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Eight years after FIFA stunned the soccer world by promising to bring its crown jewel to the Middle East for the first time, what once seemed impossibly far-off is becoming decidedly tangible.
Four years out from hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar wants you to know it’s growing. Evolving. Not just physically but politically and — this small Muslim nation tucked into a corner of the Arabian Peninsula insists — culturally.
Scan the skyline in downtown Doha and you’ll find massive construction cranes sprinkled every few blocks in an attempt to keep pace with demand in a country expanding at a seemingly frenetic pace. Look down and everything appears to be covered in a fine layer of dust, the kind you see while walking into a new home not quite ready to go on the market.
Scientists refine genetically engineered grass to withstand the parched desert conditions as engineers tinker with massive air conditioners. The ideas to deal with the anticipated influx of over 1 million soccer fans range from the creative — think cruise ships doubling as Air BnBs during the tournament’s 28-day run — to pragmatic.
Logistically, the country that promised to “Deliver Amazing” when it landed the bid in 2010 remains intent on doing just that. Logistics, however, might be the easy part in a nation of 2.7 million — only 300,000 actual Qatari citizens.
If you build it will they come?
Promoting it enough to make sure 1.5 million visitors will pass through Hamad International Airport over the course of four weeks in November and December 2022 is a daunting challenge.
Getting to Qatar may prove more complicated than initially planned. Doha has found itself under a boycott by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE since June 2017 over a political dispute. That has seen its air routes affected and other regional airlines cut their flights. What should be a flight under an hour from Dubai now lasts far longer and requires a layover.
Qatar has some 25,000 hotel rooms, according to government statistics. FIFA required Qatar to have at least 60,000 rooms by 2022. There are plans to make as many as 6,000 rooms on cruise ships available while also opening up any unused dwellings in Doha for rent before play kicks off on Nov. 21, 2022.
Grabbing a pre-match drink isn't that easy in Qatar:
Grabbing a pre-match beer, however, could be a challenge in a country where access to alcohol is limited. To have a beer most nights you need to visit a restaurant affiliated with a hotel and then have your passport scanned before heading inside, an arrangement that simply won’t be tenable given the wave of people expected.
Officials are quick to point out there are other things to do than have a drink, throw on your country’s jersey and go to the stadium. Take a stroll down the Corniche, the waterfront promenade that runs along Doha Bay. Browse at the Souq, a historical outdoor market, or visit a shopping mall like the Villaggio, which offers everything from indoor gondola rides to high-end shopping to rival anything you’d find in London or New York.
Al-Mulla oversees a turf farm a few miles west of the city center , where he’s tested 36 different kinds of grass, exposing them to various amounts of shade, sunlight and other forms of treatment to see what works and what doesn’t.
The turf isn’t designed simply for the games — though al-Mulla points out an entire stadium can be resurfaced in less than 13 hours if necessary — but for the open recreational areas that will surround the venues after the World Cup is gone. The strain of grass it believes it will use for the World Cup could possibly signal an opportunity for other arid countries to introduce their own public green spaces.