As part of its strategy to achieve economic diversification, Qatar has made the promotion of the sports industry a major development goal. Indeed, the achievement of sports excellence forms an explicitly stated objective of the Qatar National Vision 2030 (QNV 2030). The country has played host to major international sporting events for over a decade, with its first significant breakthrough coming in 2000 when the Olympic Council of Asia awarded Doha the right to host the 2006 Asian Games. The success of the event, which is the second-largest multi-event sporting competition in the world after the Olympics, placed the country firmly on the international map for sporting contests and laid the groundwork for the government’s commitment to making the state the regional sports capital. This effort has translated into major public funding for sports infrastructure and training.
Qatar’s transformation came to fruition in 2010 when it was announced that the state would play host to the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Over the subsequent years the country has pushed forward with its sporting agenda, hosting a broad array of international tournaments and competitions, including signature events for tennis, squash, golf, handball – notably the 2015 Men’s World Handball Championships – cycling, motor sports and equestrian sports. Additionally, the government has striven to promote sports and an active healthy lifestyle among its population, launching its first annual national sports holiday in February 2012. While the government has taken the central role in developing and expanding the country’s sports facilities and infrastructure, it has also sought to encourage private investment in the sector. Meanwhile, domestic businesses have successfully leveraged the rising prominence of the country’s standing as a centre of sporting events, entering into partnerships with international athletics entities.
The national planning and delivery of sporting events are overseen by three main administrative bodies, namely the Qatar Olympic Committee (QOC), the Ministry of Culture and Sports (MCS) and the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC). The QOC was established in 1979 with a mandate to promote athletics and physical development, and is responsible for coordinating and managing all Qatari bids to host the Olympic, Asian and Arab Games. Furthermore, the QOC organises National Sports Day, and operates the Qatar Olympic Academy and Qatar Women’s Sports Committee.
Meanwhile, the MCS oversees all non-Olympic sports activities, including the country’s 17 sports clubs and teams along with other sports federations. Lastly, the SC – which was formed in 2011 – is responsible for the planning of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. This includes working with stakeholders to ensure that stadiums, infrastructure, and accommodation are in place for the international event. Furthermore, the SC is also responsible for ensuring a positive social and environmental legacy for the World Cup event.
In the build up to the country’s most significant international sports contest to date – the 2022 FIFA World Cup – the government is anticipated to spend around $60bn on World Cup-related and legacy projects. These include the completion of seven major stadiums and training sites. The government also plans to spend up to $140bn to upgrade the road and transport network. These investment projects include the completion of the new Doha Metro and the redevelopment of Doha Port, where cruise ships will be used to provide additional accommodation for the estimated 1.5m fans expected for the event.
While the provision of infrastructure for the 2022 FIFA World Cup constitutes the priority, the state capital expenditure plan has been deliberately rationalised to allow for ongoing public investment in legacy projects beyond 2022. As such, this extensive infrastructure programme is expected to support economic development and diversification for decades to come. Capital expenditure is expected to represent 43.3% of total spending in 2019, according to the state budget, with 7.9% or QR16.4bn ($4.5bn) set to be invested in the country’s transport and communication network.
Leveraging Sports Events
Aside from making use of the 2022 FIFA World Cup as an opportunity to significantly upgrade the country’s infrastructure, the government is also seeking to leverage the event to stimulate private sector activity. Increasing the contribution of tourism to non-oil GDP is a particular target for the authorities. Beyond the surge in footfall expected during the World Cup, the event is expected to raise Qatar’s profile as a tourist destination, and drive up visitor numbers both before and after 2022. The event is expected to provide a significant boost to the hospitality sector in particular. In order to meet FIFA guidelines, Qatar must ensure the availability of a minimum of 60,000 hotel rooms by 2022. To achieve this objective, the country’s hotel capacity will need to increase by 12.8% per annum, according to a report published in 2018 by Dubai-based financial advisory services firm Alpen Capital.
While 21 new hotels are scheduled to open by 2021, the government is also looking to innovative solutions to fill the accommodation gap. In February 2019 the SC announced it was inviting property owners and developers to submit expressions of interest in providing residential accommodation during the World Cup. Housing units made available for the event will have to adhere to strict standards, with owners expected to provide turnkey solutions including a shuttle bus if the unit is more than 1km from a public transport station.
Furthermore, the government has also taken steps to promote the growth of a domestic sports industry that can add value to the economy. Spearheading this drive is the Aspire Zone, also known as Doha Sports City, a 2.5-sq-km integrated complex of training facilities and institutions. It is operated by the state-owned Aspire Zone Foundation (AZF). Originally established to host the 2006 Asian Games, today the Aspire Zone is home to two of the most important institutions to have emerged during Qatar’s development into a regional athletics centre: the training centre Aspire Academy, and the Gulf region’s first specialised orthopaedic and sports medicine hospital, Aspetar. The hospital has been accredited as a research and sports injury treatment centre of excellence by FIFA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC). In January 2019 Aspetar was re-accredited as an IOC research centre for the next four years. The accreditation has been granted to just 10 other centres worldwide.
The Aspire Zone also incorporates the Khalifa International Stadium, a 50,000-capacity arena originally built in 1976 and recently renovated and upgraded in preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The zone also includes the 60,000-seat Al Bayt Stadium. The QR3.1bn ($851.4bn) project is being developed as a joint venture between Italy’s Salini Impreglio Group and steel construction firm Cimolai, and Qatari contractor Galfar Al Misnad, and is expected to be completed in 2019.
In October 2018 AZF and the Qatar Financial Centre (QFC) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) that paved the way for the establishment of the Qatar Sports Business District (QSBD). The MoU matches AZF’s twin areas of expertise in nurturing athletic ability and sports medicine with QFC’s regulatory platform to create a sports business cluster in the country, a first for the region. In line with the government’s ambitions to increase foreign direct investment inflows, the new business district aims to attract multinational sports companies and start-ups through a range of incentives.
“The QSBD will help diversify the economy and develop the country as the ideal location for a wide range of sports-related businesses,” Mohammed Khalifa Al Suwaidi, CEO of Aspire Zone, told OBG. “This collaboration with the QFC will lead to the creation of a sports business cluster designed to bring together local and international businesses.”
Also in October 2018 the Qatar Development Bank (QDB) established a partnership with the London-headquartered venture capital firm Startupbootcamp to launch an accelerator programme for emerging firms developing sports technology solutions. Known as Qatar SportsTech, the programme began accepting applications in February 2018 and launched in late January 2019 with 10 start-ups in its inaugural cohort. During the course of the three-month programme, the companies will be granted office space in the Aspire Zone, mentorship with at least 100 industry figures, living expenses and the opportunity to build business connections through the QDB’s business network.
“Sports events have become an increasingly important factor to boost tourist arrivals to Doha, the epitome of which will be the 2022 FIFA World Cup, with infrastructure already in place or soon to be completed,” Mohamed Chebil, general manager of The Curve Hotel, told OBG. “This is not only positive for tourist arrivals, but also to increase business activity overall in the hospitality sector,” he said. The 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar is set to run from November to December, with the final planned for December 18 to coincide with Qatar National Day. Qatar’s time zone is expected to bring benefits, given that it will allow approximately 3bn fans across Asia and Europe to take advantage of prime-time viewing, depending on kickoff times. In total, eight stadiums will be used for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, of which one – the renovated Khalifa International Stadium – is completed and the following seven are earmarked for completion by 2020, according to the SC. The total cost of the stadiums is estimated between $8bn and $10bn, according to official government figures, with the remaining budget being invested in supporting infrastructure and the development of tourism services.
As part of the country’s broader objective to fully leverage the opportunities provided by the international football tournament, the SC launched Challenge 22 in 2015. The regional innovation award and incubation programme provides the opportunity for Arab-world entrepreneurs and start-ups to provide technological solutions to issues related to the organisation and implementation of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The development of Qatar as a major destination for international football gained a considerable boost in early 2019 when the Qatari national team shot to victory in the Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup, defeating four-time champion Japan 3-1 in the final.
Major Sporting Events
Qatar’s investments in infrastructure and sports facilities has cemented its reputation as a destination for major international sporting events, with a strong uptick in sports contests in recent years. Notable examples of this include the 2018 Qatar Open tennis tournament; the Qatar Masters golf tournament, which has been hosted annually at Doha Golf Club since 1998; the 2018 FINA Swimming World Cup; and the 2018 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships, which is the first gymnastics world competition ever held in the Middle East. Furthermore, in mid-2019 the Khalifa International Stadium will play host to the IAAF World Championships in Athletics.
The long-term objective of Qatar – as outlined in the QNV 2030 blueprint – is to develop a diversified and sustainable economy. It envisions achieving this objective by encouraging entrepreneurship, attracting international investment and overhauling the infrastructure network. As such, much of the physical infrastructure, particularly in terms of transportation, was already under development prior to the country winning the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. As of February 2019 preparations for the tournament had entered their peak construction phase. Seven stadiums were under construction, with two set to be completed in early 2019, namely Saoud bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani Stadium, also known as Al Wakrah SC Stadium, and Al Bayt Stadium. In December 2018 the design for Lusail Iconic Stadium – the venue that will host both the opening and final matches – was unveiled at a ceremony in Doha.
As part of the state’s broader infrastructure overhaul, Hamad International Airport is being expanded, with its handling capacity set to increase to 50m passengers per annum by 2022. In the planning and implementation of the preparations for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the SC has sought to avoid the creation of structures that become obsolete following the conclusion of the tournament. The government therefore aims to leverage the increased stadium capacity for further international tournaments in the future, while also repurposing other structures. The prime example of this is Ras Abu Aboud Stadium, which was designed as a fully demountable venue, built in part from shipping containers that can be dismantled and used to create new facilities towards the end of the World Cup.
While promoting sporting excellence at the national level, Qatar has also sought to commercialise its sporting ambitions on the international stage. For example, in 2011 Qatar Sports Investments (QSI), a 100% Qatari-owned private shareholding company, became the majority shareholder of Paris Saint-Germain football club after acquiring a 70% stake. The following year QSI became the sole shareholder of the football team after buying out the remaining 30% owned by Colony Northstar – then Colony Capital – and Butler Capital Partners. In addition, domestic companies including Qatar Airways, Qatar National Bank and Ooredoo have increasingly sponsored major European football clubs, with Qatar Airways, for example, sponsoring Germany’s Bayern Munich and Italy’s AS Roma.
Sustained government investment in athletics facilities, coupled with a major overhaul of the country’s transport infrastructure, has supported the development of the sports industry and helped establish Qatar as a leading regional centre for sports events. These infrastructure investments should provide significant support to economic growth over the longer term, while sporting events stand to boost the country’s international profile.
Meanwhile, the government has also undertaken efforts to leverage the growth of the sports industry to support the development of other economic sectors and stimulate entrepreneurship within the country.