Will World Cup usher in new, lasting business opportunities to Qatar?

In less than a week, the 2022 FIFA World Cup will begin in Qatar, marking the first time the tournament will be held in the Middle East and offering the host country an opportunity to create a legacy for business development in the entire region.

University of Florida researcher Kyriaki Kaplanidou says a mega sporting event like the World Cup — the world’s most-watched — can act as an accelerator for change as several expected and unexpected business relationships are made.

“Host countries of mega sports events take advantage of the development opportunities they bring to achieve long-term goals in areas like economic, tourism, socio-culture, environmental, sport and health,” said Kaplanidou, a professor of sport management. “Having been chosen as the site for the World Cup 12 years ago, Qatar had longer than any other host country to prepare for the competition and to build lasting relationships and business networks.”

In a 2016 study published in the Journal of Business Research, Kaplanidou and colleagues examined the process of industry networking in Qatar following its 2010 selection and how preparing for the event can lay the foundation for creating a business legacy throughout the Persian Gulf region.

“This is Qatar’s opportunity to diversify its economy into industries other than oil and gas,” she said. “The country has invested a great deal of time and money to expand its physical and human resources. They’ve had to understand how business is done in other countries, learn innovative construction techniques and develop their human capital in areas of knowledge, skill and awareness of other cultures and business practices.”

As part of Kaplanidou’s research, her team interviewed 24 stakeholders from Qatar sports organizations directly or indirectly involved in the preparation for 2022 World Cup. Almost all interviewees identified characteristics of the country that can hinder and advance long-term development. 

Differences in culture and religion and violation of human rights compared to Western world expectations are at the forefront of media coverage in advance of the event. Reports have detailed cases of laborers working on new stadiums and other infrastructure being subjected to inhumane treatment and unsafe working conditions. The United Nations blasted Qatar for racial discrimination, saying a worker’s nationality played an overwhelming role in how they are treated.

While denying that laborers are badly treated, the government made improvements in safety and workers’ living quarters. The country introduced new labor laws in 2020 designed to guarantee a minimum wage and make it easier to move jobs. In 2021, new rules further limited the hours that workers can labor outside in the summer heat. The reforms make Qatar’s labor laws among the most worker-friendly in the Gulf region.

Said one interviewee in the 2016 study: “Throughout history, wars facilitate change. Here you have no revolution but industries that facilitate change … I think it [World Cup] will open the door for the people of Qatar. I think it will have a major positive impact on the culture.”

“It will be interesting to see if the country can reposition itself in the business world and establish their presence in other industries now that it has gained new experience and knowledge through the process of preparing for this mega event,” Kaplanidou said.

After years of controversy surrounding the decision to hold the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the first match will be played on Nov. 20 when Qatar meets Ecuador in Group A action, and despite all the negative noise, fans around the world are excited to tune in to watch their teams compete. 

Kaplanidou acknowledged the World Cup is a unique opportunity for Middle East countries to be proud to bring people from around the world together, and even though her home country of Greece didn’t make the cut for this year’s tournament, she’ll be watching from Florida with her Canadian husband.

“We will be rooting hard for Canada in our house.”

Karen Dooley November 14, 2022