Doha, Qatar – We are only two months away from the 2022 World Cup. Twelve years after being awarded the rights to host the tournament, the tiny Gulf state of Qatar has built stadiums, opened five-lane highways and a $36 billion metro system, and put in a massive construction effort on a grueling schedule to ensure fans from all over the world can attend the competition. for four weeks. But with the big launch coming in a few weeks, how ready is Qatar to take off?
ESPN traveled to Doha earlier this month to assess Qatar’s preparations to host the first Winter World Cup in the Northern Hemisphere and the first to be held in the Middle East.
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Every major tournament – the World Cup, the Olympics – is held amid concerns about unprepared stadiums, security issues or expensive accommodation and travel for fans and Qatar is no different. The reality for Qatar 2022 is that with the opening match between Qatar and Ecuador only 61 days away, there is good news and bad news as the 32-team tournament approaches.
How ready is Qatar to host the World Cup?
When the iconic 80,000-seater Lusail Stadium held a friendly match between Egypt’s Zamalek and Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ahly on September 9, it was the last of the seven new stadiums (Khalifa International Stadium opened in 1976) to be officially built for the World Cup. Open its doors. Lusail will host the World Cup Final on December 18, and it’s a stunning stadium: think of Tottenham Hotspur (both designed by Populus Stadium architects), but they’re bigger.
All seven new buildings are ready and tested for match for the World Cup, while the stunning designs of Al Bayt Stadium and Al South, shaped like a pearl, will ensure Qatar scores a 10 out of 10 in aesthetics and style. But just as wide five-lane highways and a metro system are ready to connect fans between stadiums, with the longest journey of no more than an hour from the south in the south to home in the north, there are precious few in terms of fan amenities a few weeks before the opener.
Some stadiums are surrounded by dust bowls – vast areas of desert, building sites or empty parking lots – with no hotels, shops or cafes for miles. Organizers told ESPN that all stadiums will be decked out with fan areas, food stalls and entertainment areas between now and the World Cup, but there is still plenty to do.
Accommodation will also be a concern. Now, Qatar is a huge construction site. Some hotels and apartments will be ready, others will obviously not be finished in time. Around Lusail, a five-year project to build hotels, restaurants, shops and apartments, is still years, not months, to completion.
Where will the fans stay?
The Qatar Supreme Committee, which is responsible for organizing the World Cup matches, expects 1.3 million fans to visit Qatar during the tournament, a number equal to half of the country’s current total population. And here’s the bad news: There won’t be enough room for all of them to stay in Qatar.
Earlier this year, Qatar approved 160 daily shuttle flights between Doha and the United Arab Emirates to allow fans a 40-minute ride from Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The route is usually offered by only six flights per day.
In Qatar itself, limited options range from sleeping pods ($80 a night) to the luxury of Banana Island, a 20-minute boat ride from Doha, which offers beach villas on overwater stilts for £2,500 a night. Banana Island sources told ESPN that reservations had already been booked from the families of the France and England players. Meanwhile, 80% of hotel rooms in Doha have been booked by the Supreme Committee and FIFA for teams and officials, even though 20,000 rooms are due to be launched in the month leading up to the tournament.
There will be camping tents, similar to those offered at music festivals like Coachella and Glastonbury, with a deluxe tent on offer for $380 a night in the creek. But while cabins are set to be made available to thousands at Al Wakra Camp, for $190 a night, they offer little in the way of luxury at the moment. Nowadays, it is rows of metal cabins in the desert that the pictures speak for themselves.
Organizers insist they will be ready and attractive in time for the World Cup, but it will be a culture shock for many fans.
What is the status of alcohol? Can fans drink or not?
Alcohol is available in Qatar, but it is strictly controlled and will continue to be controlled during the World Cup. ESPN asked the Supreme Committee’s head of security if fans could bring their own alcohol to Qatar and the answer was “No.”
Backers who have a lot of money to spare can visit one of the many luxury hotels in Doha and buy alcoholic drinks from the bars and sports bars located inside. Beers at Inter Continental Beach, Marriott Marquis and Kempinski Pearl – and USMNT has booked the Kempinski as their base – range from £12-14 per pint.
Alcohol will be available to fans in stadiums before and after the match, but fans will not be able to buy beer and watch the match from the stands. Budweiser World Cup sponsors will provide beer in stadiums and fan zones. The fan zone with a capacity of 40,000 spectators in Al Bida Park in central Doha will serve alcoholic drinks on match days, but only after 6:30 pm until 1 am.
Non-Muslim residents of Qatar can obtain a permit to purchase alcohol from the Qatari distribution company, but there are no plans to ease restrictions on visitors to purchase alcohol outside of hotels, restaurants and fan zones during the World Cup. Although sources said authorities were unlikely to crack down on fans caught drinking alcohol outside authorized areas, drinking in public can result in a six-month prison sentence or an $800 fine. .
How easy is it to get around Qatar and the eight stadiums?
The diameter is small – very small, about the size of Connecticut or half the size of Wales – so there will be no arduous journeys for fans like at the last World Cup in Russia, Brazil. The good news is that Qatar has built new roads and a metro system that connects all the stadiums. The metro costs only 6 riyals ($1.65) for one day and will be free for the duration of the World Cup for fans with match tickets.
Then the air conditioning is turned on in the stadium … pic.twitter.com/GVpzSiXfcM
– Mark Ogden (@MarkOgden_) 7 September 2022
Ubers are widely available and inexpensive as well. A 30-minute trip from Hamad International Airport to central Doha costs just 40 riyals ($11).
Fans can ride the metro between all eight venues and do it all in just over two hours if they’re feeling adventurous. Entry to Qatar will depend on having a match ticket and downloading the Hayya app, which will enable fans to view their ticket, but is also required for access to transportation, hotels, restaurants, some shops and malls.
What about conditioning? is this real?
All stadiums, except Stadium 974, will provide air conditioning for spectators and players during the tournament, although it may not be required because temperatures in November and December are unlikely to exceed 30°C (86°F). The temperature in the stands will be regulated between 21-22°C (69-71°F) during the Games. Vents at seat level will pump out cool air, so fans may need to wear a coat for some games to avoid getting too cold.
At the stadium level, the air conditioning comes from huge vents on the side of the playing surface that are controlled by 350 different sensors buried under the grass. They will measure the temperature and humidity, while the air conditioning system adjusts the temperature according to the players on the field.
The air will also be constantly updated to ensure optimum air quality, filtering dust and pollen as well as providing ventilation to help combat the spread of viruses such as COVID-19.
Dr. Saud Abdul-Aziz Abdul-Ghani, nicknamed “Dr. Cole”, designed the air conditioning system used in the World Cup stadiums, including a system to make them environmentally friendly. Solar farms located 30 miles outside of Doha will generate, on a daily basis, 10 times the electricity required to run air conditioning units.
Will Qatar be a safe World Cup?
Every major tournament or event is now paired with a major security operation, and Qatar will be no different. Given the size of its security forces, expertise and personnel will be recruited from neighboring countries. The British Royal Air Force will help guard the skies during the tournament, while the US air base in Al Udeid will provide security and intelligence support.
On the ground, Qatar has built a NASA-style control center in the Aspire Zone as a hub to control what happens inside each stadium during the World Cup. Each stadium has at least 2,000 security cameras to monitor the turnstiles and crowd flow, while operators can zoom in on each individual seat for crowd control. AI programs will trigger warning systems if the crowd flow is too large or too small at specific times.
When asked if the system could prevent the crowd scenes that marred the Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid in Paris in May, Nias Abderrahiman, chief technology officer at Aspire Zone, told ESPN: “If a crowd situation forms, we will. …discover it and act proactively. Every nook and cranny on the pitch is under surveillance.”
And while cyber security cannot be taken for granted, a video screen highlighting the level of cyber threat across the world was shown along with stadium data screens to confirm their awareness of the potential targeting of the system by hackers.
Will the games sell out, or will fans not travel due to cost and distance?
FIFA has sold tickets in phases for Qatar 2022, with 2.5 million already purchased by fans around the world. The biggest draws were from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, but the United States, Mexico, England and Brazil were also strong markets for buying tickets.
The final 500,000 tickets are due to go on sale before the end of September, so Qatar 2022 must be played in full stadiums, regardless of the participating teams. But while supporters in Europe and the Americas have expressed concern about the difficulties of getting to and staying in Qatar, the excitement in the Middle East and surrounding regions has been overwhelming.
Organizers expect fans from Iran and North Africa to travel in greater numbers than ever before, while expats living and working in Qatar are also expected to watch their countries in action. But if you want to go to Qatar and you do not have a ticket yet, then you should hurry to get one.
Overall assessment: Will Qatar succeed in this?
It will be a different World Cup than any previous finals, but the crucial elements are now that the stadiums and infrastructure projects are complete.
A lack of housing would be a problem. Sources tell ESPN that the Qatari mentality is to leave things for the last minute, but they always check in. Sources also said that this approach has contrasted with some in FIFA who expect each project to run like clockwork.
There was clearly little concern in Qatar that time was running out for the work to be done, but fans may have to prepare for a tournament lacking off-pitch distractions at World Cups in different parts of the world. The facilities are truly world-class and the climate must ensure ideal conditions for football.
But the big question is whether such a small country can handle such an influx of supporters from all over the world. This is a question that can only be answered when it all begins in 61 days.