A look behind the background of the World Cup
What do the data reveal about Qatar?
Written by Martin Morsink and Laura Strising
11/21/2022, 8:35 p.m
This year’s major sporting event draws the world’s attention to a small country on the Persian Gulf: Qatar invites you to the World Cup – in air-conditioned stadiums in the desert. How does the UK perform in a country comparison? Facts and figures about the 2022 World Cup host country.
Turf sport in an arid desert nation: Awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar isn’t just controversial among fans. Can a host walk a tightrope between football culture, nurturing expectations and its own ethical notions?
The emirate of Qatar gained independence only in 1971. The organization of major sporting events is part of an ambitious strategy: the relatively small country is trying in various ways to position itself as a regional power of international importance. The national area only covers about 11,600 square kilometers. This makes the diameter smaller than Schleswig-Holstein. The emirate is surrounded by the Persian Gulf, and the only land border extends in the south of the peninsula to the much larger neighboring country of Saudi Arabia. The huge natural gas reserves endow the country with immense wealth.
Like neighboring Bahrain to the northwest and the United Arab Emirates to the southeast, Qatar is one of the most influential fossil fuel exporters: oil and natural gas from the region provide the most important fuels for the global economy. On the other hand, the climatic conditions in the bay are inhospitable: unbearably humid and hot in summer, and colder but dry in winter.
The national territory of very low rainfall is largely covered by desert landscapes. It is less than 190 kilometers from the far south to the far north of the Qatar Peninsula. This roughly corresponds to the distance from Würzburg to Göttingen (as a crow flies). From west to east, the country is no more than 90 kilometers long.
According to official figures, about 2.677 million people live in Qatar, while the World Bank estimates the figure to be around 2.9 million. Most of the population comes from abroad, and less than 15% of the population of Qatar holds Qatari citizenship.
Thus the Qataris are a minority in their own country: about 85 percent of the desert state’s population are foreigners, including wealthy exiles and skilled workers from the USA and Europe, and – generally – poor guest workers from countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. who work for low wages in the service sector or work on many construction sites in the country.
The demographic consequences are enormous: the strong influx of job-seeking immigrants leads to a massive surplus of men under the conditions of right of residence in Qatar. It is clear that men make up the majority, particularly in the age groups of employees. Only about a quarter of the population is female.
The reasons for this imbalance are clear: family reunification possibilities are limited for guest workers, and at the same time the local cost of living is high and the birth rate is low. As a result, there are generally more men living in Qatar than women. Hardly any other country in the world exhibits imbalances in the demographic structure as is evident in Qatar.
The religion of the state is Islam, and the ruling family is Sunni and Wahhabi. Legislation follows Sharia. “Discrimination against women continued in the law and in daily life,” said Amnesty International. “Adultery” and “consensual sex between men” are crimes in Qatar that carry penalties of up to seven years in prison.
Anyone who “incites, incites or solicits in any way immorality or immorality” or “in any way induces or seduces a man or woman to commit illegal or immoral acts” is already liable to prosecution.
Qatar is a country of contradictions: the strict and conservative interpretation of Islam in legislation opposes the strategy of openness that the country imposes on the world. According to the will of the ruler, Qatar should play a major role in sports, air traffic and tourism. The resource-rich country is investing extensively in areas such as aviation (Qatar Airways), media (Al-Jazeera), and universities (“Education City”).
Money is plentiful: Until recently, Qatar was the world’s second largest natural gas exporter, after Russia. The Gulf country has built capacities and supply relationships for liquefied natural gas (LNG). Qatar shares with Iran the largest natural gas field in the world. Fossil wealth can be sold on the global market by LNG tanker. Qatar decided early on not to build extravagant pipelines – so the emirate is independent of its large neighbor Saudi Arabia – and unlike Russia – it can look for new customers with more flexibility.
Last year, Qatar had a global market share of 12.5 percent in natural gas exports. The income from the sale primarily benefits the state and therefore the ruling royal family. The government led by Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has set itself the goal of securing a standard of living and is largely free to regulate it.
Nominally, Qatar is one of the countries with the highest GDP per capita in the world. Unemployment is officially close to zero. Qatari citizens have access to extensive financing and, if necessary, social support. Money flows into the education and health systems. However, the majority of economic power still comes from selling fossil resources.
There is still enough natural gas in the ground. Qatar is working with all its might to expand its economic base. According to the vision of the ruling class, the small country located on the Gulf should become an international center in the future – for trade, finance, diplomacy, politics, and also in sports.
Qatar has enough funds to buy generous stakes in influential companies around the world. In Germany, too, the state investment fund Qatar Investment is already being invested on a large scale. Qatar has acquired stakes and voting rights in companies such as Volkswagen, Porsche, Deutsche Bank, RWE, Siemens and Hapag-Lloyd through its sovereign wealth fund.
In the background, the emirate is also doing its best to become a world-class political and diplomatic regional power. Suspicious of its predominantly Sunni neighbor Saudi Arabia and its Western allies, Qatar continues to maintain political ties with the Iranian mullahs’ regime. The leadership in Qatar also maintains contacts, overtly or secretly, with Islamic organizations in the Palestinian territories, in Egypt and Syria, and even with the Afghan Taliban. At times, terrorism financing allegations have led to open disagreement between Gulf states: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates temporarily cut diplomatic contacts in 2017 and called for a boycott. Relations are still strained.
How does the World Cup fit into this picture? “Sports politics is an important part of Qatar’s soft power strategy,” said Sebastian Sons, a political science professor in Berlin in the run-up to the World Cup. The government in Qatar therefore views sport as one of several “tools” for generating “positive interest”, securing political power structures, attracting investment and building diplomatic partnerships. Will you add the bill? If human rights are not respected, this goal for Qatar – at least in the Western world – currently seems unattainable.