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The Legacy of Qatar 2022: My take on what the Qatar World Cup means for the GCC

CONTENTS

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On December 1st, 2010, the road to November 20th, 2022 began.  

Qatar became the first GCC and Middle East nation ever to be awarded a major sporting tournament. Not just a World Cup, but a sports tournament overall. Undoubtedly, a landmark achievement.

On the surface, this was an incredible triumph for not just Qatar, but the entire region. A sign of its might, the power behind a convincing campaign, and a reflection of the future of sports tournaments…potentially.

Well, now the future has arrived, and all eyes are on the most unlikely of hosts. But, once the fireworks fade out, the trophy has been lifted, and the world’s biggest sporting spectacle has subsided, what will the Qatar World Cup’s lasting legacy be? Not just on Qatar, but on the GCC overall?

Here’s where I think we’ll see the greatest legacies – both for good and for bad:

  • Tourism – whether in Qatar or elsewhere
  • Empty hotel rooms, and redundant stadiums
  • A sporting legacy…but maybe not in football
  • A path paved for future GCC events

Tourism – whether in Qatar or elsewhere

Recent reports are currently showing that the push to complete all required formalities for the World Cup will most likely go down to the wire. 

Only those on the ground will know how close to the deadline works will be pushed.

You may be wondering what the push of deadlines has to do with tourism.

Well – first impressions count, don’t they, and on average you have 7 seconds to make a good first one.

This is actually a make-or-break moment for Qatar. Make a great first impression that lasts the length of the tournament, and they’ve just opened themselves up to a new market for tourists.

Make a bad one, and you’ve just lost tourism opportunities – particularly in the context of the UAE’s booming tourism industry, Saudi’s growth figures running parallel, and Bahrain having a strong reputation as one of the most liberal nations in the GCC, making it of preference to Western travelers.

Also, consider the fact that there will be thousands of football fans staying in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, opting to make the short hop over to Doha for the day instead of contending for rarer than gold hotel rooms in the city (more on that next). 

Qatar will either make itself a long-term tourist competitor, or cement its place long behind Saudi, UAE, and Bahrain. 

Your move, Qatar. 

Empty Hotel Rooms & Redundant Stadiums

The swell of fans arriving for the World Cup has put an incredible strain on hotel availability across the entire country. Over 1 million fans are expected to arrive for the tournament, which is far beyond the average tourist numbers the country currently registers.

The practical issue of where to place football fans traveling for the tournament has long been wrestled with. The reality is, and always has been, that Qatar is relatively a very small country, with nowhere near the levels of demand for accommodation that neighboring countries such as the UAE have. 

Demand will significantly outstrip supply for the month – and that’s the issue. Solving temporary swells with permanent accommodation will, by logic, result in empty hotel rooms in the future. Over 11,000 new hotel rooms have been introduced to the country, comprising over 100+ new hotels.

New tourism will have many rooms to fill if the pinch is not going to be felt.

This oversupply may, on one hand, push Doha towards competitive hotel pricing to lure winter sun seekers towards a cheaper alternative to Dubai, and certainly, there is an opportunity to create some kind of competition here. 

As I mentioned before though, a lot of this will hang on the impression Qatar makes during the World Cup itself. 

To that end, seven new stadiums have been built in Qatar solely for the purpose of the World Cup. That’s an interesting number considering there are only eight stadiums hosting matches! 

What’s the plan for them after the event? 

Well, 110,000 seats from upper tiers of larger stadiums will be removed and donated to better causes.

Stadium 974, impressively, will be collapsed, owing to its construction entirely of shipping containers and modular steel. This is the first stadium of its kind, and Qatar should 100% be commended for this.

Smaller stadiums may be used from time to time for national events, and there is a lot of talking coming out of the country about how stadiums will be used as community spaces, but the true legacy of all these stadiums? A very small landmass, covered with (albeit impressive looking) stadiums that won’t be used very often. 

So the answer to the question of the plan for them after the event – is not much of one.

A sporting legacy…but maybe not in football

Sporting legacy by definition would cover the entire spectrum of sport. Naturally, all eyes will be on whether Qatar can maintain a footballing legacy in particular, but I’m not so sure about its prospects for this.

Qatar is currently ranked 48th in the world in soccer. This is actually a thoroughly impressive position! And is mostly reflective of the sport’s position as the most popular in Qatar. 

However, is it enough to sustain a significant legacy? In a country where it’s pretty much unbearable to compete outdoors for four or so months of the year – whether it be football or walking – can the country effectively replicate outdoor conditions in an indoor setting to make football a truly annual sport?

The likelihood is, if there’s going to be a sporting legacy for Qatar, it’s most likely going to be found in its ability to host events in the winter season. That’s at least how I see it. 

I think that if Qatar can prove it’s capable of hosting a seamless fan experience, it will prove itself to have a sporting legacy. I don’t see the nation progressing to a future World Cup anytime soon, however. 

A Path Paved For Future GCC Events

The ball is already rolling with this one!

Operation Saudi 2030 is well underway, as they already look to claim a World Cup tournament of their own. For the proposed event, they are looking to co-host with Egypt and Greece, which would make for an interesting logistical operation.

If there’s one legacy that Qatar can argue that it has already provided to the GCC, it’s the belief that they can host major events themselves.

If Saudi were to claim a World Cup hosting spot, it would really put the region on the map, and the UAE would undoubtedly take note.

With Al Ain home to the impressive Hazza bin Zayed stadium, Abu Dhabi hosting the 42,000-seater Mohamed Bin Zayid stadium, and Qatar with existing infrastructure…I’m just saying!

Maybe a GCC World Cup isn’t too crazy a thought after all.

Qatar’s True World Cup Legacy

Every World Cup has a legacy in some guise. We must ultimately judge Qatar on what it’s able to deliver – not what has been delivered until now, but the experience it provides to fans and teams alike.

I remember the 2010 World Cup in South Africa being flagged as a potential disaster, and the fear of hooliganism hanging over the 2018 World Cup in Russia. However, both events were hugely successful. Ironically, it was Brazil in 2014 that had the logistical issues and fan problems – the motherland of football, of all places!

Let’s give Qatar an opportunity to prove itself.