Qatar World Cup 2022 plans in serious danger

While it is almost to be expected nowadays that any global sporting occasion faces stories of infrastructure delays and various irregularities, with further allegations of bribery and trouble on the ground too, the FIFA World Cup in Qatar 2022 can probably be said to be overachieving.

Qatar winning the bidding process for the 2022 FIFA ahead of its main rival, the United States, caused a lot of raised eyebrows when it was announced in December 2010, and the vote has been dogged by allegations of bribery ever since. In fact even in the run-up to the 2010 vote, two FIFA executive committee members were suspended after appearing to offer to sell their votes in exchange for money and the accusations since have only got worse.

The latest round of allegations that broke over the weekend followed an investigation by UK newspaper The Sunday Times, which says it has seen “millions of documents that prove without a shadow of doubt that corruption was involved,” and that votes were effectively bought. Given that an internal technical report from FIFA called the Qatari bid “high risk” and that summer temperatures in that part of the Middle East can exceed 50 degrees Celsius (leading to all sorts of discussions about moving the tournament to the winter months, which have infuriated the European football leagues) it is no surprise really that its success is being investigated.

Indeed, FIFA’s chief ethics investigator, US attorney Michael Garcia, has said he will complete his probe into the bidding for both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups by mid June — the winning Russian bid for 2018 being also considered to be suspect by some parties — with a report to be submitted mid-July once Brazil 2014 is safely out of the way.

But Qatar’s problems extend beyond the bid process. Even if it survives the forthcoming investigations things are unravelling on the ground too.

Qatar’s plans for the tournament included 12 eco-friendly, carbon-neutral stadiums that would use solar energy to power stadium-wide air conditioning capable of lowering the inside ambient temperature by up to 20 degrees (though the air-con designs are largely untested). And the upper tiers of the nine newly built stadiums would be removed after the tournament and donated to developing countries to help create a sporting infrastructure.

Total cost? In the region of $4bn.

However, it emerged last month that the Qatar authorities have jettisoned plans for three of the new stadiums and are in negotiations with FIFA to get the number down to possibly as low as eight. This is in the context of a massive $200bn program of improvements planned for the country, including $34 billion on a rail and metro system, $7 billion on a port and $17 billion on an airport.

It’s not all for the World Cup — about half of it was going to be spent anyway as part of the state’s Urban Development Masterplan and Qatar is an astonishingly rich nation — but the tournament does present a series of solid, fairly immoveable deadlines and work on the new airport, for instance, is currently six years behind schedule. It does not look promising.

Host broadcast planning

Broadcast plans for it are, as yet, embryonic. Host broadcaster HBS tends to work approximately four years ahead and while it is already quite advanced with its planning for Russia, identifying possible production nodes (made easier by the fact that the dozen stadia for the tournament are all concentrated in the West of the country) and sketching out possible plans for a joint HD/4K production, Qatar is that much further in the future.

The country does though have a decent heritage of broadcast sport. It hosted the Asian Football Cup for the second time in January 2011, for which Gearhouse Broadcast upgraded the SD infrastructure in four venues to HD, and is very much a known entity in terms of sports broadcasting: you just need extremely powerful aircon in any OB vehicles or flypacks heading for the country outside the winter months.

Whether the tournament can go ahead in the country now though is seriously open to question, with calls at the very minimum for a revote getting louder and louder. And if that does happen then the favourite to win would have to be the USA, Qatar defeating the American bid 14-8 in the final round of voting back in 2010.

The earliest anything like that could happen would probably be by the end of 2015, given the winning country 12 months less than the normal seven year cycle to prepare, another factor which favours the US with its already well developed infrastructure and 18 host city model.

In the meantime, Canada, Mexico and Colombia, the three countries that have already thrown their hats into the ring for the 2026 process, must be wondering quite what they have gotten themselves into.

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