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World Cup Watching

Qatar's World Cup is now just four years away - what happens between now and then?

Professor Simon Chadwick

Posted: July 13, 2018

Now that the final whistle has blown on Russia 2018, attention can now switch to the next tournament – which will take place in Qatar during November and December 2022. The Doha government may think that, following endless allegations of corruption and ongoing criticism of its stance on immigrant labour rights, it has successfully negotiated its way through football’s mire. However, sports mega-events always shine a light on a country’s deficiencies and failings; so, Qatar had better prepare itself for what is still to come.

Events during this summer’s tournament have already shown that Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 edition of the World Cup is likely to remain contentious right up to the first whistle blowing at the start of the opening game. For instance, Qatar is now into the second year of a bitter feud with its regional rival Saudi Arabia, the reason why the BeOut/BeIn conflict became such an important World Cup story this summer. The Saudi’s also complained to FIFA during the tournament, claiming that Qatar’s coverage of its national team’s performances were disparaging and overly politicised.

Unless the Gulf stand-off can be resolved anytime soon, we should look towards more strikes and counter-strikes coming-out of Riyadh and Doha. With Saudi Arabia reportedly behind a $25 billion proposal to develop FIFA’s Club World Cup, and Qatar hosting the next World Cup, it seems likely that football will remain caught in the crossfire of this regional proxy war.

In the meantime, the 2022 competition’s format has still to be determined. A proposal emerged several months ago in which calls were made to increase the number of participating teams to forty-eight. Initially it appeared that Qatar was resistant, as it may not have the capacity to host such a large number of teams. FIFA too appeared somewhat reticent and postponed a decision until a meeting of its Executive Committee in October.

However, in recent days it has emerged that both FIFA and Qatar are rather more supportive of the proposal. For Qatar, it may provide the basis for reconciling with its neighbours, whilst for FIFA it potentially creates an opportunity for emphasising the power football can play in addressing conflict, whilst generating additional revenue generating opportunities. It is therefore possible that the World Cup in Qatar may look like no other tournament before it.

Otherwise, in the meantime Saudi Arabia will continue its attacks; human rights activists will not relent until they see real and tangible labour market change; and with Sepp Blatter’s fingerprints controversially still on Qatar’s successful World Cup bid, cynics will continue to question the country’s right to host the event. But there will be more. For example, one imagines that consternation, especially among Europeans, about the tournament’s switch from June/July to November/December will grow.

There will be other issues too – current unknowns that will become potential risk factors. Qatar is a small country and the influx of large numbers of fans (some of whom may be intent on getting drunk and engaging in hooliganism) will severely challenge the country. Then there are issues of accommodation (with tents and boats currently being proposed as ways of addressing room-supply issues). Other matters, such as water security, will also quickly rise up the agenda of issues that Doha must address.

Terrorism (or even armed conflict) remains a threat, especially if the Middle East’s fractious politics do not resolve themselves. Saudi Arabia and Iran are both seeking to assert their dominance in the region, which has seen conflicts escalate in Syria and Yemen. With Saudi Arabia continuing to accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism, and with the Qatari Football Association having agreed with its Iranian counterpart to use the latter’s Kish Island as a World Cup training base, the geopolitical temperature could be set to jump ahead of 2022.

Before we get there however, there is also the matter of what happens in 2021. The summer before each World Cup, FIFA stages the Confederations Cup – a competition for national teams from each continent that have won their respective championships. Following uproar about the 2022 event being moved to December (mid-season for many leagues across the world), it is extremely unlikely that similar, disruptive, arrangements will be made for the ‘Confed’. Hence, another host is needed; rumours suggest that China, which has huge football ambitions, is keen to fill the role.

 

 

 

About Professor Simon Chadwick

Simon is Professor of Sports Enterprise at Salford University in Manchester (UK), where he is also a Co-Director of the Centre for Sports Business. He is also a Founding Co-Director of the China Soccer Observatory and a Senior Fellow of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham (UK). He has worked in football across the world, for various organisations including companies, federations, and governments. He tweets via @Prof_Chadwick