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Full speed ahead for Qatar’s 2022 FIFA World Cup

Plans focus on securing a positive legacy

The Aspire Zone, also known as Doha Sports City
The Aspire Zone, also known as Doha Sports City

The December unveiling of the latest new stadium has once again turned the international spotlight on Qatar and refocused attention on the small Gulf nation winning the rights to host a global showpiece sporting event on the scale of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.



Whatever the wider discussions surrounding this topic, few would dispute that the new 40,000-seat stadium will be a spectacular facility. It will be located in Education City, the western-Doha campus of the Qatar Foundation, from which it takes its name – Qatar Foundation Stadium.



The design is inspired by traditional Islamic architecture with the external façade made up of triangles formed into complex geometrical patterns that seem to change colour as the sun arcs across the sky. Inside, panels of translucent, illuminated fabric will also shift colours and patterns during matches. The new stadium promises to be another architectural landmark to grace the Doha skyline.



But turning again to the broader picture, the World Cup in Qatar will be significant for a number of reasons: it’s the first time the event will be staged in the Middle East, the first in an Arab country and the first in Asia since Japan and South Korea jointly held the 2002 tournament. Qatar will also replace Uruguay as the smallest country ever to stage the World Cup.



Yet the fact that Qatar decided to submit its ultimately successful bid to host the global event should come as no surprise to anyone. The country has a long track record as a venue for major international forums and gatherings.



In foreign affairs and trade circles, Qatar is well known for staging such mega-events as UNCTAD XIII, the UN Climate Change Conference, the World Petroleum Congress, the World Chambers Congress and the Doha round of GATT.



In the sporting arena, while the World Cup will clearly be a pinnacle, Qatar is no stranger to attracting big competitions. Having successfully mounted the 2006 Doha Asian Games, the country is now well established as host of an impressive annual calendar of major international events in golf, tennis, powerboat racing, rallying, equestrianism, motorbike racing, athletics and cycling, as well as various one-off tournaments and regional and world championships, such as the 24th Men’s Handball World Championships taking place this January.



Staging high-profile events has long been a key element in Qatar’s overall development strategy, and the 2022 World Cup is expected to have a massive impact, affecting all areas of national life and acting as a catalyst for social and economic change.



Stadium construction inevitably takes centre stage in the World Cup preparations, but questions have been asked about whether the spectator capacity needed to host the World Cup will exceed the country’s own long-term requirements. The innovative solution to this issue is to ensure that the upper grandstand tiers – of both the new and refurbished stadiums – will have modular elements that can be reconfigured to provide a lasting legacy far beyond Qatar’s borders.



Once the tournament is concluded, the plan is to disassemble some 170,000 stadium seats, which will then be provided to developing nations to help build up their sports infrastructure. These will provide up to 22 new sports arenas in emerging economies, leaving Qatar with stadium capacity in line with its domestic needs.



To take the case of the Qatar Foundation Stadium, the 40,000-seat capacity needed to meet FIFA requirements will be engineered to facilitate the removal of the upper sections of the stands to leave room for just 25,000 spectators. In the words of the Qatar Foundation, the plan is to “use the power of sport to unlock human potential and harness positive social change” in developing countries.



Regarding the often-mentioned issue of summer heat, the technology for cooling open-air stadiums is already well advanced. During last year’s World Cup in Brazil, Qatar set up an open-air “fan zone” facility, where more than 10,000 fans came to mingle and enjoy the games on a big screen in comfortable temperatures of less than 20ºC.



Officials point out that advances in technology, including green sources such as solar power, make this possible, even when the outside temperature is as high as 40ºC. Published targets for grandstand temperatures include 24-28ºC for the Qatar Foundation Stadium and 26ºC for Al Wakrah Stadium. Even the Khalifa International Stadium, originally built in 1976, will have a totally new cooling system as part of its refurbishment.



Innovation in technology is being matched by creativity in architecture. For example, the 60,000-seat Al Bayt Stadium, currently under construction in the town of Al Khor, some 40km north of Doha, embodies traditional Bedouin-tent design both in the silhouette of its grandstand roofs and gently bowed side walls, while the flowing contours of the Zaha Hadid-designed Al Wakrah Stadium, south of the capital, take their inspiration from the sails of traditional dhows.



Qatar is hoping for a positive economic legacy from the World Cup in terms of stimulating diversification from its current heavy reliance on the oil and gas sector. The construction phase is already stimulating a boom in non-oil industries, notably engineering, high tech and building work, while the post-construction phase is expected to bring far-reaching benefits in terms of tourism, aviation, retail and a wide range of other services.



It is hoped that the major infrastructure improvements associated with the World Cup will bring a number of long-term benefits to the country. In particular, the new Doha Metro should certainly ensure greater transport efficiency around the capital, while the integrated rail system will improve national connectivity and stimulate regional development outside Doha.



In December, the head of Qatar Rail publicly announced that when the metro and national rail projects are completed, there will be a saving of some 2m kilometres of car travel per day and 258,000 tonnes of carbon-dioxide emissions per year.



A less tangible, but nevertheless significant, benefit will come in the form of heightened international brand recognition for Qatar. Media exposure before, during and after the 2022 tournament will bring the country and the reality of its attractions and facilities to the notice of the world, far beyond the football community.



Such exposure is expected to inspire positive views of the nation as a clean, green, attractive, safe and modern society and encourage the international community to visit and do business with Qatar. It will also help dispel any lingering misconceptions, prejudices and misunderstandings that may exist.



The country’s tourism sector is likely to be the main beneficiary of such international media coverage, as well as through the massive increase in hotel capacity being built to accommodate World Cup fans. The successful hosting of such a prestigious event will also provide Qatar with the recognition and experience to stage similar large-scale events in the future, reinforcing its position as a leading international centre in the conference and exhibitions business.



The World Cup is also seen as providing a unique opportunity for Qataris to interact with other nationalities and cultures face-to-face and to build bridges of goodwill and understanding. It offers a platform for promoting positive Arab and Islamic values, art and culture to a global audience.



The Qatari organisers hope to promote increased regional cooperation by providing opportunities for neighbouring countries to join in the celebration of the Middle East’s first-ever World Cup. Non-Qatari volunteers will be invited to play an active part in the success of the tournament and neighbouring countries will be offered the chance to showcase their attractions and culture to visiting fans.



Speedboat racing in Qatar
Speedboat racing in Qatar
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Horse racing in Qatar
Horse racing in Qatar

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