Pitchside

City set to host 2022 World Cup final doesn’t yet exist

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Some fantastic cities have hosted the World Cup final – Rio de Janeiro, Paris, Madrid, Buenos Aires, even merry old London and soon we will likely be adding to the list Lusail.

You know Lusail right? With its wondrous….eh….and its magnificent…hmm. Well no actually, we can't say much about Lusail, the Qatar city set to host the 2022 World Cup final and there is very simply reason for that - it doesn't yet exist. .

Of course, there are several reasons to be suspicious of 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar.

The circumstances in which the tiny Gulf state fended off competition from the United States and Australia to win the right to host the tournament; the searing summer heat and apparent lack of forward planning regarding playing and watching football in such conditions; the servitude-like working conditions of foreigners, which for poorly-paid labourers and domestic servants hark back to the days of slavery, and even for well-remunerated professionals can lead to months of years in limbo thanks to an archaic law that gives employers the right to refuse exit visas; laws criminalising homosexuality which are totally incompatible with FIFA’s claims to promote inclusivity and tolerance in the beautiful game…

Aside from scratching the surface, there are other concerns about what will happen in eight years’ time. The geopolitics of the region could shift seismically in that time – there is already a backlash against Qatar, which is accused of meddling in their affairs of certain more established Middle Eastern states.

And the nation – switching tack from summer to winter to summer again, with no real clear defined strategy other than saying it has the money to do what it wants – is still muddling through it all.

Therefore it is perhaps not so surprising that one of the host cities of the Qatar 2022 - indeed the one expect to host the final - hasn’t even been built yet, as noted by CNN earlier this week.

At the moment, Lusail is just a 28 square mile stretch of waterfront desert running down the Persian Gulf. Construction has begun and there is an ambitious five-year timeline to build the ‘perfect’ modern city for a quarter of a million people, which in theory could see Qatar swell its population by around 10%.

What constitutes ‘perfect’ is a matter of taste. For some, the shopping malls, lagoons, entertainment complexes and desert golf courses represent the height of luxury and modernity; for others, such ventures are soulless, bland, devoid of culture.

One thing that does go in Lusail’s favour is the 86,000 seater football stadium which is planned to be the venue for the World Cup final.

Another positive development is the introduction of a light rail system and a network of underground pedestrian tunnels; it is so hot in Qatar that driving is the only way to get around, so – in terms of the nation’s overall progress – this is significant.

These networks will be centralised in a computer system allowing the city’s internal climate to be controlled as weather and traffic dictates; it would be a smart city.

This command centre is not the only innovative system Qatar is planning for Lusail; all amenities – including gas, electricity and water – will be underground in a network of tunnels. As a result, any maintenance will be invisible from above, minimising disruption.

One of the least pleasant things about living in a desert climate is the reliance on air conditioning. Lusail’s buildings will be cooled by solar power and chilled water being piped around the city.

And all this at the relatively snappy price of $45 billion.

So surely there must be a catch?

Well, of course there is. A project on this scale requires construction workers. Some 20,000, according to estimates.

Qatar’s death rate for manual workers is difficult to verify, but at least 4,000 are expected to perish. That may be more with this project in effect. The Guardian reported that at least 44 workers died of heart attacks and similar problems in a two-month period in 2013.

Most of these hail from the Indian subcontinent, earn around $10 per day, and sleep in sweltering, cramped accommodation while being forced to work in the blazing heat. Some of them are said to be slaves from Nepal. And if they want to up and leave… well, tough.

The state developers are investigating the allegations, pointing the finger at subcontractors. Whether the culture will change remains to be seen.

There is also the question about Qatar’s status as World Cup host. Activists are pressurising FIFA, who in turn are being investigated over allegations of corruption in the bidding process.

But Sepp Blatter and co. have stood firm, no doubt safe in the knowledge that they’ll be on a different beach by then, and that nations like England, the United States and Germany have the capacity to host an emergency World Cup at the drop of a hat.

However, if the ambitious Lusail project comes off – and its eco-friendly excellence is showcased to the world in 2022 – Qatar will see the fight as having been worthwhile.

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