There's always ... 2026?
Qatar?! How a strict Muslim country's bid squashed the U.S. and Houston's WorldCup dreams
Based on FIFA's choices to host the World Cup in 2018 and 2022, the word "first" holds great meaning for the organization.
Russia earned the 2018 hosting duties with an impassioned presentation Thursday morning to make it the first World Cup site in Eastern Europe. "We are building a new Russia. We can achieve this better and quicker with your help," deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov said.
This spirit helped Russia defeat England and the joint bid of Spain/Portugal, despite a potential logistical nightmare. According to The Wall Street Journal, Russia's infrastructure is significantly inferior to its bid competitors and will require $3.8 billion in construction work to achieve 13 stadiums in 11 cities.
Apparently, the argument from the United States that it will be, um, the first games in America in the 21st century held little to no water. In snubbing the American bid (which would have deployed Houston as a prominent venue city) to take the Cup to Qatar in 2022, FIFA officials will be holding the contest in a Muslim country for the first time. But make no mistake — unlike Russia, Qatar is already brand new.
It's a country the size of Connecticut, but instead of old money all the money in Qatar is brand new. Fifty years ago the Qataris eked out a living from the desert by sheep herding and pearl diving.
Now everyone is floating on a sea of oil and gas wealth, with 41 hotels and 108 skyscrapers built in the past two years, according to Eric Weiner in The Geography of Bliss. No matter: The Qatari royal family has promised to spend $50 billion on infrastructure and $4 billion to build nine new air-conditioned stadiums (a must in a country where daytime temperatures reach 120 degrees), an offer that proved irresistible for FIFA.
While Qatar can offer unparalleled luxury, the cultural drawbacks are huge. While there are a few bars and clubs, mostly in hotels, it's illegal to show alcohol or be drunk in public. And Qatar practices a similar strand of Islam, Wahhabi, as found in restrictive Saudi Arabia. Women in Qatar can drive and vote, but wear a black head-to-toe abaya and head scarf. (Did we mention the 120-degree temperatures?) Hey, at least it will help coaches keep their players from losing rest by chasing tail.
"The stadiums may be air-conditioned, but the World Cup is all about the thousands of people who couldn't get tickets, gathering outside in squares and bars to drink, watch the game and be part of the excitement," says Jen Cooper, the Houston Dynamo game day volunteer coordinator and assistant manager at Soccer 4 All in Rice Village.
Can Qatar's luxe lifestyle replace the freewheeling energy and cultural richness that comes from a site like Brazil, Russia or the United States?
Call us biased, but we say no.
Were you disappointed by FIFA's World Cup choice? Will you be booking tickets to Qatar in 2022?