Qatar’s Hosting of the FIFA Men’s World Cup: the Issues and Challenges Ahead
UNCERTAINTIES - Geopolitics, Digital, Risks

Qatar’s Hosting of the FIFA Men’s World Cup: the Issues and Challenges Ahead

Abstract

Staging of the impending FIFA men’s World Cup in Qatar will be the culmination of unprecedented tournament preparation. The period over which this World Cup has been organised, the scale of infrastructural developments needed to enable the event’s hosting, the controversies that have seemingly dogged Qatar and FIFA at every turn, as well as the geopolitical sensitivities connected to the competition, have all been striking and beyond parallel.

In this report, the background to Qatar’s hosting of the men’s World Cup is examined, as are the country’s preparedness to host the tournament, the event’s management, and the mega-event’s legacies for the country. The report concludes by highlighting some of the things to look out for at perhaps one of the biggest, but certainly one of the most controversial, sport mega-events ever staged.

10 Things to Observe during the Tournament

Prior to the staging of any sport mega-event, it can sometimes be difficult to predict issues and challenges that might emerge during it. Some can be foreseen hence there are often contingency plans in place to account for their potential emergence and effects. However, as we have seen during other tournaments, there can be episodes that are neither envisaged nor accounted for in contingency plans. In this context, the following are highlighted as areas in which there could be issues for Qatari and FIFA World Cup organisers to contend with (N.B. this does not constitute a ranking or order of importance):

  1. Overt, provocative displays of activism from players, fans and others who may be seeking to communicate messages challenging Qatar and its organisation of the tournament;

  2. Threat of attacks, which may be physical, though are more likely to be digital and could include hacking (perhaps of ticketing systems) and coordinated campaigns against Qatar on social media;

  3. Ambush marketing being employed by brands that are rivals to those officially associated with the tournament, with the use of Arab and Middle Eastern stereotypes being used as part of any such activities;

  4. With concessions having been made towards both FIFA’s alcohol sponsor and those demanding a conventional tournament experience, the outcomes of drinking and drunkenness (such as hooliganism) may pose challenges;

  5. Given the likely demands on critical infrastructure – as well as on food, water and other imported goods – the resilience of provision and supply, allied to contingency measures, could be tested;

  6. Bold claims have been made by both FIFA and the Qatari organisers about the tournament’s environmental credentials, though with significant numbers of people ‘commuting’ to Doha by plane, doubts exist about the veracity of these claims;

  7. As the Qataris have deployed the World Cup as a policy instrument for effecting positive sociocultural changes, how this impacts upon worker rights and labour markets, changes in the health and well-being of its population, and improves social cohesion and the sense of national identity, should be assessed;

  8. Qatar’s World Cup staging has supposedly been an exercise in nation building, nation branding, soft power projection and the promotion of positive international relations, how and to what extent these have been achieved (or not) should be assessed;

  9. The role that social and digital media will play during the tournament will be significant, given the ascent of TikTok since the last World Cup in 2018, the emergence of the metaverse, and the way in which social networks engage with the tournament, all pose interesting questions for observers;

  10. Though there is some evidence that Qatar intends to continue staging sport mega-events, it needs to be asked: a) What have been the returns on investment for Qatar of staging the World Cup? And b) Strategically, especially within the sphere of sport, what happens next for Qatar?