The state’s position as a sporting centre is forming an increasingly important part of its reputation and image. When Qatar was awarded the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup in 2010, it marked a breakthrough in sporting development not only in Qatar, but the wider MENA region. The state has hosted a wide range of high-profile international sporting events, which has paved the way for the country to become more than a place for the world’s leading athletes to perform for a few brief weeks at a time. The state’s aim is to be a global centre of excellence for all aspects of sport, with the benefits extending across society and the economy.
A GREATER GOOD: Qatar’s strategy for sporting development aligns with the four main pillars of Qatar National Vision 2030 (QNV 2030): it directly contributes to human, social, economic and environmental development through the domestic sports industry, by hosting major events for professional sports and sports diplomacy. For the government, sports are not merely entertainment, but an essential element of social well-being, development and cohesion, as well as a means of securing and enhancing the state’s position internationally. The National Development Strategy 2011-16 (NDS 2011-16), which maps the medium-term path towards QNV 2030, identifies sports and culture as one of five policy sectors included in Qatar’s social development policy, alongside family cohesion, women’s empowerment, public safety and security. The NDS 2011-16 envisages sports and culture as playing a central role in social development “beyond the essentials of family and finances by enhancing the physical, emotional and intellectual well-being of individuals, especially youth”. In addition to the health benefits of sports, the strategy adds that “physical activity … is often a binding element in the social and cultural fabric of society, in communities and on the international stage.” With this in mind, Qatar aims to ensure long-term excellence in athletics. The NDS 2011-16 strategy has three main policy conclusions: educating and engaging the public on the importance of healthy and active living and increasing the opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to take part in physical activity, ensuring that there is adequate access to facilities and enhancing talent development programmes. Qatar’s leadership sees the sector as an important element in enhancing international understanding and cooperation on a cultural, economic, social and political level.
NEW MINISTRY: In June 2013 the government founded the Ministry of Youth and Sports (MOYS), with Salah bin Ghanem bin Nasser Al Ali as head of the ministry. The new minister is a US-educated former deputy chief of Qatar’s Audit Bureau and general manager of the Sheikh Jassim bin Mohammed bin Thani Foundation for Social Care. The new ministry is the regulatory body for all non-Olympic sports, including Grand Prix motorcycle racing, as well as traditional Qatari sports such as horse and camel racing. The MOYS is expected to strengthen the long-term development of athletics in Qatar, improving planning and oversight, and consolidating the government’s involvement in the sector. “The establishment of the MOYS comes at the right time,” Mohammed Hanzab, president of the Doha-based International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS), told OBG. “There is a need for more policymaking and supervision in order to sustain the long-term strategy.”
OLYMPIC COMMITTEE: Olympic sports will continue to be handled by the Qatar Olympic Committee (QOC), which prior to the founding of the MOYS operated similarly to a sports ministry and still has wide-ranging responsibilities. The QOC carries out the same functions as most national Olympic committees, but has a considerably wider remit, including: developing sports in Qatar, as a leisure activity and to support elite athletes; encouraging the hosting of national, regional and international athletic competitions; and assessing and addressing the need for new facilities in the country.
ASIAN GAMES: Qatar’s breakthrough as an international sporting destination came in 2000, when the state was awarded the 2006 Asian Games by the Olympic Council of Asia, beating competition from Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and New Delhi. Seizing the opportunity, Qatar delivered the largest Asian Games ever held, with 45 countries represented and a potential TV audience of 1.5bn people tuning in to watch 39 sporting events broadcast in 2000 hours of television coverage. The QOC established the Doha Asian Games Organising Committee (DAGOC) to put the event together and oversee it.
The Asian Games provided a wealth of opportunities for local and international contractors, partners and investors, with DAGOC taking an early lead in bringing in consultancies to support the development of a range of facets of the tournament, from venue construction through transport to event management. The success of the games made clear that the country had the capacity and expertise to host major international events, despite its relatively small population and size, as well as its prior lack of experience in organising international-level sporting tournaments.
INTERNATIONAL EVENTS: International athletic events that Qatar has hosted since include the 2010 International Association of Athletic Federation’s World Indoor Athletics Championships, the 2011 Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup, the 2011 Pan Arab Games and the 2014 FINA/Arena Swimming World Cup. In December 2014 Doha’s Jassim bin Hamad Stadium played host to the Italian Supercoppa, played between the winners of Italy’s league competition Serie A (in this case, Juventus) and the domestic cup winners (Napoli). This was the first time that the Supercoppa had been contested in the Middle East. Qatar has already hosted a number of friendly matches between top international sides, but the QOC is looking to bring more competitive matches to Doha. The suggestion that England’s Premier League – one of the world’s most popular competitions – might take occasional games abroad has piqued interest in Qatar. More big tournaments and events are in the pipeline in the run-up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, including the 2016 Union Cycliste Internationale Road Cycling World Championships and the 2019 Athletics World Championships in Athletics.
WORLD CUP: There is little doubt that the biggest success to date came on December 2, 2010, when the state won the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The world’s most popular sporting event, the World Cup attracts a sizeable television audience, and 400,000 fans from around the world are expected to travel to Qatar for the event. The country’s achievement is not only significant for the state, but for the entire MENA region. The international football tournament has never been held in the Middle East, or anywhere in the Arab world, or even in a predominantly Muslim country, and has only once been hosted in Asia. However, Qatar’s hosting of the tournament has seen criticism in some quarters, partly due to FIFA’s own somewhat opaque bureaucracy. In November 2014 FIFA cleared Qatar of any wrongdoing in the bid process, following allegations made in the international media. Qatar had not been widely expected to be awarded the tournament, but FIFA chose the state partly out of a desire to take the World Cup to a part of the world that had never hosted it before, and partly with an eye on the large and growing Asian market. Few doubt that Qatar has the economic clout to make the investments needed to host the tournament, from stadia to transport infrastructure. Perhaps more challenging for Qatar was the debate about when to host the tournament. The World Cup is traditionally held from mid-June through mid-July, a time of year in which temperatures in Doha can reach 45-50˚C. The initial plan was to host the tournament in the summer and to adapt stadia with cooling technology and heat-deflecting design to cut pitch temperatures to around 25˚C and crowd temperatures to 32˚C, not dissimilar to levels experienced during previous tournaments in countries like Brazil and Mexico. Qatar has demonstrated that it has such technology. Nonetheless, FIFA announced in March 2015 that the tournament will be played in November and December, with the final to be held on December 18, Qatar National Day.
CONFEDERATIONS CUP: In February 2015 the international body announced that it would be moving the 2021 FIFA Confederations Cup out of Qatar and to a yet to be determined Asian country. The Confederations Cup is a tournament traditionally held in the World Cup host country a year before the actual competition, and often serves as a warm-up for the host prior to the main event. Jérôme Valcke, FIFA secretary-general, told the press that the cup was being pulled due to the summer heat, which echoed a recommendation by a FIFA task force to move the World Cup to the winter.
ECONOMIC UPLIFT: As well as confirming Qatar’s position as a leader in the sporting sphere, and bringing one of the world’s biggest tournaments to the Middle East for the first time, the World Cup is also expected to have a substantial positive impact on the Qatari economy before, during and long after the event itself. Investments in sporting venues, transport and utilities infrastructure, and hotels and leisure facilities will provide a boost to the economy and generate jobs in the medium term. As Qatar National Bank (QNB) reported in August 2014, these investments are often needed to support economic and social development anyway, but the hosting of a tournament provides a focal point and a clear deadline for them to be delivered. The World Cup will help raise the state’s international profile, including as a tourist destination. Increasing awareness of the country and its attractions, as well as improved hotel and leisure infrastructure, can be part of the legacy of being a host nation. QNB cites the example of Barcelona, which hosted the 1992 Olympic Games and used this as a springboard to become a leading global tourist destination, as part of the city’s overall regeneration. The number of tourist arrivals rose from 1.7m in 1990 to 7.6m in 2013, according to the bank.
However, these positive economic factors will not be automatic, and some countries that have hosted the tournament have ended up with expensive white elephant infrastructure that is not utilised after the event due to a failure to capitalise on investments. As QNB says, planning spending around the tournament therefore requires “detailed cost-benefit analysis, careful planning and sequencing, appropriate execution and monitoring as well as efficient governance over the projects”. This is how Qatar manages its long-term investments generally – unlike some emerging markets, the state has not spent money on grandiose, but unnecessary, big-ticket projects. The large-scale investments that the World Cup entails will generate opportunities for contractors to help deliver projects that will benefit Qatar in the long term, and not just during the month-long tournament. Moreover, some stadia will be reduced in size after the tournament, with components exported to construct new arenas in developing countries.
INVESTMENT: Qatar will invest around $200bn on the World Cup and associated projects, according to a July 2013 report by Deloitte. Large as this sum may seem, it is important to note that this is not $200bn to be spent only on stadia and the tournament itself. The money is being invested in an extensive programme of infrastructure and service development that is expected to stand the state in good stead for decades to come, supporting long-term economic diversification and development, and ensuring Qatar maintains one of the world’s highest standards of living. Of the $200bn, $140bn is expected to go towards transport infrastructure, including a new airport, roads and the Doha Metro, and $20bn on tourism infrastructure.
MORE BIDS COMING: In January 2015 Sheikh Saoud bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, secretary-general of the QOC, said Qatar would continue to bid for major international sporting events. This could mean bidding for another FIFA World Cup, hosting matches from foreign football leagues, but as Sheikh Saoud said, Qatar is “open to any sport”. The state is regularly approached by international sporting bodies looking for a host for tournaments, the QOC head said, adding that the state can now leverage the first-class facilities and infrastructure that it has put in place for past and upcoming events. The QOC has said it will make another bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games, having missed out on the 2016 and 2020 events. A change to the bidding process is expected to enhance Doha’s chances of winning the 2024 Olympics, which will be awarded in 2017.
ASPIRE: Qatar’s development as a global sporting centre has catalysed the growth of organisations and companies that aim to leverage the growing concentration of sector expertise in the state and export it worldwide. Two of the most important institutions in this strategy are the Aspire Academy for Sports and the Aspetar Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Hospital, both of which are located in the Aspire Zone, under the Aspire Zone Foundation (AZF). The zone is an integrated complex of sports facilities and institutions, established for the 2006 Asian Games, and includes the Aspire Dome, the world’s largest indoor, multipurpose sports stadium, and the 40,000-capacity, FIFA-accredited Khalifa International Stadium.
The academy teaches a core Qatari school curriculum, supplemented with rigorous sports training, while the hospital offers athletes a full range of top-end treatment in injury management and prevention, and performance improvement. AZF also runs a logistics branch, which provides support and management for national and global events, including organising equipment, transport and accommodation for athletes and fans. The Aspire Zone has also played host to winter training camps for major international sports clubs, including Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), as well as national squads such as Australia. Furthermore, AZF is making plans to play a key role in the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup.
“We currently have a number of expansion and renovation projects,” Khalid Al Sulaiteen, CEO of AZF, told OBG. “The Khalifa Stadium Renovation Project is ongoing and planned to be concluded in 2017, which also includes the new Olympic Museum that will be part of the stadium. Meanwhile, the east-side extension of Aspetar was completed recently, and the west-side extension will be finished before June 2015. Similarly, the project to expand Aspire Academy is ongoing. Most importantly, we are waiting to tie up the final touches on a mega expansion project for the whole Aspire Zone that would double its total area with completely new services and facilities.”
Following a meeting of a FIFA task force in February 2015, it was announced that the country had so far settled on eight locations, with seven stadia already identified. The plans revealed included: a “nomadic” design for Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, which will be based on traditional Bedouin tents for the 60,000-seat facility; renovations of Khalifa International Stadium in the Aspire Zone to include the sports museum, a food court and various other facilities, as well as cooling technology; and plans for the Qatar Foundation Stadium in Education City, which will seat about 40,000 and include facilities for a variety of sports.
The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy also announced that it changed its plans for Al Rayyan Stadium and that the entire venue will now be refurbished rather than just having extra capacity added to it. The construction of Al Wakrah Stadium was also on track in February 2015, and local press reported that work has begun on above-ground casting of concrete.
ICSS: Another example of a sporting institution based in Qatar but serving the world’s sporting market is the ICSS, which was established by Hanzab in June 2010, before the 2022 FIFA World Cup was awarded to Qatar. The ICSS is a private, independent and non-profit organisation that aims “to become a global platform for sharing knowledge and best practices on sporting events security and integrity”, Hanzab told OBG. The centre sources 70% of its funding from the government and 30% from revenues from the projects that it runs.
Hanzab also told OBG that he founded the ICSS in the run-up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, when he said that a common concern for potential spectators was not who would win, but whether it would be safe to go. Hanzab felt that security specific to major sporting events was an area in which Qatar could pool expertise from around the world to support event organisers, using a network of consultants and other experts. The organisation provides training, advisory and research services to event organisers in Qatar and worldwide. Clients include the football federations of Spain, Italy, Germany and Brazil. The centre also publishes a report that includes guidelines for sporting event security and is working on developing an index to rank countries using international standards. “At all major sporting events, security has now become a central issue of concern,” said Hanzab. “This should be seen not only as crowd management, but also a holistic approach that encompasses the interests of all stakeholders, fans, media, sponsors and so on. The ICSS is the first international organisation to position itself for the security management of sporting events globally.”
QREC: Horse racing is one of the more traditional sports in Qatar and is overseen by the Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club (QREC), the chairman of which is Sheikh Mohamed bin Faleh Al Thani. The club is not yet under the aegis of the MOYS, but will be in the near future. The ministry is drawing up a strategy for the development of horse racing in the state, which will naturally involve QREC as a major player. “Hopefully, once the new ministry assumes control of QREC, it can lobby to build new facilities,” Nasser Sherida Al Kaabi, QREC’s general manager, told OBG. The club was established in 1975 and organises thoroughbred and purebred Arabian horse racing events and horse shows, as well as promoting the development of horse breeding in Qatar. The club organises national-level horse races between October and May and hosts horse shows under the umbrella of its flagship Emir International Equestrian Sword Festival held in February. The 2013 Emir Festival was the biggest event thus far, attracting around 10,000 spectators, according to Al Kaabi, while on average regular races attract around 1500 spectators.
The popularity of horse racing is on the rise, due to population growth, as well as increasing numbers of foreign visitors who have helped to boost the profile of racing and show jumping, both as spectators and participants, Al Kaabi told OBG. This has led to the current horse racing infrastructure capacity becoming overstretched. The QREC general manager would like to see more clubs develop and more riding facilities and horse racing tracks built. The club also plays an active role in Qatar’s promotion of sport globally, being the main sponsor of both the Qatar Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe and the Qatar Arabian World Cup, which are both held in Paris in October. In February 2014 QREC also signed a five-year sponsorship deal with Royal Ascot, a first in the prestigious race’s history. “QREC aims to keep developing both locally and internationally,” Al Kaabi told OBG. “We will continue to sponsor international events and participate with our horses, and we will aim to develop more shows and races locally while enhancing our capacity to host visitors.”
QATAR SPORT INVESTMENT: One of the flagships for the state’s growing participation in international sport beyond its own borders is Qatar Sport Investment (QSI) established in 2005 as a joint initiative between the Ministry of Finance and the QOC. QSI’s investments include the French football club PSG, in which it became the majority shareholder in 2011 and sole owner in 2012, when it invested hundreds of millions of dollars to make PSG one of Europe’s leading sides.
QSI also owns BURRDA, a sportswear brand, and television rights for Qatar-based broadcaster beIN Sport. In 2011 QSI also signed a €150m, five-year sponsorship deal with Barcelona FC, one of a number of sponsorship deals. In 2011 beIN Sport extended its broadcasting rights for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups.
OUTLOOK: Over the past decade and a half Qatar’s investments in its sporting infrastructure has started to pay off. The next decade will see billions of dollars of investment in infrastructure associated with sporting events, particularly the World Cup, that should help support long-term economic diversification.
Qatar’s ability to host major tournaments has been proven, and increasingly the state is supporting clubs, athletes and events from around the world on a week-to-week basis. One of the challenges will be the development of interest in athletics among all Qataris, with the wider aim of improving health and welfare, and securing more medals and trophies for local athletes.