Qatar's position as an international sports and hospitality centre is supported by increased investment

 

While much public focus is on preparations for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, a number of government and private sector initiatives are laying a foundation for Qatar to become a global centre for sporting. Under the guidance of Qatar National Vision 2030 (QNV 2030), the country is building a sports event management and research centre as part of its economic diversification plans. Leveraging this expertise and experience, Qatar aims to become a world leader in hosting major sporting events. Such events are also being targeted as opportunities to showcase Qatar’s culture and heritage, with the tourism industry already benefitting from World Cup preparations. In 2019 the government continued to inject large amounts of capital into infrastructure development related to the World Cup, and in December 2019 new stadia hosted several successful test runs for international sporting events.

Although spending remains focused on the World Cup, the government is also investing in legacy projects. More than 150 large-scale projects are slated to start after 2022, including those concerning infrastructure, roads, and the construction of buildings, hospitals and schools. The plans feed into long-term economic development and diversification initiatives.

Oversight & Planning

Planning and delivery of sporting events is overseen by three main administrative bodies: the Qatar Olympic Committee (QOC), the Ministry of Culture and Sports (MCS), and the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC). Established in 1979, the QOC is the oldest sporting body and was formed with a mandate to promote athletics and manage all bids to host the Olympic, Asian and Arab Games. As part of its remit, the MCS oversees all non-Olympic sports activities, including the country’s 17 clubs and teams, along with other sport federations. The SC – established in 2011 – is responsible for the planning and delivery of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. This includes working with stakeholders to ensure that the eight new and renovated stadia and related infrastructure are ready in time for the event. The SC is responsible for ensuring that the World Cup delivers long-lasting value for Qatar’s economy and sporting culture beyond 2022.

The work of all three administrative bodies aligns with Qatar’s broader strategy to develop the local sporting industry as part of economic diversification goals. QNV 2030 has identified the development of sport as a critical pathway to grow the country’s tourism appeal, improve the general well-being of society and provide a powerful tool for developing ties with other nations. By creating a culture around sport, the government aims to increase community participation in sport and athletics, and foster local talent, especially among athletes and sport and events management specialists. Qatar has previously hosted a number of international sporting events, with its first significant breakthrough coming when it hosted the 2006 Asian Games. This event placed the country on the international map for sporting contests and laid the groundwork for subsequent bids to host sporting events such as the 2022 World Cup and the IAAF World Athletics Championships in 2019.

Investment

The 2020 budget sets aside $25bn – or 43% of total spending – for major infrastructure projects. Notable projects expected to be under way in 2020 include the completion of highways, and the construction of water and electricity networks.

In preparation to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the government is spending $200bn on infrastructure and legacy projects associated with the event. The budget for infrastructure dedicated to the World Cup – such as stadia, training sites and football pitches – is about $6.5bn. There are plans to spend up to $140bn to upgrade the transport network, including $35bn on metro and rail, and Doha Port and Hamad International Airport are being expanded to accommodate the 1.5m fans expected for the World Cup.

International Destination

By leveraging the improvements to infrastructure and publicity leading up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar aims to build a domestic sporting industry and establish itself as a major global destination for sporting events. Since it was announced in 2010 that Qatar would host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the country has made strides in its sporting agenda and held a number of international competitions for tennis, squash, golf, handball, cycling, and motor and equestrian sports. Most recently, Doha hosted the IAAF World Athletics Championships in 2019.

In the build-up to the World Cup, the Qatari government aims to develop a $20bn sporting industry by attracting international companies and investors. As part of this plan, it intends to bring more foreign sporting companies to the country, setting a goal of licensing 150 companies by 2022. By offering incentives like free office space and seed capital to sporting companies based at local business centres such as the Qatar Financial Centre (QFC), the government hopes to attract a cluster of companies providing sport, legal, education and training services, as well as those distributing sportswear and equipment.

As part of ongoing efforts to establish Qatar as a major destination for sporting competitions, the country is focused on increasing local capacity, knowledge and skills around sporting event management. In 2013 the SC established the Josoor Institute (Josoor), a research and training centre tasked with developing the local skills and expertise needed to deliver high-profile events like the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Josoor runs workshops and 12-month certificate and diploma programmes in event management, both to increase preparedness ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup and to boost the sport sector’s long-term growth prospects throughout Qatar and the wider region. Josoor also leads a number of studies on the regional dynamics of sports, such as football fan engagement.

“Most of the existing studies on sport and event management relate to markets in the US or Europe. In order to develop skills and knowledge in Qatar, we need more local content,” Gerard Akindes, research and insights manager at Josoor, told OBG. “So far, Josoor has completed 25 case studies involving sport and events management in MENA countries. These add value to our teaching and give our students and trainees a better understanding of local dynamics, which helps them to prepare for future event planning,” he said.

World Cup Preparations

Formerly known as Al Wakrah Stadium, Al Janoub Stadium is the world’s first purpose-built, air-conditioned football ground and one of the country’s eight tournament stadia. The facility was inaugurated in May 2019 and has a capacity of 40,000 people. In an important trial run ahead of the World Cup, Qatar hosted the 2019 World Athletics Championships in September, a month when temperature and humidity levels are generally high. While athletes competing outdoors struggled with the conditions, with temperatures averaging 32°C, inside the climate-controlled stadium was cooler, at 21°C.

Infrastructure projects related to the World Cup also made headway in 2019, with the launch of the Doha Metro. Six years in the making, Qatar’s first-ever underground system opened to the public in May 2019; 13 of the 18 stations on the 40-km Red Line route, which connects Al Janoub Stadium to Lusail City in the north, were opened, with some 37 stations and two more metro lines slated for completion by the end of 2020.

Approximately 1.5m fans are expected to travel to Qatar for the World Cup. Although stadia, transport and other upgrades are currently on track, accommodation-related challenges remain. Qatar aims to have 70,000 hotel rooms available by 2022, but the additional rooms may not be sufficient to cater to all World Cup visitors. Cruise ships and tented villages will be used to provide accommodation, with the potential to host between 5000 and 15,000 fans. As part of this effort, in November 2019 the government signed an agreement with global cruise line MSC Cruises to charter two vessels with a total of 4000 cabins to accommodate fans.

International Acquisitions

In 2019 significant developments were made in the acquisitions space. Qatar Sports Investments (QSI), a 100% Qatari-owned private shareholding company, is one of the region’s largest sport-focused investment institutions. In 2019 it was in talks to purchase UK football club Leeds United for $66m-92m, but as of early 2020 the acquisition had yet to be finalised. QSI’s portfolio includes Paris Saint-Germain football club, which it purchased in 2011 for $58m and in which it subsequently invested $370m. With QSI on the lookout for further acquisitions, Qatar continues to expand its stake in international football.

Looking ahead, 2020 will be a crucial year for Qatar’s 2022 FIFA World Cup preparations. The SC aims to complete all eight of the tournament’s stadia by the end of the year. While their construction is on track, hospitality capacity remains a concern. Nevertheless, contingency arrangements – such as hosting tourists on cruise vessels – are in place. Organisers of the 2022 FIFA World Cup will be able to rely on Qatar’s growing ecosystem for sport and event management, research, training and technology for creative ideas to help overcome these and other challenges ahead of the event.

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The Report: Qatar 2020

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