When Qatar bid for the football World Cup in 2022 the nation told the world to “expect amazing”. But there was some surprise that a country which has never played in football’s biggest tournament and is ranked 106 should defeat bids from the US, Australia, Japan and Korea.
But despite being a relative newcomer to football, Qatar has been positioning itself as high-profile destination for sport and business for some time.
In January the Qatar Open, the first major international tennis event of the year, kicked off in Doha and the sporting calendar for 2013 is packed with international golf, motor racing and athletics. But the focal point will be 2022. The total value of projects in the pipeline in Qatar, the smallest nation to host a World Cup, is estimated at USD220 billion.
Qatar has been positioning itself as high-profile destination for sport and business for some time
As well as football, there have been other net gains for Qatar. Doha secured the 2015 Handball World Championships and is bidding to stage the 2020 Olympics. But it is not just sport that is helping to put the nation on the map. The country is positioning itself as a business hub. At the end of last year, it hosted Cop 18, an annual UN climate change event, in the new Qatar National Convention Centre. It also hosted UNCTAD XIII; TEDxSummit; a seminar on dry lands agriculture and food security; another on education worldwide; and even a meeting that helped create the new Syrian opposition leadership.
While these events are helping showcase Qatar to a wider audience, the nation’s leaders are trying to overcome some of the stereotypes associated with the country, including improving the role of women in society.
H.H. Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser al Missned is chairperson of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development. Many other women are also playing an important role in business, politics, culture and education. Dr Hessa Al-Jaber, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Information and Communication Technology, is challenged with connecting people to technologies that drive economic development.
Sheikha Hanadi bint Nasser bin Khalid Al Thani founded the Qatar Ladies Investment Company, now Amwal, the first investment company to receive a licence from the Qatar Central Bank to conduct investment banking, asset management and financial planning. Professor Sheikha Abdulla Al-Misnad, the president of Qatar University, is leading the reform of primary, secondary and private education.
Qatar is also supporting countries emerging from the Arab Spring. It has contributed to a USD3.7 billion financing package for an Egyptian petroleum refinery. Qatar National Bank, the country’s largest, has taken a stake in Libya's Bank of Commerce and Development and has bought out Société Générale’s interests in Egypt in addition to taking a sizeable stake in a regional investment bank.
However, there are many challenges for the country. In 2008, the government had to support banks that were over-exposed to real estate and there are lingering concerns that deposit growth is not keeping up with burgeoning loans.
The scale of the infrastructure, including stadia, hotels and roads, that needs to be put in place to be ready for 2022 is daunting. But while rapid development brings social, political and logistical challenges, Qatar is growing fast and offers an exciting future – and maybe even a new home for football.