What Qatar can learn from Brazil World Cup

10 July 2014

Brazil’s World Cup experiences can teach Qatar valuable lessons on how to host its event in 2022

Dutch and Mexican footballers taking an unprecedented World Cup cooling break in Fortaleza on 29 June as temperatures approached 40 degrees Celsius highlights the challenge Qatar faces in bringing the world’s largest sports tournament to its desert climate.

As Brazil 2014 draws to an end, the competition will be seen as public relations victory for under-fire organisers Fifa. Some fans are hailing the event as one of the best since the World Cup’s inception 84 years ago, due to the quality of the football and number of goals scored.

But with Qatar sending a 140-strong delegation to Brazil this summer, its observers will have learnt as much from the South American country’s failures as its successes.

The collapse of an unfinished overpass in Belo Horizonte, leaving two dead and 22 injured, and the rush to finish airports and stadiums underlined the importance of getting planned infrastructure in place on time.

Project delays

This is of particular relevance to Qatar, as the Gulf country is planning to roll out as much as $200bn of infrastructure development to prepare for hosting the tournament in 2022. This dwarfs the $11bn Brazil is reported to have spent on infrastructure, including $4bn on 12 new and renovated stadiums.

The South American country’s stadium-building programme was hit by severe delays and cost overruns that left some venues incomplete when the tournament started and diverted funds away from transport projects that would have had a longer-lasting economic benefit. A new metro system was abandoned in Fortaleza and in early June an unfinished monorail collapsed in Sao Paulo.

One of Brazil’s negative experiences that could play into the hands of Qatar is Fifa’s concern over fans’ drunkenness in stadiums

Qatar has already scaled back its stadium plans to avoid being left with white elephants, an accusation levelled at Brazil World Cup organisers, and has cut its hotel room requirements. The Gulf state, however, has just eight years left in which to build planned metro and national rail networks, and has a history of project delays.

The Brazilian and Qatari World Cup bids have both generated controversy, although for largely different reasons, with criticism of the South American tournament mainly linked with protests against wasteful public spending and problems completing infrastructure.

While dissenting voices against Brazil hosting the tournament came from disenfranchised sections of its domestic population, opposition to Qatar has come from outside the country. The Gulf state has been accused of paying bribes to win the right to host the event.

Much has also been made of the hot and humid weather in Qatar, which makes playing and watching football in the summer months an extremely uncomfortable experience.

Qatar’s World Cup organising body, the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, has been testing new cooling technology at open-air fan zones to prepare for similar venues in 2022. A 1,500-capacity fan zone in the Katara cultural district in Doha was established for residents to watch the Brazil matches on a large screen.

According to the Supreme Committee, its cooling technology can lower the outside temperature by 15 degrees in the venue and includes features to restrict wind and to spray cold mist into the crowd.

Tournament temperatures

“The heat of our summer is seen by critics as the main reason why we could not possibly have won the finals fair and square,” said Qatar Football Association president and Supreme Committee board member Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa bin Ahmed al-Thani in an early-July interview with The Australian newspaper.

“But we showed how matches could be played and watched in comfortable conditions. Playing the tournament in winter was not part of our bid. It might seem to some that air-conditioned stadiums are flights of fancy, but we have had cooling systems for outdoor events since 2008.”

Qatar still has to prove it can cool these areas in the daytime when temperatures in July average 41 degrees Celsius and humidity reaches 49 per cent.

The Brazil World Cup has had its own problems with extreme weather affecting players and fans. The tournament introduced cooling breaks with the first taking place in the 32nd minute of the second round match between the Netherlands and Mexico.

The temperature at the start of the game was recorded at 39 degrees Celsius with 60 per cent-plus humidity, and hundreds of spectators were reported to have made their way to the back of the stand seeking shade, leaving rows of seats empty.

While this allows Qatari organisers to point out that the Gulf State will not be the first host to experience difficulties with extreme weather, it also highlights the depth of the challenge in holding the tournament in summer desert conditions.

Another of Brazil’s negative experiences that could play into the hands of Qatar is Fifa’s concern over the level of drunkenness among fans in the World Cup stadiums.

Fifa demanded that Brazil suspend its law prohibiting alcohol sales in football stadiums, which was introduced in 2003 to curb violence among rival fans. In what was nicknamed the ‘Budweiser bill’, after the official beer sponsor of the World Cup, Brazil was pressured into passing a law allowing alcohol sales for the duration of the matches.

In early 2012, Fifa’s secretary-general, Jerome Valcke, said the right to sell alcohol at the 12 stadiums used has to be part of the law.

“Alcoholic drinks are part of the Fifa World Cup, so we’re going to have them. Excuse me if I sound a bit arrogant, but that’s something we won’t negotiate,” he said duing a visit to inspect venues, causing some controversy in Brazil.

However, in an early July interview with Brazilian sports channel SporTV, Valcke said he was worried by the levels of drunkenness in the World Cup stadiums, saying “maybe there were too many people who were drunk”.

“I was struck and worried by the level of drunkenness of many supporters who do not behave well because of this,” said Valcke. “We will always take safety into account and if we believe [alcohol sales] should be controlled, it will be controlled. Fifa made the request because we did the same thing for the other World Cups and we did not have a problem, but it is something we will have to examine.”

A rethink by Fifa on the insistence on alcohol being sold at stadiums could be a positive development for Qatar. The conservative country’s laws on alcohol sales are some of the most restrictive in the world and organisers are likely to find it problematic relaxing these laws to recreate an atmosphere similar to previous successful World Cup events.

Qatari security forces are also inexperienced in dealing with the kind of violence and inappropriate behaviour associated with intoxicated football fans from other parts of the world.

The observation mission to Brazil and the testing of fan zones in Doha show the Supreme Committee is pushing ahead as normal with its World Cup preparations. This is despite the uncertainty of Fifa’s bribery investigations, which received widespread media coverage in the run up to the Brazil World Cup.

The initial controversy was sparked by the role disgraced former Fifa executive Mohamed bin Hammam played in securing the Qatar’s World Cup bid. The Qatari national allegedly paid millions of dollars into the accounts of the presidents of 30 African football associations and handed out further funds at hospitality events in Africa in an effort to get them to vote for Qatar’s proposal over rival bids by Australia, Japan, South Korea and the US.

The UK’s Sunday Times newspaper claims to have obtained millions of documents detailing the alleged payments. Hammam also allegedly paid $1.6m into bank accounts controlled by Trinidad national Jack Warner, one of the 22 people who in 2010 voted to award Qatar the World Cup.

Ethics investigation

Fifa’s Ethics Committee is carrying out an investigation into the allegations and is expected to report its findings in mid-July.

Qatar’s Supreme Committee denies any knowledge of a secret role in its campaign and says it has no knowledge of payments made in advance of the 2010 vote.

“I recognise why those not involved in the process might find Qatar’s success difficult to understand,” said Sheikh Hamad. “From the day we launched our bid to the day we won the contest in Zurich, we played strictly by the rules. It is why we are happy to cooperate fully with Fifa’s inquiry. We have nothing to hide or fear.”

Fifa’s decision on whether or not to keep the World Cup in Qatar will have a profound effect on the way the Gulf state defines itself over the next decade. If the oil and gas exporter’s bid to gain recognition backfires, it would take a lot longer than eight years for Qatar to rebuild its image on the world stage.

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