Map of the FIFA World Cup venues in Qatar, and the country's geopolitical environment (EEZ, military bases, gas fields)
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How do you find them, your training centers? ”, I asked Louis van Gaal, the coach of the Netherlands team. “They are greathe replied. They can’t be better, it’s impeccable”. Then, in the turn of a sentence, he told me again that the World Cup should not take place in Qatar, that it should never have been organized here. Which sums up the situation quite well: everything is magnificent, but we feel like we are unwell.

The Netherlands trains here in a center called the Qatar University Training Site 6 [Centre d’entraînement 6 de l’université du Qatar]. The grass is immaculate, there are floodlights, two training grounds, all the equipment the teams have requested is at their disposal, installed in a perimeter of freshly planted greenery to ensure some privacy. As you can see, not content with building a metro system and seven new stadiums (plus one renovated), Qatar has fitted out a lot of this training equipment.

Map of the FIFA World Cup venues in Qatar, and the country’s geopolitical environment (EEZ, military bases, gas fields)

Thousands of liters swallowed up

The scale and quality are breathtaking. But at the same time, Reuters reports that the eight stadiums, plus the 136 training grounds in use, consume 10,000 liters of desalinated water per day in winter and 50,000 liters per day in summer. Big discomfort, again.

Almost at every step, one is both amazed and perplexed. Has such a vast and ambitious project ever been implemented on this planet? And yet, even if it is difficult to understand the complexity of all this, we constantly ask ourselves: why?

For me, as is the case with most international tours, it all started at the rental car counter at the airport. The friendly gentleman tells you “it’s coming home” [“ Le football rentre à la maison”, l’hymne des supporters anglais]you take a while to understand and it turns out that he is Albanian.

In our residence, the reception staff is made up of Rwandans, South Africans and Egyptians. The guards are respectively Pakistani and Moroccan. The two gentlemen toilet workers at the media center were Ghanaians. At the restaurant, I was served by Nepalese and Sri Lankans, and the workers I spoke to outside the new Raffles Hotel (more on that later) were Tunisian and Bangladeshi. Apparently the whole world is here, apart from the Qataris.

A city that has risen from nothingness

Here is a World Cup city that has just risen from nothing. This also applies to the great army of those who built it and those who operate it. Who says new buildings, says new workforce. The population has tripled in less than 20 years, rising to 3 million inhabitants. Of these 3 million, only about 10% are Qataris. The population is as new as the Dutch training ground.

Where are the Qataris? One thing is certain, they are not part of the service staff. There is obviously a hierarchy of classes, and they are at the top. Moreover, many of them are fleeing the country. The most conservative do not want to stay there as long as their homeland is exposed to all this Western culture.

The fact is that traditional Qatar has been witnessing a westernization since the beginning of the project. To take just one example, when a country triples its population and goes global in this way, thousands of female staff will not want to wear the hijab and accept the gender segregation that prevails here. There are also more progressive Qataris, and a new generation that is highly educated and very fluent in (American) English.

Guard of honor towers

We take a boat to reach the West Bay district, where the high towers line up in a guard of honor. In front of the skyscrapers, in the water, the ultimate symbol of this day: on a confetti of land reclaimed from the sea, a gigantic Qatar 2022 logo takes shape. Ambitious, exhibitionist, modern, made at the last minute. [Jeudi 17 novembre] again, we were painting it. Will he be ready for kick-off on Sunday?

Behind stands the instantly recognizable silhouette of the Sheraton Hotel, erected in 1979 and for a long time remained the only construction in West Bay. Today, all these stars of ultramodern architecture look down on it in a skyline that evokes a New York tinged with the Orient, today adorned with gigantic photos of the football stars expected for this World Cup.

In 2000, Qatar had a total of 19 hotels. At the end of 2019, there were more than 200. In the past 16 months, another 105 inaugurations were planned. Perhaps the most breathtaking of these new establishments is near the Lusail stadium, where the final will take place: the six-star Raffles, whose extraordinary futuristic crab claw design conceals 35 floors of luxury suites .

A herd of white elephants

Will they have everything finished in time for the start of the competition? The question comes up with every major sporting event. Except that it is not a question here of giving a few coats of paint – it is an entire city that has been brought out of the ground.

Can the Qataris achieve this feat? Impossible to say. They did not stress test the Raffles Hotel faucets; the three new metro lines have not been tested in real size, although there will be four pool matches per day. They cannot know if Doha will work with 1 million visitors coming for the World Cup.

And who will fill these new hotels when the visitors leave? Who will play in these new world-class football stadiums? Suffice to say that, by its very scale, this project seems at the same time bewildering, useless and obscene.

COP27, the United Nations conference on climate change, took place this week. Next week the World Cup will reveal the largest herd of white elephants [les stades] that the Earth has borne.

Chronology Qatar in nine dates

1971 – Under British protectorate since 1916, Qatar proclaims its independence.

1989 – Start of exploitation of the North Dome offshore field, which alone represents around 10% of the world’s known natural gas reserves. The first delivery of liquefied natural gas takes place eight years later.

1995 – The father of the current emir, Hamad ben Khalifa, dismisses his own father and launches a very ambitious economic and diplomatic policy.

1996 Launch of the 24/7 satellite news channel Al Jazeera.

2005 – Creation of the sovereign fund Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), which invests massively internationally, including in France.

2010 – Qatar obtains the organization of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

2011 – Qatar Sports Investments (QSI), a subsidiary of the QIA, bought 70% of the shares of the Paris Saint-Germain football club, before acquiring the remaining 30% in 2012.

2017 – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt sever their political and trade relations with Qatar, blaming it for its support for the Muslim Brotherhood as well as opponents of these powers and its good relations with Iran.

2021 – Lifting of the blockade imposed on Qatar by its Gulf neighbors after mediation by Kuwait and the United States.

International mail

Extensive experience

Qatar says we are going to witness the “first carbon-neutral World Cup”, which is already disputed by numerous studies (Reuters, Bloomberg, BBC, The world). Perhaps Van Gaal was thinking of one such study when he said the Qatar World Cup was ridiculous.

We are at [deux] days of the opening match, and we still cannot measure the extent of this vast experience. Suffice it to bear in mind a few facts. It was only after the war that Qatar found oil. Before, its economy was in such bad shape and its population so poor that entire villages were being emptied, their inhabitants fleeing to other countries in the Persian Gulf. In England and Wales, it took until 1967 for homosexuality to be decriminalised. At that time, Qatar did not even have a university, let alone a higher education institution with six world-class training centers.

That is to say if this host country is a young nation. This World Cup shows how much Qatar has evolved in a short time. Along the way, it has unwittingly done some damage, but has caught up with or even overtaken many Western countries — while still falling far behind.

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