Qatar has spent an estimated $200bn in order to dazzle as host of the 2022 World Cup since winning the bid back in 2010.
But both this year’s tournament and the Gulf state have been mired in controversy since long before the first match kicked off on Sunday.
Qatar has faced multiple allegations of corruption and bribery since being handed the hosting rights despite having almost no footballing history and little infrastructure to host a major sports event. The Middle Eastern country has also been the target of global criticism over its poor treatment of migrant workers, suspected human rights abuses and stance on LGBTQ+ rights.
Regret has started to set in among Qatari officials, a tournament insider reportedly told Jon Sopel, co-host of The News Agents podcast. “Why on Earth have we bothered?”, asked the source, who added that “nothing good has come to us as a result” and “this has all been a giant waste of money”.
Qatar never expected to make much of a financial return on the tournament, which is only expected to “inject $17bn back into its economy”, said The Economist. Much of the World Cup “spending spree” has gone into building critical infrastructure that organisers have insisted “will serve a purpose even after the final goals are scored”.
And in any case, sporting tournaments are “almost always a dud” as money spinners, the site added. But “economics aside, Qatar is also struggling to bank the prestige that host cities aim to attract”.
An analysis of British press coverage of the World Cup in the run-up to kick-off found that the majority was critical of Qatar. Of a sample of 685 articles, 66% were critical, 29% were neutral and 5% were positive, reported Marc Owen Jones, an assistant professor of Middle East studies at Doha’s Hamad bin Khalifa University, in The New Arab.
The 2022 World Cup may mark “the most expensive case of buyer’s remorse in the history of the game”, wrote financial journalist and broadcaster Ian King for Football 365. But “what on earth did they expect to happen?”
Qatar’s leaders “deserve to be vilified” over their anti-gay stances, labour laws, treatment of migrant workers and alleged dodgy dealings, King continued. Warnings from the international community have been “loud and clear for years” and if Qatar “chose to ignore them in the belief that pointing at the shiny football would make us all react like cats around a laser pointer, then they only have themselves to blame”.
But “Qatar is not conducting a charm offensive”, argued The Guardian’s chief sports writer Barney Ronay.
“Qatar has no ambitions beyond its own borders,” he reported from Doha. “Qatar has 200 years of natural gas. It doesn’t need to be liked.” Instead, Ronay continued, “this World Cup looks now like part of a wider national security programme, a way of making this tiny hyper-wealthy peninsula visible to the world” and of “minimising its vulnerability to coups and blockades”.
As the more matches gets under way, Qatar is facing yet more critical headlines, over bans on players wearing anti-discrimination armbands and a last minute U-turn on the sale of alcohol in stadiums.
But despite the bad press, the Gulf nation’s overall world status has been “elevated by Europe’s energy crisis – the result of a war started by the host of the last World Cup”, said Ronay. And a result of this elevated status is “a distinct hardening of attitudes, a sense Qatar really isn’t in the mood to keep apologising”.