Qatar is still seven years away from taking its turn as World Cup host, but the country has wrestled with a number of significant international concerns since it was chosen.
The Guardian most recently reported that Nepalese migrants building the infrastructure to host the 2022 World Cup died at a rate of one every two days in 2014. This excludes the deaths of workers from other nations including India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. In addition to labor concerns, Qatar’s summer heat has caused an international debate over whether the date should be changed to the winter.
So when the time comes for football fans from around the world to purchase their game tickets, plane tickets, and hotel rooms, will the story behind stadium’s construction stop some?
The Supreme Committee of Delivery and Legacy, the organization overseeing the 2022 World Cup, thinks not.
“If you’re looking at it from the point of view of a football fan from the UK or any country, they want to know how much tickets are going to be, how much a hotel will be, and how much it costs to get there,” Paul Hughes, head of international media relations for the Supreme Committee of Delivery and Legacy, told Skift on a recent trip to Qatar.
“It’s such a huge tournament that it kind of transcends all sorts of problems for people in terms of their interest as football fans who want to come.”
Hughes persists that the Supreme Committee has sought to use the World Cup as a chance to improve migrant working conditions, one of several issues brought to the fore since Qatar won the World Cup bid.
“People are always going to have their opinions and it’s our job to show them, to demonstrate to them how the World Cup is changing issues in the country. No one is pretending that they don’t exist,” says Hughes who insists his organization is leading the change.
“We have developed our own worker benefit standards. Any contractor who wants to work on a World Cup project has to implement these standards for the employees and workers. It covers everything from accommodation to payment of wages, all of the issues that you’ve heard about.”
The question remains whether these issues will impact attendance on game day or the country’s tourism growth at large. According to the Qatar Tourism Authority’s latest statistics, visitor arrivals have nearly doubled in the past five years from 1.4 million visitors in 2008 to 2.6 million visitors in 2013.
“I’m not sure that it will stop the average football fan from traveling to the World Cup. I think if football fans can see that this tournament has been used to try to progress these problems and solve these issues then that will demonstrate the power this program has,” says Hughes.
History Repeats Itself
He also points to past World Cups and Olympics, which have had their fair share of negative press in the years and months leading up to an event. Football and sports fans traveled to each of the destinations in expectional numbers despite the development issues and political problems that preceded them.
“Every major tournament has had that wave of negativity from London and the Olympics to Brazil last year to South Africa. Where we suffer is that the humanist issues are all piling up at the same time and we have a longer period to try to ride that wave of negativity,” says Hughes.
The Chairman of Qatar Tourism Authority H.E. Issa bin Mohammed Al Mohannadi echoes Hughes’ belief that negative media attention is not unique to Qatar’s World Cup.
“I always believe that any negative publicity that happens around events or activities in Qatar is not unique to the country. It’s happening everywhere. We have seen it in different destinations anytime there is a major event. It’s been a trend that the press will take a stand despite whether the destination is well developed or not. There is always a question mark; there is always a negative element,” Al Mohannadi explained in a recent interview with Skift.