Foster & Partners’ Lusail stadium for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar
The 2022 World Cup has focused Qatar’s glittering development plans
The day last December when Fifa president Sepp Blatter opened the envelope and announced Qatar would host the 2022 World Cup was a landmark date for this 11,500 sq km peninsula in the Arabian Gulf.
The world sat up and took notice. But those who work in the Middle East were already aware of Qatar, its wealth and the influence of some of the sovereign investment funds emanating from this resource-rich country.
The Qatar Investment Authority and its numerous subsidiaries have more than $80 billion worth of assets around the world and their appetite for expansion remains strong despite, or perhaps because of, the global recession.
Measured in GDP per capita, Qatar is the richest nation on earth. Qatar has oil reserves that will last until at least 2050 and gas reserves for significantly longer, and it is seemingly untroubled by the recent turmoil in the Middle East.
The country does not have the same religious division issues as Bahrain and its other neighbours. But it does share some of the same concerns: of its 1.6 million residents only around a quarter are Qatari. The rest are expatriate workers, and there are significant disparities in income levels and status.
The Consultative Assembly that governs Qatar is made up of appointed members and, although the constitution sets out plans for an elected governing body, these elections are unlikely to occur until at least 2013.
Like much of the Middle East, Qatar has seen significant development activity over the past 10 years including the creation of a multitude of tower developments in West Bay and extensive reclamation projects to create the New Doha International Airport, Lusail and the Pearl-Qatar.
But, as elsewhere in the region, the pace of development has been out of kilter with population growth, resulting in the current oversupply across most asset classes. This has resulted in empty homes, vacant offices and over-valued development sites in some of the schemes.
But there have been successes. The Musheireb Heart of Doha scheme is an ambitious project aimed at revitalising the old downtown area of Doha, which has become run down and neglected over the past 30 years. The development is being driven by Dohaland, part of the Qatar Foundation, and its aim is to create a modern urban Arabic city centre, drawing on tradition but providing for modern living.
Another Qatar Foundation initiative is the creation of Education City: a new university campus on a 1,000ha site with branch campuses of six international universities so far and space for at least 10 more, and with students from more than 45 countries currently attending.
Although Qatar has seen some major developments, hosting the World Cup will be a far greater challenge. Qatar has a long lead time to plan for the event and it will need it. To host the World Cup, the country will need 12 venues (nine will be built from scratch; three will be renovations) and at least 60,000 hotel rooms (there are currently around 10,000). In addition, 54 of the 64 training venues required will need to be created.
There will not be a long-term need for all 12 venues and a major part of the bid is that many of the venues will be taken down and reconstructed in developing countries around the world.
There is no question that Qatar can develop the appropriate facilities; the Aspire sports complex developed for the 2006 Asian Games provides world-class facilities. The most important issue is to ensure that the event leaves an appropriate legacy. A metro system, improved roads, and the Qatar-Bahrain Causeway are all being planned in addition to major investment in the current development of the new airport and seaport.
The first World Cup in the Middle East will be a showcase for the region. Qatar is determined that it will be an event to remember.
David Camp is Economics director at Aecom.
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