It was supposed to be a joyous event that would boost football in the Middle-East, sell Qatar to the world, as well as create a footballing legacy in the country. Six months after Argentina’s victory though, what is the Qatar World Cup legacy?
To read about the World Cup in Qatar click here.
Bribes, sleaze and propaganda
Qatar getting the right to host the World Cup, and the fallout from the corruption around it not only nearly destroyed FIFA (footballs governing body), but also ended the careers of many prominent global soccer figures.
These included now former FIFA head Sepp Blatter, as well legendary footballer Michel Platini then of UEFA.
Other controversies included what proved to be completely impractical “air conditioned stadiums”, as well as the eventual move to a winter world cup.
Yet despite the controversy, as well as the fact media no longer have to say “allegedly brought the world cup”, there were never any plans to strip the country of its hosting rights and the controversy simply continued.
Allegedly foreign workers, mostly from Bangladesh were not only forced to work in the blistering heat, but were also apparently dying at numbers not seen in any previous competition.
Other issues of contention included the rights of LGTBQ+ visitors, as well as the availability of alcohol, although both largely ended up as non-issues, in a tournament that on the whole was seen as a success.
Budweiser for one must now at least be looking back at this as a cakewalk compared to what is happening now.
What though if any is the legacy of the competition?
The Qatar World Cup Legacy
On a whistle stop tour of Doha I was guided by a local student in the State of Qatar’s capital Doha. As with any “sensitive” subject in an absolute monarchy he asked that his real name not be used, while also telling me that I could call him Mohammed – “In Qatar if we do not know a guys name we just call them Mohammed, so you can use that”.
According to Mohammed the fever during the world cup had been “electric” and a whole heap of fun “It was like nothing we had ever seen, there were foreigners everywhere and they were so friendly. Contrary to what people thought people were allowed to drink and there were no actual issues with the LGBT community. I really miss those times”.
Indeed the tournament did bring in a kind of glasnost to Qatar, but sadly it was not to last “Now things have basically gone back to normal and it almost feels like the joy has again been taken away from us”.
A point he further reiterated on our tour by pointing out what the many cars on the road were doing “Now we just go out driving. There really is not that much to do here”.
Another one of our fixers, Maryam felt the same “This is a great country in so many ways, it is so safe we do not even lock cars, but aside from malls the main thing we do for fun is travel out of Qatar”.
The end of the tournament also led to a huge swath of foreigners leaving the country, with some estimates being as high as 23 percent of the population “A lot of people I know left after the world cup, which was pretty sad” Mohammed confirmed.
So, from a social perspective at least the Qatar world cup legacy had not exactly been a success, at least according to the locals we spoke to.
Did the Qatar World Cup achieve sports washing?
One of the principal problems, or rather accusations on Qatar was that it was using the world cup to “sports wash” the country, an accusation now being leveled at Saudi Arabia and the circus attached to its football “Pro League”.
In this respects the country had in some ways succeeded at least to some extent. The global masses of course largely forgot about the country as soon as the tournament had finished, but the country of Qatar was now at least on the tourist map. This was evidenced by the many, usually older foreigners now walking through the Doha souk, something that simply rarely happened before.
According to Mohammed “Since the world cup we see a lot more tourists here, OK it is not like Dubai yet, but at least they are coming”.
Yet while tourists were indeed now coming, getting to Dubai levels would be hard with Maryam stating “We have great architecture and buildings, but aside from malls, sadly little else. There is at least though potential now for the government to grow the industry”.
And travel agencies are indeed not only popping up in the country, but also actively seeking out clients through email campaigns, something that simply did not happen before.
Whether this will lead to Dubai like levels though will depend largely on just how much the largely popular Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is prepared to further open up the country.
A Qatar Sporting World Cup Legacy
From the football side results have also been mixed. For a country of just 2.7 million people (mostly expats) the nation now has far too many stadiums, some of which are being taken down as we speak.
The World Cup will not though be the last completion to be hosted here though, with the 2023 quadrennial Asian Confederation Cup also being held in Qatar after it was moved from China due to concerns about Covid (remember that).
It will though actually be the third time the country has hosted the tournament, with it also running the 1988, and 2011 competitions. Much like the previous world cup though the cup has been moved to January/February of 2024 due to the heat, as well as the controversial choice to invite Qatar to the 2023 CONCACAF Gold Cup to be hosted in the United States and Canada. Qatar were invited despite having the worst footballing record of world cup hosts in the entire off the competition.
The poor results of the national team were also a point of concern, with there even being accusations of (failed) bribery. Qatar not only failed to gain a point, but were far from seen as “representing the Middle-East”. I personally watched the opening match in Sudan, where the locals told me they were supporting “anyone but Qatar”.
You can read about that here
Domestic football in Qatar
The Q-League was rebranded to the Qatari Stars League in 2009, converted to two divisions and relatively large sums of money were invested into the competition. This was again supposed to be part of the ongoing legacy of the World Cup.
Sadly this has largely not occurred with attendances ranging from 2000 to 10000 in the top-tier, although with a population of just 2.7 million, attendances are really not all that bad.
The country have managed just two AFC Champions League wins, both by Al Sadd, although the last was in 2011, way before the world cup was hosted. Local clubs though are far from minnows in the competition though.
Yet both clubs and the Qatari state are trying to invest in and bring young foreign stars to the country, with Cambodian Sieng Chanthea being one of the latest surprise signings in the country.
You can read about that more here.
Yet sadly this ambition has now largely been dwarfed by the billions now being invested into the charade that is the Saudi Pro League, with the overall consensus being that it is now probably too little too late.
Qataris on the whole though are proud that they managed to not only host the world cup, but also to be the first country within the Middle-East to do so. Something even the controversy cannot take away from them.
And they now have a functioning Doha Metro that can get you to the airport in super fast time. But as Mohammed put it himself “most people here have cars and prefer to drive. Gas here is cheap”.
So, yes there is a legacy, but for now it is mixed at best. Yet perhaps and while they would never admit it, was the forward thinking of Qatar that has impaired Saudi in their quest to not only create a “Super League”, but also host the games in 2030. Perhaps the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will even allow alcohol by then…..
This article is adapted from BPVE, (https://bpve.com/) reported and edited from the great team – Cambodia Sports Review. (https://www.cambodiasportsreview.com/)
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