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Saturday, July 23, 2016

Get over it and Move on! (Response to Charles Kestenbaum

By Tilman Engel

There can be no doubt about that the United States is the best place in the world to stage just about any mega-sporting event there is. As a product of both the US college and professional sports systems, I can testify to this.

By this standard, and looking around the rest of the world, there are less than ten countries, which could potentially stage such a mega-event without much ado. With the exception of Australia and Japan, all of these countries are in Europe.

If, however we adopt the notion that premium sports tournament should also be held in regions with less than perfect conditions, then Qatar is a prime candidate. Unlike diplomats with the advantage to comment on everything from the sanctuary of their privileged status and immunity, I have worked within the kafala or sponsorship system for three years and certainly had my personal share of intense and forbidding personal experiences.

As an of official of a Qatari sports organization and later as a private consultant, I have frequently visited large labor camps in Ras Laffan Industrial City, Doha’s newly constructed Labor City, and various desolate accommodations for workers. There has been significant progress in the treatment, housing and recognition of labor in Qatar. As a result, neither the International Labor Organization, nor Transparency International among others, are calling for a relocation of this World Cup. It is quite the opposite: there is a clear call to keep it in Qatar, as unbiased observers recognize the force of this event to effectively change and improve the labor system. 

Let us not add another miss-perception here: next to the native Qataris and the migrant workers, there are over 1.5 million expatriates mostly from other Arab and Asian countries living in Qatar. Many are there with their families, as Qatar provides them with the opportunities, safety and reliable public service system which most do not enjoy in their countries of origin. Among these groups, the strong identification with Qatar can best be observed during National Day, National Sports Day or on any given day in Souq Waqif. This rebuild traditional bazaar is the premier tourist and location in Doha.

The expanded Souq and Mushereib districts, Katara Cultural Village as well as The Pearl, will be among the World Cup fan hotspots in six years. More areas need to be developed to accommodate the fans, yet the foundation is there already.

It might well be that some of the de-constructed former World Cup stadiums will not be used by any of the 30 teams in Qatar’s Divisions I-III. Unfortunately, this is the sad story of any mega-sporting event dating back at least to the 1976 Olympics in Toronto. In Greece, the 2004 games became one of the cornerstones of its fiscal crisis. Yet spending on stadia in Qatar will account for less than five percent of all the infra-structure investment in Qatar envisioned in the country’s National Visions 2030.  The bulk of spending until 2022 will go into sustainable structures vital to the development of a knowledge-based economy that does not solely depend on fossil energy. By comparison, neither the mega-events in Brazil, nor the Winter Games in Socchi accomplished much sustainability for their countries or their people.

The notion of two or more Gulf countries hosting a World Cup is an utterly futile fret. FIFA moved away from joint bids already in 2004 as a result of the experience of the 2002 Cup in Japan and South Korea. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states’ efforts several years ago to ostracize Qatar had to do with regional power politics that are still in play.

Despite claims to the contrary, there are little if any verifiable leads for official Qatari support for subversive groups. There is however vast evidence of Qatar contributing billions of dollars to assist refugees, charity organizations and relief organizations that facilitate humanitarian relief, medical care and education. And those numbers can be tracked easily.

Qatar, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, is among the top 14 global donors to humanitarian relief based on a percentage of GDP. The United States and Australia trail behind. This year alone, Qatar committed USD 10 billion to humanitarian and development programs at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul.

The last thing the world needs in this era of multiple crises in politics and sports is a reopening of the bid for the 2022 World Cup. The selection rules for the bidding for the 2026 World Cup have been altered and FIFA seems to have started to clean up its bidding procedures and practices. As we say in America: Get over it and move on!
And may the next World Cup be yours.

Tilman Engel is a senior sports business executive and media consultant for national leagues, including the U.S. National Football League and the Qatar Stars League. He also advises NATO’s CIMIC Center of Excellence in The Hague on positioning and communication of civil-military cooperation in collective defense Tilman can be reached at 

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