Doha will be busy congratulating itself for winning the rights to host the 2022 football World Cup.

It is an astonishing achievement for the tiny Gulf state, establishing not only Qatar, but the entire region, as a serious player in international business and sport.

But the success should not be seen as the fulfilment of Doha’s goals, only as a major step towards them.  

From the start, Doha faced an enormous challenge even to be considered as a serious bidder for the tournament, let alone actually hosting it. The country’s lack of a footballing pedigree and facilities, its small population, as well as its hot summer climate were all major obstacles to the credibility of Qatar’s World Cup bid. Indeed, they will continue to be challenges to the delivery of the tournament.

Doha’s understanding of Fifa

The fact that Qatar was able to overcome these obstacles is testament to the way the country approached the process. In its bid, Doha addressed each of these issues head on, presenting a series of convincing technical, social and environmental commitments aimed at negating each of the arguments against bringing the tournament to the Gulf.

For many people outside the region, Doha’s successful bid to host the 2022 football World Cup was a shock. It was not to anyone who had seen the bid before and who understood the scale of Doha’s ambitions. Throughout the long build-up to the final bidding deadline, it was informative to see so many people – who had been initially sceptical of Qatar’s bid – come away convinced by the quality of its offering.

Essential to Qatar’s success was the political support from the very top of the state, but Qatar was not unique in this. Most crucial to its success was Doha’s understanding of the Fifa bidding process and its ability to leverage its resources – in the short term to lobby for votes, and in the longer term to finance a football legacy in this region and beyond.

Football-mad region

Following the results of the vote, many voices in the established football nations, particularly England, have cried foul, saying that Doha’s victory reflects a corrupt selection process that is not good for football. These noises are to do with the politics of world football and should not detract from the significance of Qatar’s success to the region.  

Those who argue about the lack of football supporters in the region need to look at the large football-mad populations in the countries around Qatar – Saudi Arabia (30 million people), Iraq (30 million). Iran (70 million) and Egypt (77 million). In this context, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will be arguably more accessible to more football fans than Russia’s tournament in 2018.  

Further, hosting the world’s biggest sporting event in the Arab world provides an enormous moment of optimism at a time of so much rising tension between the Muslim world and the West.

Building towards the World Cup will inject a new dynamism into the drive by Qatar, and the region, to diversify its economy away from its dependence on oil and gas. Almost $50bn-worth of projects that were planned will now definitely happen as a result of this success, giving a decade-long boost to the state’s projects industry that had reached a peak.

Construction golden period

For companies working in Qatar, the World Cup will ensure that a long list of megaprojects will now go ahead as the country seeks to put in place the infrastructure needed to deliver the event. From the Doha metro system to a series of world-class football stadiums, contractors in the state can look forward  to a golden period in the country’s construction sector.

The World Cup will also provide a boost to the rest of the Gulf, not only in attracting more visitors to the region, but also in showing that the Gulf is world-class destination capable of holding global events.

It is vital, however, that Doha does not lose sight of the most important aspect about hosting the World Cup – namely, what comes afterwards.

Qatar has landed a unique opportunity to develop not only its physical infrastructure, but also to develop its social, economic and legislative environment to lay the bedrock of a sustainable, diversified economy that can be a model for the rest of the region.     

Doha has done the job well, so far, but the hard work begins now.

The opportunities and challenges created in Qatar by the World Cup are the focus of MEED’s annual Qatar Projects Conference on the 8-9 February 2011. The conference features a presentation from the Qatar World Cup bid chief executive officer Hassan al-Thawadi.More information about the MEED Qatar Projects event.