World Cup: A fans’ guide to Qatar 2022 - Stadiums, travel, accommodation

·3-min read
World Cup: A fans’ guide to Qatar 2022 - Stadiums, travel, accommodation

Qatar has had a uniquely long time to come to terms with the reality of being World Cup hosts.

By the time the final of next winter’s tournament takes place on December 18, it will have been 12 years since the Gulf nation was awarded the 2022 edition of football's marquee event, the selection process concluding on the same instantly-infamous afternoon in Zurich on which Russia was awarded the 2018 World Cup, way back in 2010.

But the concerns about what Fifa’s decision to take the tournament to a country of small size, searing heat, strict Sharia law and no notable footballing heritage will mean for fan experience remain unchanged.

Some fears will prove unfounded. Drinking, for instance, might be banned in public but alcohol is routinely sold in licensed hotels and bars, and organisers have long said it will be permitted in special designated zones such as ‘wet’ fan parks during the tournament, where prices will likely be cheaper, too.

When Qatar first bid for the tournament, the talk was of air-conditioned stadia being needed to negate the dangers of 40-degree-heat, but the shift to a November/December slot has effectively wiped out that concern (and a chunk of the domestic calendar) without the need for such innovation.

At that time of year, average temperatures are in the mid-to-low twenties, cooler than at some recent summer World Cups and well below the 30 degrees in which England started their Euro 2020 campaign against Croatia at Wembley this summer.

And there is positive spin, too, on the geographical concentration of the tournament, to be played across just eight stadia - the fewest since the 16-team 1978 World Cup in Argentina - the farthest apart of which are separated by only 75km.

Off the back of tournaments spanning the vast nations of Brazil and Russia, and ahead of one which will traverse three in the USA, Canada and Mexico, that will come as a logistical relief to travelling supporters who could, if they so choose, attend multiple matches in one day.

That this USP is being pushed hard in the tournament’s marketing is unsurprising, given concerns over the prospect of poor attendances. The sheer scale of the World Cup behemoth and the tradition of travelling fans mean things are unlikely to be as bleak as they were at the 2019 Athletics World Championships, when crowds for some sessions in Doha barely surpassed those at this summer’s behind-closed-doors Olympics in Tokyo.

But there is only a small native football fanbase upon which to rely - it is telling that almost all the stadia will have their capacities reduced post-tournament - and there are already reports of the possibility of “paid fans” being bussed in to whip up atmospheres.

There again, it is just as well the football world is not expected to descend on Qatar in its usual numbers, given the relative dearth of accommodation.

Rooms will be hard to come by - organisers, who say they are reluctant to end up with a host of ‘white elephant’ unused properties, have promised up to 130,000 in serviced apartments and hotels, but hope well over a million people will visit during the tournament.

Fan camping villages in the desert are expected to play a part in filling the shortfall, but there is work to be done to prepare the necessary infrastructure such as sewage systems, while, according to Reuters, one of the two cruise ships hired to be used as a floating hotel is still being built in France.

A ‘Host a Fan’ initiative is being trialled at the Arab Cup later this month, but there are concerns about uptake within a conservative local population.

That tournament will be the closest Qatar gets to a dress rehearsal - but it is unlikely to tell us much about whether the country is ready for the real show to roll into town a year from now.

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