Picture the scene. Sunday July 10 2022. The final whistle blows, and the 213-strong crowd inside Qatar’s Lusail Iconic Stadium go wild as Kazakhstan are crowned World Champions, beating Papua New Guinea 8-6 in the final.
“It doesn’t matter that almost every other team boycotted the tournament in protest at the 50c heat. A World Cup is a World Cup,” proclaims the team captain, Sergei Khizhnichenko.
The final is also a personal triumph for Sepp Blatter, after a corruption scandal over his decision to award the 2026 tournament to Alaska.
Sounds absurd? Not really. Unfortunately, even though it’s nine years away, it may now be time to think long and hard about Qatar 2022. This website has long championed Qatar’s victory in winning the rights to stage the 2022 tournament. It was a great victory for both Qatar and the Arab world. Qatar put together the best bid, and won every single round of the voting process. It was done fairly and squarely, and for all the hype, speculation and innuendo, there isn’t a shred of credible evidence to suggest otherwise.
But since then, much has changed. Whichever spin anyone puts on it, this is the reality today: none of the big teams want to play a summer World Cup in Qatar and most would probably boycott it. Even if they didn’t, the top clubs in Europe would not release their players for a summer tournament on medical grounds, and even less so to a winter tournament because of the disruption it would cause to their domestic seasons. And yes, dare we say it, everyone outside the Gulf thinks Qatar bribed FIFA to win the rights.
FIFA is about to announce a plan to move the tournament to the winter – this will almost certainly prompt a legal challenge from the countries that lost out on the bid, including Australia and the USA. In all probability, the 2022 World Cup hosting rights will end up in the courts for several years and have to be rebid.
It is, at best, a complete mess. At worst, a total, utter and complete shambles - none of which is of Qatar’s making or Qatar’s fault. FIFA couldn’t have botched this up more if they tried.
But unfortunately, Qatar is left holding the baby. What should it do? Well, we believe there is one option. The nuclear option: giving back the World Cup. Telling Blatter and his largely disreputable organisation, “thanks, but no thanks.”
There are many reasons why this is worth considering, the first and biggest being financial. Qatar is already estimated to be preparing to spend a minimum of $130bn on the event, the highest of any host nation in the tournament’s history. Compare this to Brazil’s $13.28bn for 2014, and the $40bn for Russia to stage the tournament in 2018. South Africa, which held the last event in 2010, spent $5bn. What is significant is how each of these figures has rocketed from original estimates: Brazil is running close to 20 percent over budget (hence the recent riots), and Russia a massive 100 percent over its original estimates. Don’t be surprised to see Qatar’s real cost touching $200bn.
As for making a profit, forget it. In 1994, the US, after staging what is widely seen as one of the most efficiently run tournaments, went from a projected $4bn profit to $9bn loss. South Africa’s politicians are still arguing over how much they lost, while Germany in 2006 – which didn’t require the construction of a single new stadium – just about broke even. World Cups don’t make money for host nations – but they do very well for FIFA, which takes the television revenues and a huge chunk of F&B receipts from around the stadiums (similar to the way Formula One is run).
According to FIFA itself, it raked in $3.6bn for the broadcast rights in 2010, and will take around $4bn for 2014. Currently, it banks around 60 percent of all television revenues. FIFA has already estimated that its actual profit from the 2014 World Cup will be $2.23bn. No country in the entire history of the World Cup has ever come, or ever will come, close to that. Qatar, it is fair to say, will definitely not make a profit.
Of course, Qatar doesn’t need to make a profit. In fact, far from suggesting we believe Qatar should can the 2022 investment plans, we believe the vast majority should be made regardless of a World Cup. The fabulous plans for a new transportation infrastructure including new roads, a new metro and a new airport – even many new hotels – should proceed. They are all intrinsic towards Qatar’s National Vision 2030.
Doha and Qatar have all the ingredients necessary to become an international financial and tourism hub over the coming decade, but a World Cup is increasingly becoming a distraction (and guaranteed loss maker). FIFA should have been proud that it had awarded the tournament to a country prepared to invest over 30 times the amount South Africa did. Instead, it has allowed the debate over a summer tournament to linger and fester. Companies bidding for work related to 2022 are being left in limbo and the country’s image – completely unfairly – is taking battering from both FIFA executives who voted for Qatar in the first place, and from other countries doing their best to disrupt the preparations.
In short, we believe Qatar is better than this. Its leaders have quietly turned it into one of the world’s richest nations, and the National Vision 2030 will make it one of the most prosperous of the 21 century. But the 2022 World Cup has turned this great and proud nation into a lightning rod for criticism, controversy and downright abuse. Given the likely legal challenges to moving the tournament to winter, the odds on Qatar actually ending up hosting the tournament in winter or summer are lengthening by the day.
Which is why on October 2, when FIFA executives convene to rubber stamp their expected decision to move the World Cup to winter, Qatar should make its own bold announcement: it should give FIFA back the World Cup.
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