DOHA (Reuters) – Summer temperatures which can soar to above 50 degrees Celsius and a concern about lack of infrastructure did not deter FIFA Thursday from awarding the 2022 World Cup to the tiny Gulf state of Qatar.
The Middle East has never before hosted a major global sporting event and analysts said Qatar’s win would do much to boost the region’s global profile.
FIFA were likely to have been swayed by Qatar’s hefty financial prowess with money no object for the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas.
The country’s economy, forecast to grow by 15.5 percent this year, is expected to soar by a staggering 21 percent in 2011, allowing Qatar to pour as much cash as necessary into preparations for 2022.
It is likely to spare no expense in constructing stadiums for the event. The ultra-modern Lusail Stadium, which has yet to be built, will host the opening and final matches.
With a capacity of 86,000 and surrounded by water, it will take four years to build and is expected to be completed by 2019.
Under the proposals submitted to FIFA, Qatar would renovate three stadiums and build nine new ones, with the 12 stadiums divided among seven host cities.
The total cost of the construction and renovation is estimated at around $3 billion. It submitted a budget of $645.5 million to run the Confederations Cup in 2021 and the World Cup the following year. It projects a total number of 2,869,000 tickets will go on sale.
Still, much remains to be done, and many wonder whether even 12 years will be enough. The country is still being built, with much of the capital city Doha resembling a construction site.
Qatar has launched a huge spending program in recent years to build infrastructure needed to accommodate its rapidly expanding population, now estimated at 1.7 million.
Over the next five years, the country will build a $25 billion rail network, an $11 billion new airport, a $5.5 billion new deep water seaport and a $1 billion crossing linking the new airport with mega-projects in the northern part of the capital, Doha. It will also spend an additional $20 billion on new roads.
Plans are in place to complete a metro system connecting each stadium by 2017 with venues no more than one hour apart from each other.
“Budget is not a constraint,” said Jamal Al-Kaabi, manager of roads and drainage at Ashgal, Qatar’s Public Works Authority.
Doubts linger over whether Qatar will be able to handle an influx of about 400,000 fans, many on a tight budget. Hosting a World Cup would require the capacity for 32 teams, their traveling fans and a huge media presence.
The country currently has about 50,000 hotel rooms and will need 60,000 to meet the requirements of world soccer’s governing body. Bid leaders have promised 95,000 rooms will be available by 2022.
“With the Asian Games, it became a last-minute panic to get everything ready and in place,” one Doha resident said. “The biggest thing is that there is so much to be done. It’s a monumental task, and you need to finish it a few years early.”
The country’s conservative social mores may present a larger challenge than bid organizers anticipated. While it has become more Westernized in recent years, it is still a relatively closed Islamic nation.
Although Qatar has been eager to display a liberal and welcoming image to inspectors and media during recent months, the sale of alcohol and the possibility of rowdy behavior from World Cup fans are likely to be a significant hurdle in an Islamic country where public drunkenness is prohibited.
Bid representatives have said alcohol will be allowed in designated areas throughout the tournament.
Although the tournament is played during the two hottest months of the year, bid organizers said the heat would not be an issue thanks to climate-controlled, zero-carbon-emitting stadiums.
The country has harnessed solar-powered technology to cool stadiums to about 27 Celsius.
The stadiums would also be partly dismantled after the finals, with the extra seating shipped to developing nations who could reconstruct them as smaller stadiums for their own use, a plus for developing football globally, bid organizers said.
Qatar will be the smallest host nation to stage the finals since Uruguay hosted the first World Cup in 1930. Ten out of its 12 stadiums are located within a 25 to 30 kms radius.