World Cup has a lot at stake for a changing Qatar
Special to the Chicago Tribune November 13, 2022
Playing host nation to a World Cup is a highly coveted accolade; for all and sundry who make up the citizenry, this means nation building, infrastructure, job creation, renewed patriotism and lasting change long after the closing ceremonies.
Qatar didn’t need the face-lift, but the nation’s leaders recognized the huge stakes when they beat out Australia, South Korea, Japan and the United States to become the first Arab nation to host the games. If done right, Qatar will create an arguably priceless legacy, but if mishandled, it may become an example many Arab nations cite as to why the games are inherently difficult for their nations to host.
No matter the case and despite the condemnation that has befallen the would-be oasis in the desert given its religion-backed policies, as the FIFA World Cup looms, the country has come to play.
Untold billions of dollars have been spent on developing venues with best-in-class architecture and environmental practices so as to meet the nation’s promise that its World Cup will be carbon-neutral.
This is part and parcel of the infrastructure development strategy deployed years ahead of this month’s games. Qatar built seven of its eight World Cup stadiums, a new metro system, new roads, new high-rises and the Emerald City-like Lusail for the games themselves and to allow for easy and environmentally friendly transportation between the venues.
Karim Elgendy, a fellow at Chatham House, a London think tank, who previously was a climate consultant for the World Cup, said Qatar’s efforts at “greening” the tournament “show a positive trend for a sporting event.”
Of course, if the results are not precisely carbon-neutral, would we expect anything other than mass scrutiny, given the profoundly stark scope placed on the nation of 2.9 million, the majority of whom are immigrants?
Then there is the sensitive topic of minority rights: The country’s reputation took a heavy hit when the conditions of its migrant workers came to light and entered the world’s social consciousness. Minority communities are calling for greater tolerance; their protests must not be ignored before or after the games.
However, we should recall the Qatar National Vision 2030, which calls for a progressive rolling back of many historically stringent policies. Notably, the World Cup in Qatar will be the first to feature female referees.
The World Cup didn’t motivate Qatar’s evolution, but the games will emblematize a challenging commitment by a historically religious community.
If Qatar succeeds or fails, it will do so publicly.
Like it or not, modern Qatar is on the rise. The country is now an international transit hub, an export juggernaut of oil and gas in a seismically shifting geo-commercial environment and home to the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East.
It’s easy to condemn a Middle East goliath. What does it say about an international community that decries a lack of tolerance but shows none for a culture that seeks to change its ways for the sake of being a good actor in the world? Is the Western world revealing its bias in condemning a Muslim nation for its ambitions?
I’m not saying that desert heat is a conducive climate for soccer. But controversy can broker positive change.
There is too much at stake to shun the country outright: a spotlight for Qatari culture and Arab inclusivity, a celebration of mutual understanding and the preservation of cultural heritage while Qatar adheres to globally recognized norms of inclusivity.
As the country opens its doors for the world to see and the games commence, they will be a spectacle, yes. But one with ramifications — simply put, this year’s World Cup is too big to fail.
Duggan Flanakin is director of policy research at the Committee for A Constructive Tomorrow, a nonprofit that supports free-market solutions to environmental issues.