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Heat stays on Qatar despite winter World Cup

FIFA`s decision to hold the 2022 World Cup in winter takes some heat off Qatar but the Gulf state still faces major challenges in the next seven years.

AFP| Updated: Mar 18, 2015, 19:04 PM IST
Heat stays on Qatar despite winter World Cup

Zurich: FIFA`s decision to hold the 2022 World Cup in winter takes some heat off Qatar but the Gulf state still faces major challenges in the next seven years.

The treatment of migrant workers and just the question of whether the giant project can be delivered are worries for football leaders.

Football`s governing body meets in Zurich on Thursday and Friday to decide the definitive dates in November-December 2022 for the tournament. Scorching summer temperatures meant FIFA could not stick to traditional June-July matches.

Qatar said it was happy to have a tournament at any time. But it has other worries.

Longstanding concerns over conditions for migrant workers in Qatar will be raised at the Zurich meeting. FIFA`s president Sepp Blatter on a visit to the Gulf earlier this week said "more must be done in Qatar" to protect workers.

Rights groups are unsatisfied by proposed reforms to pay, living conditions and the "kafala" labour system, which critics liken to modern-day slavery.

Qatar is also set to more than double the number of migrant labourers in the country to 2.5 million in the next five years as it embarks on huge infrastructure projects.

Although human rights has dominated the Qatar World Cup debate -- along with unresolved corruption allegations -- there are other pressing issues.

The 2022 World Cup will be the most compact tournament ever, with most stadiums around the capital, Doha.

Qatar is still to decide whether the games will be played in eight stadiums or a maximum of 12, with the lower figure looking most likely. A final decision will be made by the end of the year, say organisers.

The small state, with a population of 2.3 million, also expects up to one million visitors for the tournament which also be the most expensive ever.

Brazil`s World Cup in 2014 cost an estimated $20 billion. Qatar is spending $45 billion alone on building a city to host the World Cup final, Lusail, some 15 kilometres (10 miles) north of Doha.

The country has embarked on a $200 billion spending splurge in the runup to 2022, building a metro system for Doha, a new port and huge reservoirs.Although no one is doubting that Qatar, buoyed by gas and oil money, can afford the World Cup, the scale of the vast projects lead some to question whether the tiny Gulf state can deliver.

"This is a World Cup on an unprecedented scale," said Simon Chadwick, professor of sports business strategy at Coventry University in England.

"There is so much that potentially could go wrong. It`s almost unprecedented in sporting terms, it`s creating something out of nothing."

Chadwick also argued that although Qatar is a safe country, regional security will be raised "at some stage" by some due to events in nearby countries.

Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Centre, though said the issue of stability is "highly speculative".

"This neighbourhood is always prone to instability," he said, adding "the Qataris will leave no stone unturned" in ensuring security for the tournament.

Qatar also has tough cultural decisions to make for the World Cup, especially the use of alcohol.

Qataris cannot drink alcohol, but expatriates can as long as they have the correct permit.

One official sponsor for 2022 will be the giant American brewer Anheuser-Busch, maker of Budweiser lager, the "official beer" of the tournament.

Qatar organisers say alcohol will be available in certain areas. But will it be enough for the huge number of visitors expected?

"Significant numbers of people outside the Middle East associate football with alcohol," said Chadwick.

Travelling to a World Cup, he added, "involves alcohol and it doesn`t involve shopping in malls or visiting museums".

"I think, at the moment, Qatar`s views of why people might travel to Qatar are somewhat out of kilter of what they might do at a World Cup."