Hosting sports events positions Qatar on world stage

 

As part of its strategy to promote diversified economic development, Qatar has worked hard to establish itself as a regional centre for sports. Over the past 20 years a surge of investment in infrastructure has paid off as international associations have come to recognise the country’s potential in the athletics arena.

Undoubtedly, the biggest success in this regard was in 2010, when Qatar was awarded the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Despite the diplomatic tensions in the Gulf and the three-year drop in global energy prices, as of mid 2017 any long-term developments associated with the 2022 World Cup plans had not been directly impacted, and authorities have insisted that spending remains unaffected. The country’s authorities are firmly focused on achieving long-term social development goals in line with Qatar National Vision 2030 (QNV 2030). Meanwhile, businesses and investment groups have entered into numerous partnerships with international athletics entities, further underlining the country’s commitment to developing into an international centre for sports, and encouraging its citizens to engage in active and healthy lifestyles.

Team Qatar

Qatar’s first major breakthrough came in 2000 when the Olympic Committee awarded Doha the right to host the 2006 Asian Games. The tournament was the second-largest multi-event competition in the world after the Olympics, featuring more than 10,500 athletes and officials from 45 nations competing in 39 sports. “The 2006 Asian Games was a key moment for Qatar in terms of its ambition to use athletics as a strategy component for wider development and economic growth,” Mahfoud Amara, director of the sports science programme at Qatar University, told OBG.

Following the successful hosting of the 2006 Asian Games, Qatar furthered its involvement in international competitions, hosting dozens of events each year, including the 2010 World Indoor Athletics Championships, the 2011 Asian Football Confederation Cup, the Arab Games 2011, the 2014 World Swimming Championships, the 2015 World Men’s Handball Championship, the IPC Athletics World Championships 2015 and the AIBA Boxing World Championship 2015. “Besides the economic benefits of hosting major teams and events, there are also many benefits for society in making Qatar a sports hub. Sports teaches invaluable lessons about teamwork, unity and health, and the Qatari public is taking these lessons on board. We are seeing fitness being embraced across the social spectrum,” Mansoor Al Ansari, secretary-general of the Qatar Football Association, told OBG.

According to the Qatar Olympic Committee (QOC), the country had planned to host 72 events in 2017. Looking ahead, in addition to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Doha will play host to the 2018 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships, the 2019 World Championships in Athletics and the 2023 World Aquatics Championships.

Major Players

The QOC was formed in March 1979 with a mandate to promote athletics and physical development in the country, and is responsible for coordinating and managing all Qatari bids to host the Olympic, Asian and Arab Games. All non-Olympic games and competitions fall within the remit of the Ministry of Culture and Sports (MCS), which was created when the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage was merged with the Ministry of Youth and Sports in 2016. The MCS is also responsible for developing a culture of athleticism, regularly encouraging activities in schools and regulating youth associations. It currently administers more than 15 clubs across Qatar’s municipalities.

A recent development came in January 2017, when the Cabinet approved a draft decision to form a committee at the MCS whose responsibilities will include reviewing proposals for hosting regional and international tournaments, and providing feedback on the feasibility and economic benefits of accommodating such events. “There is currently a rethink going on in terms of questions over return on investment and rationalisation of the sporting calendar,” Amara told OBG. “The MSC is looking at which events have the most impact and attract the most visitors.”

In addition, the Supreme Committee for Legacy and Delivery (SC) was formed in 2011, and is responsible for overseeing and coordinating the delivery of the infrastructure required to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Aspire

Added benefits have stemmed from Qatar’s sports push. The Aspire Zone, also known as Doha Sports City, is a 2.5-sq-km integrated complex of training facilities and institutions. Originally established to host the 2006 Asian Games, today the Aspire Zone is home to two of the most important institutions to have emerged during Qatar’s development into a regional athletics centre: namely the training centre Aspire Academy, and the Gulf region’s first specialised orthopaedic and sports medicine hospital, Aspetar.

The Aspire Academy was founded by Emiri Decree No. 16 of 2004, and provides fitness training to male students with exceptional potential alongside a core Qatari school curriculum. In the 2015/16 academic year there were 230 full-time students at the academy, with an additional 80 attending part-time in any given year.

Launched in 2007, Aspetar has since grown into an internationally recognised entity for sports medicine. The hospital was accredited as a FIFA Medical Centre of Excellence and an International Olympic Committee Research Centre for Prevention of Injury and Protection of Athlete Health in 2009 and 2014, respectively. Today the hospital’s 790 employees deliver medicine, physiotherapy, orthopaedic surgery and rehabilitation to both local and international clubs and federations.

World Cup

In December 2010 Qatar triumphed over rival bids from the US, Australia, South Korea and Japan, and became the first Middle Eastern country ever to win the right to play host to the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Yet winning the bid has not been without controversy, and the decision attracted criticism stemming from both the relative lack of football culture in Qatar, and allegations of corruption which surrounded the bidding and selection process. However, the 18-month internal investigation into the allegations – launched in 2014 by the FIFA Ethics Committee and carried out by former New York district attorney Michael Garcia – cleared Qatar of any wrongdoing.

Other concerns focused on the country’s high summer temperatures, with the winning bid’s proposals for air-conditioned stadiums proving insufficient when it came to allaying the many concerns raised over both player and fan well-being. As a response, Qatar and FIFA took the unprecedented step in 2015 of moving the tournament to the cooler months at the end of the year. The 2022 tournament will be hosted in November and December, with the final planned for December 18 to coincide with Qatar National Day.

World Cup Build-Up

The SC has been working closely with the Qatar 2022 Local Organising Committee to ensure that all operational aspects of the international sporting event, including family and group hospitality, are in line with FIFA standards. A 2013 report by management consultancy Deloitte estimated that total spending on the 2022 FIFA World Cup would reach $200bn. Of this, around $140bn was earmarked for pre-existing plans set to tie in with tournament preparations, including a 300-km metro system, a 40-km light rail network and the coastal planned city of Lusail. In addition, the state is expanding tourism infrastructure, with $45bn to be invested over the next few years by the Qatar Tourism Authority as part of the National Tourism Sector Strategy 2030. Of this, $2.3bn is earmarked for World Cup facilities and $6.9bn for transport infrastructure and associated projects.

Despite the fall in oil prices and the resulting pressure on various state budgets, projects associated with the 2022 FIFA World Cup have been protected from cuts, according to Ali Shareef Al Emadi, the minister of finance. Speaking to international press in February 2017, Al Emadi said the government was spending close to $500m per week on World Cup-related projects.

Qatar’s 2017 state budget, released in May 2017, underlined these spending commitments, with the construction sector expected to witness strong growth in 2018 on the back of government plans to commit 47% of the state budget to infrastructure projects. In his speech, Al Emadi said the government was expected to sign contracts for new projects totalling QR46.1bn ($12.7bn) in 2017, including QR8.5bn ($2.3bn) for facilities related to the 2022 FIFA World Cup and QR25bn ($6.9bn) for infrastructure and transport projects.

Stadium Projects

So far, eight venues have been set aside for the tournament, with renovations to the historic Khalifa International Stadium completed in early 2017 and work on seven other stadium projects at different stages of development. The renovations to Khalifa International Stadium have doubled seating capacity from 20,000 to 40,000, and installed a fitted overhead canopy and modern cooling technologies. First built in 1976, the venue is centrally located in the zone and is set to play a key role in 2022.

At the same time, located 50 km north-east of Doha in Al Khor Municipality, construction on the 60,000-seat Al Bayt Stadium is well under way. FIFA reported in April 2017 that 40% of the venue’s structural work and 25% of the work on the surrounding precincts had been completed. A joint venture between Italy’s Salini Impreglio Group, Qatari contractor Galfar Al Misnad and Italian steel construction firm Cimolai is responsible for the site. The QR3.1bn ($851.4m) contract was awarded in July 2015 by the Aspire Zone Foundation (AZF) for the construction, operation and maintenance of the stadium. It is expected to be completed in September 2018.

In December 2015 the SC announced that it was awarding the tender for Saoud bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani Stadium, also known as Al Wakrah SC Stadium, to a joint venture formed between local Midmac Contracting and Austrian construction and engineering company PORR Qatar. The stadium, located some 15 km south of Doha, will house 40,000 spectators and will be used for 16 matches during the World Cup. Its design came from US engineering firm AECOM and UK-based Zaha Hadid Architects, and is modelled on a traditional Qatari dhow pearl diving boat. Work at the 40,000-seat Qatar Foundation Stadium began in 2013 and is expected to be finished by 2019, with Qatari firm ASTAD Project Management leading the development and Spanish group RFA Fenwick Iribarren Architects serving as lead design consultant.

Additionally, construction on both Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, popularly known as Al Rayyan Stadium, and Lusail Iconic Stadium is moving ahead. The first concrete was poured at the site of the 40,000-seat Al Rayyan Stadium in October 2016, with the main contractor for the project – a joint venture between Qatar’s Al Balagh Trading and Contracting Company and India’s Larsen and Toubro – announced the previous June. The stadium is slated for completion in 2019. Work at Lusail Iconic Stadium, where the opening and final games of the tournament will be held, is also under way. Its schematic design was completed by UK-based architectural firm Foster + Partners in 2016, with the SC awarding the main contract for the 80,000-seat venue to a joint venture between Qatari contractor HBK Contracting and China Railway Construction that November. Work is expected to be finished by 2020.

Economic Uplift

As developments associated with the 2022 FIFA World Cup continue to be rolled out, Qatar’s authorities have been working to highlight the ongoing and potential local and international investments in the country’s sporting sector. To this end, in May 2016 Qatar’s Ministry for Economy and Commerce (MEC) hosted the Sport Business Opportunities Forum in Doha. Held in partnership with the MCS, the SC, the QOC and the AZF, the event showcased 83 prospective ventures in the country’s athletics industry from 2016 to 2023 worth a combined total of QR72bn ($198bn). Opportunities in venue construction during that seven-year period were given an estimated value of QR30bn ($8.2bn), while a further QR10bn ($2.7bn) was earmarked for the construction sector to provide mechanical, electrical and sanitary equipment.

The MEC also estimated that opportunities in sports event management will be worth QR14bn ($3.8bn) between 2016 and 2023. According to the MEC, the sector offers significant chances for the local private sector through the implementation of joint investment projects with international companies. In November 2016 Greg Hands, the UK’s minister of state for trade and investment, addressed such opportunities for British business in local media, noting that many of the 600 UK companies registered in the state were already working at various stages of the industry’s supply chain, including in events management.

Importing The Goods

Another burgeoning area highlighted by the MEC is the sporting goods and equipment sector, with estimates suggesting it will be worth QR14bn ($3.8bn) by 2023. Indeed, international manufacturers have seen demand for their athletic goods and equipment in Qatar increase over the past several years. Figures released by the Ministry of Development, Planning and Statistics indicate that the value of machinery for agricultural, horticultural or forestry soil preparation or lawn cultivation rose from QR4.6m ($1.3m) in 2012 to QR6.3m ($1.7m) in 2016, with the segment peaking in 2015 at QR31.9m ($8.8m). The value of imports of inflatable yachts and other vessels for pleasure or for sports, rowing boats and canoes was also up significantly in 2015, climbing from QR4m ($1.1m) in 2012 to QR23.5m ($6.5m), before settling to QR3.3m ($906,300) in 2016. The biggest jump, however, came in livestock imports, with the value of racehorses imported into Qatar increasing from QR2.9m ($796,400) in 2012 to QR466.2m ($128m) in 2015 and then settling at QR376.1m ($103.3m) in 2016.

The Sport Of Kings

Qatar’s growing international clout in horse racing is being spearheaded by the royal family, which has emerged in recent years alongside flat racing’s two heavyweights: namely John Magnier and his partners at Coolmore Stud, and Dubai’s Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who founded the Godolphin thoroughbred racing group in 1994.

In 2011 the current Emir of Qatar’s first cousin, Sheikh Fahad bin Abdullah Al Thani, and his brothers signed a five-year sponsorship deal with British Racing. Under the agreement, Qatar Investment and Projects Development Holding Company – owned by Sheikh Fahad and his brothers – agreed to sponsor the 35-race British Champions Series held from April to October each year. In 2015 this partnership was extended to 2024 in a deal worth a reported $129.6m.

A further indication of Qatar’s growing influence on the global horse racing stage came in December 2014, when Glorious Goodwood – a major fixture on England’s flat-racing calendar – was rebranded as the Qatar Goodwood Festival following the signing of a 10-year deal between the summer meeting’s organisers and the Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club (QREC). The deal included raising the total prize money of the five-day racing event to $5.8m. QREC also sponsors the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp Racecourse in Paris, endowing the prestigious annual turf competition with $6m worth of prize money.

Qatar Sports Investment

Sponsoring high-profile sporting events forms part of the country’s broader strategy to promote itself on the global stage. Qatar Sports Investments (QSI) is one of the flagships of Qatar’s growing participation in international athletics. Established in 2005 as a 100% Qatari-owned private shareholding company, QSI specialises in sports and leisure, and since its formation has acquired stakes in – as well as outright ownership of – some of world biggest brands. In 2011 QSI became the majority shareholder of Paris Saint-Germain football club after acquiring a 70% stake. The following year, QSI became the sole shareholder of the football team after buying out the remaining 30% owned by Colony Northstar – then Colony Capital – and Butler Capital Partners.

In December 2010 QSI also reached a five-year, $35.7m-per-season sponsorship and partnership agreement with FC Barcelona, one of the world’s most popular teams. The partnership included sponsorship of the club’s shirt by the Qatar Foundation, a major boon considering no corporate entity had ever appeared on the shirt in the club’s more than 100 years in existence. In 2013 Qatar Airways replaced the Qatar Foundation as the club’s shirt sponsor in a three-season deal worth some $113.8m. In July 2016 this partnership was extended for the 2016/17 season, but has since ended.

Beyond clubs, QSI also owns Burrda Sport, an international clothing brand founded in 2007, which specialises in performance wear, fan wear, leisure wear and uniforms for professionals working in the sporting, health, wellness and fitness industries. According to US-based Allied Market Research, the international athletic apparel market is expected to generate $184.6bn by 2020, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 4.3% between 2015 and 2020.

Challenges

The knock-on effects of the diplomatic rift that began between Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt on one side, and Qatar on the other in June 2017 have begun to be felt in Qatar’s sporting sector. In June 2017 the Egyptian Football Federation severed all relations with Doha-based beIN SPORTS – part of the Qatari beIN Media Group, which owns broadcasting rights to many major world sporting competitions – and asked that all Egyptian sporting clubs do likewise. Elsewhere in the region, Saudi Arabian football club Al Ahli Saudi terminated its sponsorship deal with Qatar Airways as a result of the Gulf crisis.

Both the UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson and the US secretary of state Rex Tillerson flew to the Gulf in an attempt to mediate the escalating tensions in July 2017, a few months before Qatar were set to host the Gulf Cup of Nations in December.

Outlook

While the decline in oil prices and the regional trade embargo have the potential to hamper the various developments associated with the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar has demonstrated its resilience to the effects of both thanks to the size of the financial buffers it has in place. As such, the country is expected to push ahead with current building plans, while also continuing its policy of promoting itself abroad via the sponsorship of prestigious events.

Sustained government investment in athletic development over the past decade and a half has helped foster grassroots engagement, while institutions such as Aspetar and the Aspire Academy continue to build Qatar’s reputation as a centre of expertise for sports medicine and rehabilitation, and sporting excellence.

Moving ahead, the authorities plan to maintain its focus on local and international sporting events as a means of achieving wider economic diversification, and as a way to promote and bring to realisation the health and wellness development goals of QNV 2030.

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The Report: Qatar 2017

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