James Elwen, Partner and Head of Qatar Office, Pinsent Masons, on how Qatar is becoming an international centre for sporting events

James Elwen, Partner and Head of Qatar Office, Pinsent Masons

 

Qatar’s sports social calendar is full. As well as the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar will host the Road Cycling World Championship in 2016, the International Association of Athletic Championships in 2019 and a range of other international competitions in between. The infrastructure needed for these events is what attracts many private investors to Qatar. However, rather than developing infrastructure with a focus solely on the event itself and subsequently allowing the legacy to fade once the competition is won or lost, Qatar’s National Vision 2030 seeks to use sport as a catalyst for the population’s wider social development.

An example of Qatar’s ambition to ensure the positive legacy of sporting events is the very strong emphasis placed on technology. Recognising the irreplaceable role the internet plays in connecting people in their day-to-day lives, Qatar already has full nationwide 4G+ coverage, and further aims to have 100% fibre-optic technology in strategic areas of the country by the end of 2015. In this regard, Qatar is one of the few countries in the world to offer such coverage, reflecting the state’s ambition to become an advanced, digitally connected country with the capability to upload a five-minute video clip in less than a second. Indeed, plans to offer a 5G network before 2020 are under way. The challenge now will be for mobile phone manufacturers to keep pace, since not many existing smart devices are capable of using 4G+. However, Ooredoo, Qatar’s partially state-owned telecommunication provider, has addressed this with the recent launch of 4G+-capable mobile phones.

Another example of how sport has driven innovation in Qatar is the growth of “smart cities”. The concept involves the integration of urban construction with software in areas such as medical care, security, architecture, and green technology. Connecting the city using technology enables it to automatically adapt to the changing traffic and weather conditions. The Lusail Iconic Stadium is at the centre of one of the two planned smart cities and is the arena which will host the opening ceremony and final game of the World Cup. The stadium will make use of smart technology in various ways, including to achieve the climatic conditions (26°C at pitch level and between 24 and 28°C in the spectator stands), as stipulated in the 2022 FIFA World Cup Contract.

Moreover, just weeks before the World Cup was held in Brazil in 2014, the competition was put at risk from cyber hackers threatening to disrupt the websites of the government, FIFA and affiliated corporate sponsors. In light of the central place which technology has been accorded in its development plans, Qatar is taking measures to map out a digital defence system to protect its technological infrastructure. As well as taking lessons from the successful cyber security strategy adopted for the London 2012 Olympics, Qatar has established the Qatar Computer Emergency Response Team (Q-CERT). This is a government-sponsored organisation that safeguards Qatar’s ICT systems, enabling it to respond more efficiently to threats and reduce any potential damage which might be inflicted. In December 2014 Q-CERT held the second in a series of planned cyber drills involving over 320 participants from various critical sectors of the economy, including finance, telecommunications, energy, government, transportation, aviation and health.

Unsurprisingly, given the speed at which Qatar’s technological infrastructure is developing, the challenge for Qatar is ensuring that its laws and policies keep up with the latest technological advances. Identifying regulatory gaps and taking proactive steps to close them will thus be an important element of ensuring the country’s safety and sustainability.

By diversifying its economy beyond conventional power, Qatar is capable of sustaining its current rate of development and will continue to attract private foreign investment. Indeed, the upcoming sporting events in Qatar’s social calendar are merely steps leading the way to a much more expansive vision, whose scope goes beyond the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

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The Report: Qatar 2015

Legal Framework chapter from The Report: Qatar 2015

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