DOHA: Qatar football officials are concerned right now with qualification for the 2018 World Cup finals, but preparations continue apace for the Gulf state’s controversial hosting of the 2022 tournament.
Despite continued human rights and trade unions concerns over labour, a Swiss corruption investigation into the awarding of the tournament to the tiny Gulf emirate, switching the tournament from its traditional June and July to November and December because of the desert country’s fierce summer, and a drop in oil prices hitting the country’s energy-reliant economy, Qatar remains on schedule to host football’s biggest tournament.
This week, a senior official from the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the group overseeing the organisation of the tournament, told Arabic language daily Al Watan that all projects for 2022 will be delivered on time.
“Work on the Qatar 2022 projects is going full swing,” said executive director, Ali Ghanim al-Kuwari.
“All the projects are in an advanced stage of design and implementation.”
FIFA is set to make a final decision on the number of stadiums to be used in 2022 by the end of this year, but it is widely expected to be eight.
Earlier this summer, Jurgen Muller, FIFA’s head of planning and infrastructure, told a Doha conference that Qatar’s infrastructure and stadium projects were “well on track”.
Of the eight stadiums, all but one Al Bayt are located in the capital Doha or its suburbs.
Building work has begun on six of the stadiums and the first stadium, Khalifa International, should be completed by the beginning of 2017, said al-Kuwari.
Khalifa will also host the World Athletics Championships in 2019.
And it is the stadium where earlier this year Amnesty International alleged workers suffered abuses, in some cases forced labour.
Building work on all stadiums to be used in the World Cup should finish by 2020, organisers have previously stated.
In May this year, Hassan al-Thawadi, secretary-general of the Supreme Committee said the cost for the stadiums was around $10 billion (9bn euros).
Spending on direct World Cup projects, such as stadiums, appears to be unaffected so far as Qatar adjusts it expenditure to cope with the global slump in oil prices.
But there are potential bumps in the road as spending on other projects face cuts.
Qatar is forecast to run a budget deficit in 2016, its first in 15 years.
Unless there is a major shift in the oil price, that will be repeated in 2017 and 2018.
Qatar is spending more than $200 billion on major infrastructure projects, such as a subway system that will transport fans to games in 2022, major roadworks and a new city, Lusail, where the 2022 World Cup final will be played.
But it has already cut back on spending in some areas hundreds of jobs have been shed at broadcaster Al Jazeera and the state-funded Qatar Museums, while spending on healthcare facilities dropped.
To emphasise the problems, this week Doha’s Hamad International Airport introduced an airport tax on passengers as the country seeks fresh revenue streams.
In mid-December, it is expected that Qatar will announce the end of its much-criticised “kafala” labour system, the source of much criticism from international human rights’ groups.
“Kafala”, which places restrictions on a worker’s ability to change jobs and travel, is to be replaced by a contract system.
However, it is unlikely to placate critics and further damning reports of labour practices in Qatar are expected to be launched this autumn.