All to play for: The World Cup’s legacy for Qatar

Kathrin Lemke | 18 Nov 2022 | Middle East perspective

Football is a game full of cliches, ‘leaving it all on the pitch’, ‘keeping it tight at the back’, and ‘there are no easy games at this level’. Another – ‘a great advert for the game’ – is what Qatar’s organisers hope becomes true.

On Sunday, 20 November 2022, hosts Qatar take on Ecuador in the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor to kick off the 2022 World Cup officially. It’s an unusual sporting event, even by the World Cup’s standards, not least because it’s taking place in November in the desert. The world’s most extraordinary talent is about to show off their silky skills; Kevin De Bruyne, Kylian Mbappe, Vinicius Jr, and Neymar are in the house. It’ll likely also be the final swansong of arguably football’s two greatest-ever footballers; Portugal’s talisman Cristiano Ronaldo and Argentina’s mercurial Leo Messi. It hasn’t been all plain sailing to get to this point.

There has been a series of crises in the twelve years since Qatar won the bid to host the FIFA World Cup. A regional diplomatic crisis and a world-changing global pandemic later, however, and we’re ready to enjoy the world’s biggest tournament.

Massive investment in the beautiful game.

The tiny gulf state has invested a fortune to boost its standing in the international arena. Seven of the eight venues have been built from scratch for the tournament, with costs estimated at around $6.5 billion. That’s a tiny fraction of a total investment of around $200 billion for significant infrastructure developments, including a new transportation system and a whole new city development.

A city united: Every game is a cup final now.

I have been living in Doha for the past six years, and it’s safe to say I’ve never seen the city more alive. New restaurants, beach clubs, fan zones, and a disputable duck lake next to my tower have come to life in the past few weeks. It certainly feels like the country is well-prepared to be a perfect host to fans from all over the world.

A good time to score: Economic gain after a challenging few years.

The past five years have not been easy on the country and its economy, weathering regional turmoil and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic hit the wholesale and retail trade, restaurants, and hotels particularly hard.

‘This game needs a goal’: Qatar’s economic hopes.

As with hosting any major international event, the hope is that the World Cup will translate into short and long-term gains for the country’s economy. It’s envisaged that it could start immediately, with international visitors bringing Qatar’s leisure and hospitality sector back to life. In fact, Qatar’s 2022 budget looks relatively positive and will consolidate Doha’s positive financial position. As per IMF projections for this year, Qatar will remain the wealthiest country outside the OECD, with close to $65,000 GDP per capita. By boosting its liquified natural gas (LNG) capacity by about 40% in the coming years, Qatar’s wealth will keep increasing.

‘A game of two halves’: The changing image of Qatar.

More importantly, the country has undergone a serious image facelift by implementing some significant domestic reforms. As first country in the region, it introduced a minimum wage last year and formally abolished the kafala (sponsorship) system for migrant workers. If anything, the World Cup will leave a unique urban development, including a state-of-the-art transportation system that creates favourable conditions for foreign investors and visitors. And despite all speculations about what will happen after the World Cup, the country’s project pipeline seems to be growing.

Apart from significant investments into the energy sector, there will be new work linked to various urban development projects to achieve the country’s 2030 national vision’s sustainability goals. While scepticism and criticism prevail, the real legacy, in my opinion, is the country’s transformation into a modern, highly digitised, and genuinely cosmopolitan society. The World Cup is this year’s highlight, but not the only opportunity for the country to put itself on the world map. Perhaps once the World Cup trophy is in the hands of whichever captain ‘produces the goods’ in the final, Qatar’s organisers can quietly pat themselves on the back with another famous footballing cliché, ‘all to play for’ – that is economic gains, changing the country’s image, and modernising the country.

To get into the World Cup spirit, OCO will be playing some of the matches from a trade and investment angle: tune in to our social platforms for a fun twist on some of the games.