Qatar’s $200 billion splurge will be hard to justify when the World Cup ends

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An expensive affair.
Photo: Elsa (Getty Images)

Twelve years after FIFA announced that the world’s largest football tournament would be played in the Middle East for the first time, the Qatar World cup is finally here. The first game between Qatar and Ecuador kicks off on Sunday (Nov. 20).

The host country, mired with controversies relating to bribery, budgetary mismanagement, and human rights abuses, is expecting over a million tourists during the monthlong tournament.

Qatar, a tiny country with fewer than 3 million people, did not, at first, have the infrastructure to handle this influx. But over the past decade, it has built roads, added rooms to its hotel and apartment inventories, and spruced up existing airports while preparing to reopen old ones.

To do all this, it has spent more than any other World Cup host country ever—not by a little, but by hundreds of billions of dollars.

World Cup 2022, by the digits

Qatar’s big splurge

$220 billion: Estimated cost of the Qatar World cup. Until now, the most expensive was Brazil’s 2014 tournament, which cost just $15 billion.

$17 billion: The expected economic gain of hosting the World Cup for Qatar, down from an earlier estimate of $20 billion

8: Number of stadiums across which the tournament will be played. All but one have been built from scratch for the World Cup.

The fan side

40%: How much more fans will fork out for Qatar match tickets, on average, compared to the last World Cup in Russia in 2018

£5,000: The minimum that English and Welsh fans will have to shell out for flights to and accommodation in Qatar

1,300: The number of English and Welsh fans banned from attending by the UK Home Office, for their history of soccer-related violence

31,123: The number of hotel rooms available, 80% of which have been booked by FIFA for players, guests, and officials. Qatar has constructed 100 hotels and service apartment towers in the run-up to the World Cup.

3: The number of cruise ships serving as floating hotels, providing thousands of extra rooms. The prices start at $470 a night, and a two-night minimum applies for booking.

6,000: The number of Portacabins installed in the World Cup village, going for $200 a night. The Qatar government plans to donate these Portacabins to low-income countries after the event.

1,000: The number of modern tents on a manmade island near Doha, where some fans will stay, in a plan that exudes Fyre Festival vibes.

$0: The cost of metro and bus access, between Nov. 10 and Dec. 23, for those with a Hayya card– a fan ID that allows ticketholders entry into Qatar and the stadiums

With a little help from its neighbors

140,000: The number of rooms—115,000 in hotels and 25,000 in rental apartments—available in Dubai, where many fans are expected to stay

500: The number of daily shuttle flights that will allow fans to “commute” into Qatar for the games from neighbouring countries like the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Saudi Arabia

Qatar isn’t just splurging for football

Qatar’s crazy spending is also aligned with the broader Qatar National Vision 2030, a plan designed to improve both the country’s standard of living and its international relations. According to Bloomberg Intelligence, Qatar has spent $300 billion on infrastructure projects, including highway expansions and airport upgrades, which will last for years to come.

While the roads and metros will find heavy domestic use, though, the hotels and apartments may not draw as much local and international interest. Doha is, after all, no competition for Dubai, the regional magnet for tourism and entertainment.

The one big investment that’s raising eyebrows, though, is the $6.5 billion spent on the stadiums. Lusail Stadium, the latest and largest, will host the final and can seat 80,000. For such a small country, these stadiums will quickly become largely redundant—especially since Qatar’s most successful football team, Al-Sadd, playing in the Qatar Stars League, averages a home crowd of just 1,500 in Doha, according to the Daily Mail. The second-most popular team, Al-Rayyan, does not draw crowds of even 1,000 people.

The non-monetary costs of the Qatar World Cup

🌳 Qatar’s claim that it will be hosting the world’s first “carbon neutral” World Cup is a misleading one. In one example, researchers have found that the total carbon footprint for the six permanent stadiums will amount to at least eight times the organizers’ original carbon accounting.

☠️ During the construction of various World Cup-related projects over the last decade, Qatar may have seen as many as 6,500 deaths among migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, according to a Guardian analysis. The Qatari government’s death toll figure is a far lower 37.

💰 Migrant workers have been protesting unsettled payments.

👀 Qatar faces bribery allegations for winning its World Cup bid, and now there are match-fixing rumors swirling days before the tournament commences.

⚽ Fans will face many constraints. Women have been advised to cover their shoulders. Alcohol consumption is restricted, and plans to sell beer at the stadiums have been shelved. Premarital, unmarried, and gay relationships are banned in Qatar, and violations are met with flogging and prison sentences. This may not apply to visitors, but can nonetheless be unnerving.

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