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Katar 2022

The most expensive and most scandalous World Cup. Mikhail Polenov on why FIFA wants to host World Cups in developing countries


The group stage of the World Cup in Qatar has come to an end. As always, the outcome was dramatic - South Korea and Japan qualified for the play-offs, Belgium and Denmark went home, and Germany failed to qualify for a second World Cup in a row.  Michael Polenov talks about what this championship will be remembered for.

Each World Cup is the ultimate: spectacular, revolutionary, and sensational.  The 2022 World Cup in Qatar will long remain one of the most expensive and scandalous in history.  If we consider hosting the World Cup a matter of national prestige, then Qatar has priced it generously: a total budget of 200 billion euros, 14 times more than in Russia in 2018, and 5 times more than all the championships in the last 20 years. Allegations of corruption in the appointment of the host country, human rights violations, mass deaths of workers in construction, the postponement of the tournament for the winter, persecution of LGBTQ+ symbols, a ban on the sale of beer (not to mention other alcohol) - this World Cup is not liked by very many.

Traditionally, the World Cup starts in mid-June and lasts a month, with national teams having at least 3-4 weeks to prepare for the tournament.

Now everything is different - the World Cup in Qatar is taking place exactly in the middle of the European season, there is almost no preparation, and we have to play from the list. This leads to more sensations as Belgium, Mexico, Denmark and Germany have all left the tournament after the group stage.

Yes, Japan and Australia made the play-offs for a reason, but the general public want to see the big stars play. Viewing ratings for matches are down, and that beats the financial success of the tournament.

At the opening match against the host team of the World Cup, fans of the Ecuadorian team shouted "Queremos cerveza", which means "we want beer" in Spanish. FIFA banned the sale of beer in stadiums two days before the 2022 World Cup, concentrating on the Fan Fest and other licensed outlets.  "Prohibition" in Qatar long before the start of the championship was a problem for many fans and deterred many from travelling. Doha and other cities in the country are now sweltering 30 degree days, and beer has traditionally been a must at World Cup matches. Organisers of the various tournaments have learned to avoid problems with drunken fans, and clashes between fans often occur when the fans are sober. A celebration, which was seen on Nikolskaya Street in Moscow 4 years ago, will certainly not be seen in Qatar.

Another disadvantage of the tournament is its very tight logistics.

The distance between the most distant stadiums is a mere 80 kilometres.  The training bases and hotels of the national teams are located hundreds of metres away from each other. But for the fans, attending the World Cup is also a great way to travel around the country, its different regions and traditions. Russia and Brazil, which have hosted the championships before, have given a very different experience of immersion in the country. There are few ethnographic discoveries to be made in Qatar.

Copyright  AP Photo/Martin Meissner  

Over the past few years, FIFA has sought to host World Cups in developing or not the most football-friendly countries. South Africa in 2010, Brazil in 2014, Russia in 2018, now the first World Cup is being held in an Arab world country.  This policy is well-intentioned: according to FIFA, hosting a major tournament will give a major boost to football in the region and allow the necessary infrastructure to be built, which without the World Cup would never have appeared. It looks nice in words, but it does not correspond with reality.

For example, for the national team of the Republic of South Africa, modern infrastructure does not help at all: after the 2010 domestic tournament the African country has not been able to get to the World Cup, a generation of noticeable players has not appeared, and the idea of developing football in the region has remained on paper. Hosting the World Cup in Saransk raises questions even among the locals. The only silver lining is that an airport was built in the city.

The stadium is expensive to operate, the local team cannot afford to rent it, and for a long time it was used by FC Tambov which had to travel 360 km one way for 'home' games. There is nothing to speak of the spectator interest in such matches in the city.

In Brazil's Manaus, the stadium was built in the middle of the jungle and after the World Cup the arena was taken over by a club from .... Division 4. Organising concerts by world stars at the Arena da Amazonia also proved problematic, so the expensive and technologically advanced stadium turned out to be just a very expensive toy.

Incidentally, this is not just a problem with World Cup stadiums. After Euro 2012, the Arena Lviv also stood empty - local Karpaty could not afford to pay the rent and electricity and other utility bills.  In 2014, Shakhtar Donetsk, whose state-of-the-art Donbass Arena was nearly destroyed during the first months of the war, moved here.

Critics of FIFA's policy are convinced that it decides where to stage the next World Cup, not out of concern for the development of football, but because sponsors desire to find new markets and begin massive infrastructure construction to match FIFA's increasing demands.

Qatar has no intention of preserving the World Cup legacy at all - almost all the stadiums will be dismantled after the tournament and sold to other countries. There is no talk of developing football as a sport and industry in the Arab world.

Will FIFA's approach to determining the venue of World Cups change?  Will the scandals surrounding Qatar prompt a change? These questions will be answered by the organisation itself when it announces the host of the next World Cup. The 2026 FIFA World Cup will be held in the USA, Canada and Mexico, while the 2030 World Cup will be decided at the FIFA Congress in 2024.

Author: Mikhail Polenov

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