Every four years, the whole globe watches the World Cup, eagerly rooting for their nation’s team or a global favorite such as Brazil, Spain, Argentina or Germany. Flags show up in the most unlikely of places and everyone around the world sits transfixed during those few weeks of summer.
That is, until World Cup 2022 in Qatar.
In 2022, the traditionally summer event might take place in winter, with the FIFA committee all but announcing that Qatar’s controversial bid to host the World Cup will likely necessitate a change in dates. Why? Put simply, it’s the heat.
Temperatures in Doha during June tend to hover somewhere between 40 and 50 degrees, which is rather hot. Didn’t anyone realize this before FIFA chose the Gulf nation to host the tournament?
Well, Qatar promised that the installation of a cutting-edge cooling technology would alleviate the adverse effects of the extreme summer heat. The tournament organizers even built a prototype—solar panels to power an absorption chiller used to chill water, which then cooled air prior to blowing it through the prototype stadium—to convince FIFA that they were capable of tackling the temperature problem.
“Basically, you use the heat to produce cold," is how one professor from London South Bank University explained the technology. “It's doable. But it's going to be very, very expensive. It's going to use lots and lots of kit."
While it might seem that the concern is over the athletes' health, professional athletes are trained to play in all conditions. With the right medical experts on staff, the games could theoretically continue despite the heat. The 1934 World Cup final in Rome was played in temperatures greater than 40 degrees.
FIFA’s concern is actually for the fans, who will come from around the world to watch the tournament. Even if the stadiums and other facilities are air-conditioned, fans will have to weather the extreme temperatures on the streets of Doha. Heatstroke and death aren’t exactly the legacy that anyone wants associated with a World Cup, no matter where it’s going to be held.
Yet, the summer temperatures are just the tip of a melting iceberg for Qatar’s World Cup dreams. After the initial shock that the tiny Gulf country with no name recognition in the football world – besides its sponsorship of FC Barcelona – would be the first Middle Eastern nation to host the global event, the oil- and natural gas-rich nation and FIFA were pounded with accusations of bribery and corruption.
Although FIFA raised questions about Qatar’s handling of the bid, formal charges of corruption have essentially been dismissed. But that has done little to alleviate the speculation and rumors.
Substantial criticism of Qatar’s policies toward migrant workers, which make up the majority of the nation’s dramatically growing population, have also fueled criticism. Particularly, construction workers are reported to face exceptionally poor working conditions, only worsened by the extreme heat of summer.
With all of the dangers, criticism and controversy, why is Qatar so set on hosting the World Cup?
It's not likely because of any short-term financial gain.
The tiny nation has little viable infrastructure to host such a large-scale global event. It's estimated that Brazil invested nearly $14 billion to pull off last summer’s World Cup. Qatar estimates that it will need $16 billion just to construct hotels and stadiums. When other needed facilities and infrastructure are accounted for, some have estimated the total cost to pull off the event to be upwards of $200 billion, according to one report by Al Arabiya.
Considering the adverse toll that the World Cup had on the Brazilian economy, despite the influx in tourism, it's highly unlikely that Qatar will come even close to breaking even in 2022.
But when you're as rich as Qatar, not all investments have to be purely financial. Some have suggested that Qatar sees hosting the World Cup as investing in its brand rather than a strictly financial investment. A relatively obscure nation until quite recently, the enormously wealthy nation, which boasted the world’s highest GDP per capita in 2013 according to the International Monetary Fund, may just be working to build its prestige and brand itself internationally.
Losing the World Cup at this stage wouldn't just be a lost opportunity, it could hurt Qatar's image, the very thing that the Gulf state may have been trying to improve.
“If you look long term, the bigger risk is the loss of brand Qatar," Farouk Soussa, chief economist for the Middle East at Citigroup Global Markets, told CNN . "Qatar has ambitions to be the regional hub for congress, finance, tourism, etc. The World Cup was an integral part of that plan."
Even if Qatar manages to pull-off a successful World Cup in the end, it has not been so successful in combating the bad publicity. British, French, German and Spanish football officials have all expressed great disappointment with the likely change in dates. The final decision won’t be made until the FIFA executive committee meets in Zurich, Switzerland from March 19 to 20.
Perhaps though, Qatar is simply banking on the old slogan that any publicity is good publicity. By 2022, it seems likely Qatar will be a country that few in the world aren’t familiar with. For better or for worse.