Let’s make one thing clear: World Cups are never without some sort of controversy.
The buildup to the 2018 tournament in Russia brought much skepticism about whether having a World Cup in Russia was a good idea to begin with. Many questioned FIFA’s relationship with Vladimir Putin, which was seen as being very intimate and biased. In 2015, amid various ongoing scandals, the Russian President accused the United States of starting an agenda against their hosting of the World Cup, in hopes that it could be canceled and handed over to a different country.
Meanwhile, the 2014 World Cup saw an entirely different type of controversy.
Principal issues related to the massive tournament being hosted in Brazil had to do with stadium construction and other related infrastructure. Accidents, delays and excessive costs were prominent in the preparation years for the event. On top of that, the necessity of much of this new construction caused the forced removal of a reported tens of thousands of poor, working-class Brazilians. This sparked an international outcry, and anti-World Cup protests were consistent all the way through the opening day of the tournament and beyond.
The 2010 World Cup in South Africa had its fair share of controversy. So did Germany 2006. South Korea/Japan 2002 wasn’t any different. Neither was France 1998.
There isn’t one World Cup that didn’t see some sort of polemical outburst against it, and you’d have to sit down and read for hours on end if we decided to dive into the specific problems of each tournament.
In this newsletter, we’ll be specifically taking a look at Qatar 2022, which is arguably the most scandal-ridden World Cup of all time.
To this day, this photo may haunt some million football fans and executives who watched this moment live.
On December 2, 2010, disgraced former FIFA president Sepp Blatter unapologetically announced that Qatar would be the hosts of a World Cup in 12 years time.
Despite how proud he was to call out the name of the Middle Eastern country, it was met with immediate backlash and discomfort. It sent shockwaves through the football world. Despite names like the USA, Japan, Australia and South Korea having been in the running for the 2022 tournament, it was Qatar that was given the honor.
Life goes full circle. Just a couple weeks before opening day, Blatter came out to say that the decision to award them the World Cup was a “mistake”, putting much of the blame onto then-UEFA president Michael Platini, who he says swung the vote in favor of Qatar.
Little bit too late for regrets, wasn’t it, Blatter?
Despite all the criticism, the Gulf state got to work, promising the world that they would be ready in time to host one of the world’s most watched sporting events.
Of course, like any other country, being the recipients of an international event that brings all cultures together every 4 years to celebrate the collective love and passion for a single sport can bring an unthinkable amount of pressure.
There’s a reason why hosts are assigned up to a decade or more in advance; the World Cup is no joke. It requires the direct involvement of the government, as well as the aid of tens of thousands of workers and citizens that will all contribute to the completion of an endless to-do list, consisting of things like stadiums, fan zones, city facelifts, metro services, artwork, you name it.
Some countries have it relatively easy. They have the pre-existing stadiums that just need touching up, they have an attractive metro area in their most populous cities that could use a minor facelift; most of the infrastructure is in place, they just have to strengthen it and fill in the blanks.
Unfortunately for Qatar, it was almost all blanks.
All of the stadiums used for the tournament were brand new; the only exception was the Khalifa International Stadium, which needed a massive tune-up.
Their transportation infrastructure was entirely revamped with the addition of a major metro system that took six years to complete. Thanks to this metro, all 8 stadiums could be easily accessed, free of charge to those who applied for a member card.
Many millions were thrown into improving the hospitality and leisure of the host cities. This was a necessity because, as much as you might think otherwise, tourism in Qatar is nowhere near as big in comparison to some of its counterparts. Refer to the image below to see how far they have lagged behind in recent years.
As such, it makes sense why tourism infrastructure was a massive expense in their World Cup preparations. They’ve never previously seen more than a couple million visitors annually, and for 2 months, that was about to change.
Their biggest pre-existing strength was probably the city of Doha. I mean, just Google the photos. This beautiful, futuristic skyline has been a work in progress for decades, and looked largely the same as it looks today a couple years before Qatar became World Cup to-be hosts in 2010.
More buildings and tourist attractions are added every year, and today, the city is a prime example of what capitalizing on technological advancements (combined with virtually unlimited cash) can do to a community.
In total, Qatar spent a mind-boggling $220 BILLION on the World Cup, clearing every other World Cup tournament in history, with $15 billion Brazil 2014 coming in 2nd place.
It’s hard to see this record being broken any time soon.
Qatar was heavily criticized for their big spending, which ultimately tied back to accusations towards them of "sportwashing", a concept that we take a better look at in Part 2 of this newsletter.
The first of many investigations into Qatar as World Cup hosts came shortly after they won the bid.
The Gulf state was being investigated for an alleged bribery payment of $3.7 million to FIFA to secure their host status. Fortunately for them, it was dropped after two years.
In 2019, French authorities decided to launch an investigation of their own; into the same accusations that originally failed 7 years prior. This concluded with former FIFA vice-president Reynald Temarii being charged with corruption.
Although this charge wasn't exactly a confirmation of Qatar having cheated their way to become hosts - Temarii wasn’t even part of the December 2, 2010 vote, having already been banned prior - it did show that the whole voting process wasn’t necessarily the smoothest.
It was just yet another blemish alongside the many others that preceded it.