Lasting legacy: The 2022 FIFA World Cup is set to have positive effects on sustainability, innovation and Qatar’s international standing

The 2022 FIFA World Cup will be the first held in the Arab world, the first to be played during the winter instead of summer, and the first carbon-neutral World Cup event. Other firsts include building a fully demountable stadium that can later be donated to developing countries in need of such infrastructure, and being the first World Cup to run for 28 days instead of the regular 32 days in order to reduce heat-related risks and disruptions to participating nations’ domestic competitions.

Broader Impact

The estimated investment in infrastructure development and preparations for the tournament is $220bn-300bn, which is expected to result in positive economic multiplier effects over the long term. Qatar seeks to make the event an unforgettable experience for spectators, and is taking the opportunity to showcase its culture, identity and hospitality to an international audience. The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC) – the body in charge of planning and implementing the tournament and securing a positive long-term impact from it – has approached the event as an opportunity for modernisation and technological transformation, while also showcasing Qatar’s traditions and interconnectedness with the rest of the world.

By hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar is looking to enhance its soft power credentials and geopolitical influence as an independent Arab and Islamic country. At the same time, the 2021 rapprochement with regional peers Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, following the end of the economic blockade imposed on Qatar in 2017, is expected to help the country in promoting the tournament as one that all Arab countries can embrace. Indeed, some of Qatar’s most important stated objectives in hosting the tournament are to enhance intercultural understanding, and to leave a legacy of celebrating global community, inclusiveness and sustainability in the Middle East, Asia and the world more broadly.

Some risks have been identified by non-governmental organisations, particularly in relation to the rights of migrant workers on major construction projects. Such concerns have been generally addressed by the government by way of policy reviews and, in some cases, reforms, with the latest taking place in 2020 when the kafala (sponsorship) system for migrant workers was effectively dismantled – a first for the GCC (see Economy chapter).

Infrastructure Development

It is not common for a country the size of Qatar to host a major international sporting event, mostly due to the scale of the infrastructure required. The SC forecasts that between 1.5m and 2m visitors will travel to Qatar for the tournament between November 21 and December 18, 2022. When Qatar won the bid to host the event in 2010, the country’s population stood at 1.7m, putting into perspective the significant challenge that comes with hosting the World Cup. By 2022 the population had expanded to 2.8m, with preparations for the tournament helping to attract large numbers of international workers in the years since the announcement.

Qatar has integrated the 2022 FIFA World Cup into plans to accelerate its social development and economic diversification strategy articulated in Qatar National Vision 2030 and the medium-term National Development Strategy 2018-22. In order to achieve its strategic objectives for the tournament and broader development agenda, Qatar has invested in large-scale infrastructure projects such as Hamad International Airport, Doha Metro, Hamad Port, the new smart city of Lusail and seven new stadia, plus the upgrading of an existing arena. These stadia are designed to be repurposed into community centres where people can gather, connect and learn, building on a broader strategy of community building and national identity. Moreover, the infrastructure developed ahead of the tournament was designed to strengthen transport connectivity, and enhance the local business environment and quality of life.

Long-term Benefits

The 2022 FIFA World Cup is expected to leave positive legacies in the areas of sustainability, technological innovation and Qatar’s international standing. Regarding sustainability, Qatar aims to set new standards and benchmarks through the tournament. In 2009 Qatar founded the Gulf Organisation for Research and Development (GORD), based at Qatar Science and Technology Park. GORD is responsible for developing the Global Sustainability Assessment System, which will set standards for the operational performance of buildings and stadia built for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The system allowed Qatar’s newly built stadia to achieve energy savings of 45% compared to other facilities designed under guidelines set by the American Society of Heating. As such, it set the standard for energy efficiency in the GCC region.

The stadia are also expected to use 44% less water compared to buildings designed under International Plumbing Code standards. A combination of technological improvements and carbon offsetting purchases should allow Qatar to host the first carbon-neutral World Cup. Furthermore, by donating modular sections of stadia to construct arenas in developing countries, Qatar is effectively setting a standard for future sporting events in terms of the reuse and recycle of newly built facilities.

Qatar has sought to spur technological innovation within its borders and beyond. In January 2015 the SC launched Challenge 22, which aimed to find solutions and incentivise innovation to increase accessibility to cultural offerings and facilitate translation to other languages, as well as assist visitors in navigating the city with real-time information. Challenge 22 functions to nurture local capacity through the development of local industries, expertise and infrastructure for innovation in support of Qatar’s transition to a knowledge-based economy.

Prior to that, the Josoor Institute was created by the SC in December 2013 to enhance the ecosystem for the sports and events industries in Qatar and the MENA region. Notable technological developments stemming from domestic innovation efforts include Hamad bin Khalifa University printing low-power sensors directly onto fabric to measure the heartbeat, respiration and hydration of construction workers to detect health-related issues during working hours. The SC also collaborated with tech firm TechNiche to develop StayQool suits, designed to reduce skin temperature by up to 15°C. These suits were distributed to 30,000 construction workers.

Qatar is also bolstering its international standing and influence through sports. Beyond hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup, this can be seen in the acquisition of the Paris Saint-Germain Football Club by Qatar Sports Investment in 2011, and Qatar Airways becoming the first commercial sponsor of Barcelona Football Club in 2013. Such deals demonstrate Qatar’s commercial capacity and openness to international investment and business opportunities. They also provide a platform to promote the country as a desirable destination for tourism and trade. Qatar hosted 500 international sports events between 2005 and early 2022, and 63 in 2021 alone. Recent events include the 2021 FIFA Arab Cup and the Turkish Super Cup final held on January 5, 2022.

Multiplier Effects

Projecting the long-term economic multiplier impact of hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar is complicated, particularly as many of the benefits in terms soft power and international prestige, and the new commercial opportunities linked to these areas, are difficult to measure quantitatively. While the large-scale infrastructure development ahead of the tournament spurred GDP growth for a period of time, the completion of projects and subsequent return of some overseas workers dampened economic activity in some segments as the tournament drew closer.

Nonetheless, the legacy of advanced transport, digital and utilities infrastructure should be a boost to the country’s long-term competitiveness. Hassan Al Thawadi, secretary-general of the SC, estimates that the event’s contribution to the economy will be $20bn in 2022, equivalent to 11% of pre-pandemic GDP in 2019. The 2022 FIFA World Cup is also estimated to have created 1.5m new jobs in sectors such as construction, real estate and hospitality. Furthermore, progress has been made in the country’s economic diversification agenda. The share of the oil and gas sector’s contribution to GDP decreased from 60% in 2011 to 48% in 2017, due partly to large investments in universities, research centres, hospitals, and Hamad Port and Hamad International Airport, among others. That said, the transformative nature of a sporting event of such a large magnitude goes beyond immediate economic effects, and the intangible nature of these benefits should be taken into consideration when considering its legacy.