FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022: A look ahead

FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022: A look ahead

by Nick Hendry

A little under 1 year from now Cuban cigar lovers will join the rest of the world to discuss the completion of the latest FIFA World Cup, to be held in Qatar.  The most popular sport on the planet will take its greatest tournament to the Arab world for the first time, a move which accounts for the schedule being shifted from summer to winter.  December 18th 2022 will see the successors to 2018 champions France take their place in football history, and football fans across the globe are expected to watch in gargantuan numbers.  3.7 billion of us tuned in to the last tournament in Russia, with 1.1 billion watching the final alone.  Only the summer Olympics has a drawing power comparable to that of the beautiful game.

The 2022 edition of the World Cup will likely be even more closely observed than its predecessors, due in part to the changes to the traditional hosting of the tournament.  Qatar is by far the smallest nation to have been chosen, and does not have a pedigree in the sport.  Much has been made of allegations of bribery and corruption during the selection process; allegations which are fiercely denied by the state and FIFA, but which persist regardless and are lent weight by the conviction of FIFA officials for various corruption and ethics violations in the years following the 2010 vote.

The Ahmed bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar

The Ahmed bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan

Alongside the concerns raised by the awarding of the biggest sporting event in the world to a tiny-but-rich state with no real history in the game involved are substantial objections to the human rights record of Qatar and, in particular, their treatment of foreign migrant workers.  Hundreds of thousands have been employed to build the stadia required, and much has been made of the terrible conditions, poverty-level pay and restrictions on liberty they are forced to endure while doing so.  Reports of workers refused permission to leave the country or change jobs – their passports and visas being controlled by their employers – are rife, and have led to calls from human rights groups for sponsors to boycott the tournament.  While statistics can vary dramatically depending on the source, some estimates point to 7,000 migrant workers having died by the time tournament kicks off, mainly as a result of poor living facilities and overworking in the 40+ degree summer heat.  Recent changes to Qatari law, designed to abolish the kafala system and grant more rights to foreign workers, have helped mitigate the situation, but have been criticised by organisations like Amnesty as not having gone far enough.

One thing is for certain: the tournament held by Qatar will be spectacular.  Many of the new venues are already finished and look incredible. The Al-Rayyan Stadium has been redeveloped using 80% recycled material and will host facilities for cricket, horse riding and more – not just football – when the tournament is over.  The Al Janoub stadium was designed by Zaha Hadid to represent the traditional dhow boats used in the region and will host community properties including a market and a wedding hall for years to come.  Both developments will donate half the available seating to countries around the world in need of football infrastructure following the final.  In total, seven new grounds have been built for this World Cup and the existing Khalifa International Stadium massively redeveloped.  In addition to the upgrades to infrastructure across the nation, Qatar estimates the coat of the preparations to be around UD$220 billion.  In a tiny peninsula into the Arabian Gulf, this represents astonishing physical change for the country, and fans who travel there will be greeted by a truly futuristic setup.

The magnificent Al Janoub Stadium

The Zaha Hadid-designed Al Janoub Stadium in A-Wakrah, Qatar

Those fans – around a million across the 28 days, if organiser’s forecasts are correct – will mostly be staying in Doha.  Qatar only has around 30,000 hotel rooms available, so apartments, villas, and even a pair of cruise ships to dock in the harbour are being prepared as alternatives.  Some observers are concerned about the potential for trouble at the tournament, with fans so closely packed together and all matches played within a 50km radius, but FIFA instead present this proximity as a benefit – at no other World Cup would it have been so easy to attend 2 matches in one day.  The Qatari government has also assured the world that, despite strict anti-LGBTQ+ laws, fans of all genders and sexualities will be welcomed.  Whether this works in practice remains to be seen.

2018 Champions France and their talisman, Kylian Mbappe

Kylian Mbappe became only the second teenager to score in a World Cup final in 2018

Of course, the main thing we look to a World Cup for is the football itself.  This quadrennial festival brings together the best of the best, and is the greatest stage for any player to grace.  Qualifying is reaching its end, and almost half of the line-up is already confirmed, so from where will these players – and fans – be arriving?  So far most of the big names have booked their spot – former champions and perennial favourites Brazil, Argentina and Germany will join the host nation and holders France in the group stage.  Many places are still up for grabs, however, and we could still see some surprises.  Such is the structure of the European qualifying tournament it is already guaranteed that if the great Cristiano Ronaldo is to have another crack at the trophy before (probable) retirement it will be at the expense of Euro 2020 champions Italy, while in Africa Mali are only one tie away from a debut at the finals and more established nations such as Ivory Coast and South Africa are out.

Whichever teams end up in Qatar for the start of the tournament next November, it is sure to be another excellent tournament.  After delayed and curtailed regional tournaments throughout 2020 and 2021, it promises to be exactly what the whole world, not just the football world, needs.

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