x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

A gift that will keep on giving: Qatar and the Cup

A week after Qatar won the right to host the 2022 World Cup, the great economic news is beginning to sink in for the region.

More than a week after Fifa, football's governing body, announced that Qatar had won the right to host the 2022 World Cup, the temptation remains to let one's jaw slacken in wonder when thinking of our near neighbour staging the biggest of all sporting events. Indeed, if Abu Dhabi's hosting of the Club World Cup is considered a great coup for the region's ambitions - even if the tournament returns to Japan in 2011 for a two-year stint - then Doha's more recent victory represents an almost total reconstruction of the established order in the sporting world.

In the days that have followed Fifa's decision, much has been made of Qatar's excellent campaign team - led by Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al Thani and ably supported by bid ambassador Zinedine Zidane - and the compelling case they presented in Switzerland. One by one the team knocked over the combined obstacles of the region's stifling summer heat, the emirate's lack of suitable infrastructure and the absence of any noteworthy footballing heritage.

Keen readers of this section will remember The Review was a relatively early adopter of Qatar's campaign (see A touch of continental flair, July 2, 2010), suggesting the emirate's economic certainty, its geography and the technical accomplishments of the bid made it the standout candidate in a race which also included three nations that had already recently staged the competition, plus Australia - a country with a rich sporting history and the misfortune to be situated in a remote time-zone. We also suggested that a victory for Qatar would be a win for the region.

It is, although Fifa has made a huge (and calculated) gamble in entrusting its prized asset in Qatar's hands.

Indeed, with only 1.7 million residents, this commodity-rich nation has been deemed by some observers to be too small to host 32 competing nations, their entourages and the estimated 400,000 fans who will trek there in 12 years' time. Too small, even if Qatar delivers all of the proposed 85,000 hotel rooms it teased in its bid documents.

Even so, the first wave of positive vibes began washing over Qatar's business sector shortly after Fifa's landmark decision. Its main stock index finished close to four per cent up on its previous mark in its first full day of trading post-announcement, bouyed by predictions of up to $50 billion being pumped into the domestic economy to support tourism and infrastructure projects related to the World Cup.

And this explains why Qatar's win is a victory to be shared. Major sporting events have a habit of focusing minds and ensuring major projects get built, even if they might have previously faced either funding or institutional resistance. Indeed, the proposed 40km causeway linking Bahrain and Qatar, on which construction had previously halted without any great hopes of restarting, might now be reactivated.

Closer to our homes, the Union Railway project plans to open the first phase of its 1,500km of track in the UAE by 2014. Qatar's victory could help accelerate delivery of the entire network across the six nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Imagine catching a high-speed train to the match from, say, Al Ain?

Meanwhile, the frequency of existing air links between Doha, Abu Dhabi and Dubai will ensure several thousand fans (and possibly teams too, if Fifa rules permit such a circumstance) will base themselves in this country for the majority of the 2022 tournament and simply take a short flight to Doha on matchdays. What an economic windfall that will be.

They will flock here because by then Saadiyat Island, and the multiple attractions of its new cultural district, will no longer exist only on the drawing boards of the world's most famous architects, but will, instead, stand as built reminders of a nation that dreamt and delivered - just like Qatar plans to.

That thought alone, should give us all - sporting agnostics included - much to cheer about.