Analysis

Qatar – One Year On

This month marks a year since the announcement that Qatar is to host the 2022 World Cup. Dan McAlister looks at how the tiny Gulf state is stepping up to become the first in the region to hold the world’s biggest football tournament   It’s December 2 2010 and FIFA is announcing the host nations […]

This month marks a year since the announcement that Qatar is to host the 2022 World Cup. Dan McAlister looks at how the tiny Gulf state is stepping up to become the first in the region to hold the world’s biggest football tournament

 

It’s December 2 2010 and FIFA is announcing the host nations of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments. Watching the announcement at a bar in Liverpool the disappointment in the air was palpable. With a bid backed by David Beckham, Prime Minister David Cameron and even Prince William, England believed football was ‘coming home’.

Spectators and fans thought it controversial when the first tournament was awarded to Russia, but when it was revealed that the Middle East would host its first World Cup, the critics went into overdrive.

One year on and preparations, albeit slowly, are beginning to completely transform both the look and perceptions of what essentially is a very small country in the Gulf. Of the work planned, the number of hotel rooms is set to double; three stadiums will be refurnished with nine new ones to be constructed; the troubled Friendship Bridge, linking Qatar to Bahrain, is said to be underway again; and regenerations to the tune of $25 billion are underway at Doha Port. Further regeneration of downtown Doha and retail and leisure projects continue to make progress.

In July 2012 the first invitations were announced for contracts in the $35bn Q Rail programme — the largest railway programme in history. In addition, Qatar is starting to select contractors for its $20bn expressway programme, probably the most ambitious the world has ever seen. Yet the predicted pace a year ago was much greater.

“The impact from the bid of last year actually hasn’t hit as yet,” says Laura Warren, a Doha-based construction lawyer, who has lived in the city for the last five years.

“There are certainly more people coming into town. There’s a lot more foreign investment and essentially it is all connected to the construction industry,” she observes.

“Physically I haven’t seen very much work going on but there’s a lot of interest from people, a lot of plans for expansion, everybody’s trying to compete,” she continues, adding that she believes the country to be in its ‘quiet before the storm’, but that sufficient infrastructure must be in place to ensure timely delivery of all the necessary projects.

“The opportunity is there to create something here that was never here before. I think the opportunities will be huge in construction and its related sectors, such as material supply.

“This is the calm before the storm. There are a lot of projects that have been slowing down and now are speeding up. If they can get the materials into Qatar as quickly as they need them, will there be the infrastructure present to construct what they actually need to construct?

“I think it’ll be a constraint if they can’t get that ready in time,” she adds.

On the right foot

Qatar is one of the world’s richest nations per capita and the IMF lists Qatar’s domestic product per capita at US$88,221, forecasting this to grow to US$111,963 in 2016. The country currently forecasts economic growth of about 16% for 2011 and expects a budget surplus of $6.1 billion this fiscal year.

However the financial view from Grant Thornton’s Grant Salter is a little more dubious as he believes that it is down to the country to decide whether they want to cash in for the long term on this event.

“Getting stuff into Qatar is going to be quite a challenge. The fact that so much is going into such a small place is likely to have a fairly substantial impact. The cost of delivery and the client demand squeeze from now on will create a challenge,” he says, adding that the legacy of the event will also have an impact on long term gain.

Grant Salter worked with the 2022 Bid Committee to analyse the economic benefit of the bidding strategy and advise on the work required for the event itself and supporting infrastructure.

“You really need to provide a substantial amount of accommodation and a substantial amount of infrastructure that is unlikely to be used efficiently again,” he explains, elaborating that the country will undergo massive alterations both socially and culturally as a result of the games.

 

Life after the hype

While the traditional footballing nations voiced their disappointment in the decision, the Middle East’s construction industry on the ground applauded the win – commentators, analysts and professionals from every discipline welcomed the opportunity to work in a new, vibrant market that was easier to break into than the region’s primary market, Saudi Arabia.

Not all believe the hype though.

“I think it’s a very awkward situation that’s going on there. It’s the tail leading the dog,” says Steve Miller FAIA, RIBA and currently MENA regional manager for Perkins Eastman, when asked about the pace of development, coordination and planning of projects.

“They are being told that the infrastructure needs to be done and companies win competitions, but at the same time things don’t get done. Projects don’t get awarded,” he continues.

“There are parts of the infrastructure that literally need nine years to construct and then at least two years before to run. That’s 11 years. That’s now.”

In contrast to 2014 hosts Brazil, Qatar’s plans are on a far smaller scale, with 12 stadia due to be built in a country of fierce climate that, at just 4416 square miles, is smaller than the combined landmass of the Falkland Islands or Connecticut state in the US.

“It’s like every other day their plans change. For anybody who really cares about this region the number one place for anybody to be thinking about is Iraq and the number two place has got to be in Saudi; across both countries right now there are 50 million people and that is infrastructure demand,” he affirms.

There is an air conditioning debate that rages on in the media with some claiming such plans will be scaled back to cut costs while others say players will not be able to compete with the desert heat without it.

At least one thing is certain – no other major tournament will have you arriving at the game by water taxi in traditional dhows, and England could never offer a view of the Arabian Gulf from the fan’s stadium seats.

 

Counting on Qatar

 

• Covering only 4416 square miles Qatar is smaller than the Falklands and Conneticut state, US

• The $35bn Q Rail programme is the largest in history

• 2030 is the final deadline to complete the projects included in Qatar’s strategic future vision

• Qatar’s recently announced infrastructure programme is valued at US$ 517m

• The population of Doha has grown 128% since 2004

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