hour.” Bright red signaling the start of a countdown.
But he raised the question that is repeated with every tournament… Is Qatar ready for the occasion?
With just a few weeks left until the start of the World Cup, Qatar is racing to prepare to host the tournament, which will attract millions of eyes and hundreds of thousands of international spectators to this small desert island in the Persian Gulf.
Great potential… and criticism
Qatar, the smallest country (by area) to ever host the World Cup, has poured more than $220 billion into preparations for the event, building miles of highways, a metro system, a new airport, stadiums and high-rise buildings direct.
For Qataris, the all-out rush into the world of sports is an attempt to cement the country’s image as a leading global player and realize the vision of the country’s leader, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, to develop Qatar economically.
However, this plan has sparked controversy and criticism, as Qatar has been criticized by human rights bodies for the “poor working conditions” of migrant workers, after dozens of them died on construction sites linked to the World Cup, according to those organisations.
Rights groups have also criticized Qatar’s human rights record, particularly laws that criminalize homosexuality and restrict freedom of expression.
The influence campaigns of Qatar’s rivals in the region intensified the criticism, culminating in regional tensions that led to a three-year siege on Doha led by its biggest Arab neighbors, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
As the event approached, Qatari officials became increasingly defensive about critical reporting from rights groups and others.
“Since we won the honor of hosting the World Cup, Qatar has faced an unprecedented campaign that no other host country has received,” Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad said in a Shura Council session earlier this week .
He added that this effort “has reached such a ferocity that many, unfortunately, wonder about the real reasons and motives behind it.”
Qatari officials were particularly hopeful that the spectacle of the spectacularly successful tournament would be overshadowed as they recruited social media influencers and allowed them free flights and World Cup matches to positively promote the event.
The New York Times report says: “Now that we are on the brink of this long-awaited moment, Doha is trying to convey the message that Qatar is more than ready to take its place on the world stage.”
While the American newspaper described what Qatar spent to make this date a “waste”, he admitted that it offers great possibilities for building and building the infrastructure that makes the “Qatari World Cup” a unique version.
The country has built eight new stadiums with soccer fields covered with grass from the United States and outdoor air conditioning systems that can reduce the temperature by more than 11 degrees Celsius.
Last month, Qatari officials announced the addition of 30,000 rooms to meet the increase in demand for accommodation, including some on cruise ships and dhows.
In the not-too-distant past, such “spending” would have been unthinkable in Qatar, which for most of the 20th century was just a wasteland, but with the natural gas boom of the 1990s, Doha’s landscape changed, with skyscrapers, sprawling malls and a pop-up island, synthetic pearls along the coast.
Winning to host the World Cup accelerated this development at an impressive pace.
“We are using this tournament as a vehicle for change,” said Hassan Al Thawadi, secretary general of Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, in an interview with the New York Times.
But many fans, teams and spectators remain skeptical about how well that newly polished infrastructure will fare during the tournament.
Luxury structures with technical limitations
An estimated 1.5 million international visitors – about half of Qatar’s total population – will flock to the country over the course of the month, which is usually home to many large cities, knowing that Qatar is only the size of the US state of Connecticut is.
Qatar allocated motorcades of cars for teams and “VIPs”, and thousands of free buses to transport fans, highlighting the specter of traffic jams.
The city’s new international airport will also not be able to handle crowds, according to the same report.
The American newspaper points to the uncertainty that the available workforce in Qatar will be able to carry the burden.
When officials were asked if they thought the new subway could handle thousands of drunken fans, the Doha transfer station agent smiled to reporters, shook his head and muttered “no way” while coughing excessively, according to the New York Times.
“It was just a cough! Nothing else!” The agent turns back laughing before confirming that he is not authorized to speak to the press.
But Qatari and FIFA officials stress that despite the presence of cranes and excavators throughout the city, days before the launch, the main infrastructure needed for the tournament has been completed.
At the same time, the same officials admit that the delays caused by the Corona pandemic deprived the country of fully testing its preparedness.
“The comprehensive stress test, where you put everything under total stress, didn’t materialize,” Al Thawadi said. But he added that during testing events, “as problems started to emerge, I could see our teams were able to fix any bugs quickly and respond to them faster.”
and human rights?
Human rights groups have raised concerns about how Qatari police will deal with violations of local laws by foreigners in a country that criminalizes homosexuality and sex outside marriage, and where victims of sexual assault risk facing charges themselves if they ‘ report an incident.
Unofficially, Qatari authorities say the state has begun training police officers in how to respond to high-risk cases of sexual assault at any major sporting event – and that police will not intervene against LGBT activists simply by waving rainbow flags or small demonstrations to keep, unless No person is at risk of physical harm.
But many critics say the authorities have not gone far enough to protect all supporters of all sexual orientations.
“There has been very little concrete engagement” on these issues, said Ronan Evin, chief executive of Football Supporters Europe, an umbrella organization for fans’ groups.
Qatari officials are also under pressure from within, as many Qataris are more inclined towards conservative values than their country’s top leadership.
Looking to neighboring Dubai, or the so-called Las Vegas of the Gulf, some Qataris have worried about the emir’s plan for major economic development, which they fear will contribute to the erosion of Qatar’s cultural heritage.
Some are also refusing to change their cities for the sake of the World Cup as they see the delegations of supporters following one after the other to their country as one of them said that he fears his country will change after this big world event.