Qatar: No ‘white elephant’ legacy for World Cup stadiums

Nov 4, 2022, 5:49 PM | Updated: Nov 6, 2022, 8:18 am
A general view of the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Friday, Oct. 21, 2022. Qatar has built eight...

A general view of the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Friday, Oct. 21, 2022. Qatar has built eight stadiums for this World Cup and created an entire new city of Lusail where the final will be held. (AP Photo/Hussein Sayed)

(AP Photo/Hussein Sayed)

              A general view of the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. Qatar has built eight stadiums for this World Cup and created an entire new city of Lusail where the final will be held. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
            
              A general view of the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. Qatar has built eight stadiums for this World Cup and created an entire new city of Lusail where the final will be held. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
            
              A general view of the Al-Rayan Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Monday, Dec. 6, 2021.  Qatar has built eight stadiums for this World Cup and created an entire new city of Lusail where the final will be held. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
            
              A general view of the Al Janoub Stadium in Al Wakrah, Qatar, Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021. Qatar has built eight stadiums for this World Cup and created an entire new city of Lusail where the final will be held. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
            
              A general view of the Al-Rayan Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. Qatar has built eight stadiums for this World Cup and created an entire new city of Lusail where the final will be held. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
            
              A general view of the Al-Rayan Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. Qatar has built eight stadiums for this World Cup and created an entire new city of Lusail where the final will be held. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
            
              A general view of the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. Qatar has built eight stadiums for this World Cup and created an entire new city of Lusail where the final will be held. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
            
              A general view of the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha, Qatar, Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. Qatar has built eight stadiums for this World Cup and created an entire new city of Lusail where the final will be held. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

One of the World Cup stadiums in Qatar is named after the Persian Gulf country’s international dialing code — 974 — and another is called “Education City.” They’re unusual names that hardly sound like they have links to soccer, and after the tournament many no longer will.

Qatar built seven of its eight lavish World Cup stadiums and heavily renovated another. The smallest World Cup host nation since Switzerland in 1954, Qatar has a population of 2.6 million, with only 360,000 Qatari citizens, and a limited domestic league.

So it’s questionable it needs so many large venues after the tournament, especially after the past three World Cups — in South Africa, Brazil and Russia — exposed several stadiums without long-term use.

At least Stadium 974 in Ras Abu Aboud won’t become a white elephant, since it will disappear. The 40,000-seat arena located port-side just east of Doha was made from recycled shipping containers — 974 of them. The demountable, energy-efficient stadium will make way for a waterfront business development.

But many other stadiums won’t host any more soccer beyond this tournament and next summer’s Asian Cup — for which Qatar won hosting rights after host China withdrew citing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Only two top-tier teams from the Qatar Stars League — Al Rayyan and Al Wakrah — will play in their glitzy World Cup stadiums.

The majority of this World Cup’s venues will have their capacity diminished from 40,000 to 20,000 post-tournament as part of a sustainability drive. Education City is 13 kilometers (8 miles) from Doha. Half the seats will go and the venue will be used by 8,000 students across nine universities and eleven schools.

What happens those extra 20,000 seats, then?

“(They) will be offered to countries who need sporting infrastructure,” Ali Al Dosari, the stadium’s director of installations, said in a press release. “This will allow the culture of soccer to be promoted and to a greater extent the love of sport throughout the world.”

Qatar pledged to give 170,000 removed seats to developing countries.

With its gold facade and 80,000 capacity, Qatar’s gleaming Lusail Stadium hosts 10 matches, including the final. It’s only 20 kilometers (12.2 miles) from Doha, but no club will call this gleaming vessel home. In keeping with sustainable development, its future lies as a community hub with housing units, shops, schools, cafes and medical clinics. The upper-tier will become outdoor terracing for new homes.

A similar fate awaits the tent-shaped Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor City, a 60,000-seater hosting the opener between Qatar and Ecuador on Nov. 20 and soon after an eagerly anticipated tussle between England and the United States.

The plan is for the upper tier is to be removed after the tournament, allowing for further recommissioning of seats. A five-star hotel and a shopping center will be incorporated into the stadium building, and a sports medicine hospital will open.

Good use of existing infrastructure, no doubt, but hardly leaving a soccer legacy behind. For example, the four extra stadiums built for the 2016 European Championship in France — Lyon, Lille, Bordeaux and Nice — are being used by those club teams for the long term.

Al Thumama Stadium is another 40,000-seater located close to the center of Doha whose capacity will be halved. The arena will then be used for soccer and other sporting events, although it is not yet clear which. A sports clinic and a hotel will open on site.

CARRY ON PLAYING

The 40,000-capacity Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, located 20 kilometers (12.2 miles) west of Doha in Umm Al Afaei, is home to Al Rayyan in the 12-team QSL; and to second-tier Al-Kharitiyath Sports Club.

The 40,000-seater Al Janoub Stadium, meanwhile, is where France begins its title defense against Australia on Nov. 22.

Al Wakrah will carry on playing matches here in the QSL after the tournament with a reduced capacity of 20,000 — a low attendance for a top-flight team compared to major European and South American leagues.

Khalifa International Stadium near central Doha dates from 1976 and was extensively renovated to hold 40,000 fans. The oft-used stadium has held the Arabian Gulf Cup, the FIFA Club World Cup and the track and field world championships.

“The Khalifa Stadium will continue to host matches and big tournaments,” stadium director Ahmad Al Thani said.

A recent written request by The Associated Press for more comment on the stadium legacies from the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy was declined.

The SC’s Secretary General Hassan Al Thawadi previously said the stadiums all met sustainability benchmarks.

“We have recycled and reused wherever possible and implemented a vast range of energy and water efficiency solutions,'” he said in a document on the stadiums. “We have used materials from sustainable sources and implemented innovative legacy plans to ensure our tournament doesn’t leave any ‘white elephants.'”

So, although post-World Cup soccer legacy itself is likely to be low, it’s unlikely cash-rich Qatar will face similar financial and logistical problems other nations did after misusing public resources.

EXPENSIVE ELEPHANTS

The Montreal Olympic Stadium that hosted the 1976 Olympic Games became known as a famed white elephant that took 30 years to pay off.

Previous soccer World Cup hosts are still shelling out, too.

After South Africa spent $1.1 billion on its 10 stadiums for the 2010 tournament, half of which were new, many were later left unused or underused. This proved highly expensive for city councils left footing the bill and ended up bleeding taxpayer money.

The $600 million Cape Town Stadium offered a spectacular view of Table Mountain, but for a hefty price. It has reportedly cost taxpayers in the region of $3.5 million a year, but legacy problems were partially resolved by sharing with the city’s Stormers rugby team and hosting international rugby games.

Brazil spent nearly $4 billion building and renovating venues for 2014. Four cities in Brazil were left with underused stadiums like the $550 million Mane Garrincha in Brasilia, which even hosted one game with just 400 spectators. The 46,000-capacity Arena Pernambuco in Recife does not have a team.

Russia’s $10.8 billion World Cup price tag was inflated by loss-making arenas with high yearly maintenance. Of the 12 stadiums from 2018, only eight host top-tier matches, generally with tens of thousands of empty seats, except at Zenit St. Petersburg and Spartak Moscow’s stadiums.

HUMAN COST

Qatar has been fiercely criticized for the physical and contractual conditions of workers, mostly from south Asia, needed to build stadiums, metro lines, roads and hotels.

The exact number of migrant workers who have died or were injured working in often extreme heat on projects since FIFA picked Qatar as World Cup host in December 2010 is unclear. Definitive data has been hard to verify or not published by authorities.

Qatar has set up a workers’ support fund which, since 2020, has paid $164 million in compensation to more than 36,000 workers from 17 different countries, Human Rights Watch said in August, citing government data.

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AP Sports Writers James Ellingworth in Duesseldorf and Gerald Imray in Johannesburg contributed to this report.

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