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Sat 18 Sep 2010 10:40 AM

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Qatar faces up to World Cup challenges

Qatar aiming to be the first Middle East country to host finals faces significant cultural and social hurdles.

Qatar faces up to World Cup challenges
STRONG ISSUES:Apart from the concerns over Qatars conservative society, doubts linger over whether it can handle an influx of about 400,000 fans (Getty Images)

FIFA's inspection team toured Doha last week to evaluate the country's chances of hosting the 2022 World Cup.

The tiny Gulf Arab state is eager to display a liberal and welcoming image to inspectors and media, though its $4 billion bid for the tournament has been dismissed by many as unrealistic given its conservative social mores and lack of soccer culture.

While it has become more westernized in recent years, it is still a relatively closed Islamic nation with most Qatari women covered head to toe in long, black abayas.

The sale of alcohol as well as the often rowdy behaviour of World Cup fans from around the world present significant challenges in an Islamic country where public drunkenness is prohibited.

Bid communications director Nasser Al Khater said: "Qatar is a country with a conservative culture, however we are also a country that respects its guests and visitors," said .

He added: "We will have dedicated zones where alcohol will be served."

Still, doubts linger over whether Qatar can handle an influx of about 400,000 fans, many on a tight budget.

An expat resident of Doha said: "The problem is that you have nothing low-end here. This is not a cheap place for tourists. Everything is five star."

Qatar, which currently has about 50,000 hotel rooms, will need 60,000 to meet the requirements of world soccer's governing body FIFA. Bid leaders have promised 95,000 rooms would be available by 2022.

Hosting a World Cup would require capacity for 32 teams, their travelling fans and a huge media presence.

Qatar has launched a massive spending programme in recent years to build infrastructure needed to accommodate its rapidly expanding population, now estimated at 1.6 million. Much of the capital city Doha resembles a construction site.

Plans are in place to complete a metro system connecting every stadium by 2017, with each stadium no further than one hour apart, according to bid leaders.

If Qatar wins the right to host the event it would be the first major global sporting event staged in the Middle East.

Steven Humphrey, head of construction consultancy Davis Langdon's Qatar office said: "From a commercial point of view it would do very well here because of the time zones. The biggest spectator audience comes from Europe, South America and Asia."

Ferocious summer temperatures that can soar to above 50 degrees Celsius are likely to deter some visiting fans, but organizers say they have already tackled the issue by constructing climate controlled, zero-carbon emitting stadiums.

And for the world's largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, money is no object. The country's economy is expected to grow by 16 percent this year.

Humphrey said: "The biggest thing is that there is so much to be done."

He added: "Money is not an issue. Getting a plan in place is an issue."

FIFA would not even entertain a bid from Qatar if there was any suggestion that Israel, shunned by most of the Arab world, would not be allowed to compete if it qualified.

Despite Qatar not recognising the Jewish state, bid CEO Hassan Al Thawadi has promised that Israel would be welcomed.

Qatar's campaign to host the event received a huge boost in July when Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President Mohamed Bin Hammam, a Qatari, threw his weight behind his country's campaign.

If, as widely expected, the World Cup goes to Europe in 2018, Qatar will be competing with United States as well as AFC heavy hitters South Korea, Japan and Australia for the right to host the 2022 tournament.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter will announce the winning bid in Zurich on December 2. (Reuters)

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Bored Hotelier 10 years ago

Qatar does not have 50,000 Hotel Rooms. It currently has 8,495 According to this site: http://www.qatartourism.gov.qa/press/index/1/52 That site is the tourism ministries own web site. The same web site claims 21,744 Hotel rooms are under construction, giving a grand total of 30,000. The problem with this is I know that less than half of those 21,744 rooms are actually under construction. And that Qatar doesn't actually have 8,495 rooms. It's closer to 6,800. A realistic figure for 2010-2012 would be a total of 9,700 rooms in all sectors. That means that Qatar would need to construct 50,000 Hotel rooms just to meet the Fifa minimum NOT the smaller figure of 10,000. Fifa this week mentioned that 80,000 "accredited" people attended South Africa 2010. This means 80,000 people need to have a hotel room or accommodation on top of an estimated 250-500K fans. Now think about this. One stadium holds on average 40,000 people, There are 3 games a day during the group stages. You now have 120,000 people in the country. Now let's assume they all double up in their rooms, that's 60,000 rooms needed for one night. Now assume 50% of people leave the next day, but 50% stay. The next night you need 90,000 rooms. And so on. I have read many arguments about alcohol but it's room numbers that fundamentally undermine the bid. Also look at the occupancy numbers, in 2009 it was approx 50% How many hotel chains in the world are going to be prepared to add further supply to a market that is running at 50% occupancy?

Samuel Adamson 10 years ago

I suppose that living in the "West" as you do (Dubai I guess) that you couldn't bear to think that a "strict" Muslim country as Qatar could possibly stage an event of this sort. I DO live here and can vouch for their willingness and capabilities. Instead of evoking a quite negative spin on your entire article it would have been nice if you did a bit more critical digging. Then you would realize the truth including the benefits that this will bring to the entire Gulf region.

Alex T 10 years ago

It's nice to see an article on this subject in the local press that doesn't resemble a mindless press release. Apart from the question of hotel rooms and alcohol, I think one of the main problems is that there isn't much to do tourist-wise in Qatar. It's a very small country and one can only do so much shopping before boredom sets in. I think it would have been a better idea to have a GCC World Cup. The games could be split between Qatar, Bahrain, the UAE and Oman for example and would provide more diversity for visitors and less pressure on individual countries to construct a lot of infrastructure that will not be used after the Cup.

Hossam 10 years ago

Im egyptian and lives in Dubai . I suggest that UAE , Bahrain , Qatar and Kuwait should get together and do it . All 4 countries can share their hotels together with their airline companies . Assume Egypt plays in FIFAWW " I wish :-) " then I will attend only their matches by flying from dubai to Doha which is just 50 min flight . It will be the AIRLINES of Emirates , Gulf Air , Etihad , Kuwait Airlines and Fly Dubai to organize and united deal and very low prices or be package it with the game ticket prices for fans of a given country and many many more ideas ... This could be a chnace to get the GCC together for one time !!! On the other hand SA spent $4bn on stadiums that they won't use unless they turn them into cricket stadiums , but Qatar will use them in football . Business in GCC is the future and it's worth hotel chains to open more hotels in Qatar for future use as well . I wish Qatar all the best but I wish more to see the GCC or the arabs get together one day on one thing other than the ministries of interiors :-)

Joe Bloggs 10 years ago

The problem with Qatar being so small and having so few people, is that an average group of Chelsea fans could take over the country on any given evening. The World Cup brings in thugs that represent at least 15 countries that are looking for agro, and Qatar would become embroiled and ultimately trashed. Honestly, it is too hot, too small, does not have anywhere near enough hotel rooms, still lacks a good infrastructure. Having said all that, if one country in the Middle East could put things in place for this, it would be Qatar.

lee 10 years ago

this really is the craziest idea ever, whilst i admire the effort that Qatar is putting in and the impressive stadia being proposed this country is nowhere near ready to hold a world cup. as has been stated elsewhere a joint bid between the UAE and Qatar would have been a much better idea. the comment that everything in Doha is 5 Star should perhaps be clarified to that everything in Doha is 5 Star Prices. the country is a total mess at present with terrible infrastructure. i could not even get a taxi to the airport last week despite having booked a day in advance. anyone who attended the England v Brazil game last year will say yes nice stadia but what about the zero atmosphere due to no alcohol, no parking (we walked for 30 mins ok in November but not the middle of summer) and then the two hour journey home. that game clearly demonstrated that Qatar struggled desperately to hold a single game. i remember also the angry visiting England fans in the Ramada who couldn't understand why they couldn't get a drink at 4 in the afternoon. Of course money talks and i think they will win it, like we see with F1 Grand Prixs its not about the fans its about the money hence we see races held at soul less venues like Bahrain.

Dave 9 years ago

I suggest the FIFA team to hand it over to Dubai or its better Qatar bid for the 2022 FIFA world cup and let it organise in Dubai because I think Dubai has got enough and more infrastructure already in place and some infrastructure developments are still going on. Moreover Dubai is far far liberal than any other cities in the middle east, its almost equivalent to any western city. Hats off to HH Sheikh Mohammad for his ambitious vision!!! He is simply great!!! Doesnt mean Qatar is not upto the mark, but still it lack many things and the tourist inflow is very less when compared to Dubai. Its infrastructure still has a long way to go. I am sure that Dubai would make it a grand success!!!