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DOHA, Qatar -- It's kind of difficult to write about Qatar 2022 at the moment because whatever you say, you'll annoy somebody. The issues are so wide-ranging that if you focus only on the football, you'll be accused of political naivety. If you focus only on the workers' conditions and the alleged corruption of FIFA officials, you'll get the bird from those who want a full analysis of the summer-winter debate. Nevertheless, I'll have a go, given that I just got back from four days in the capital, Doha -- revisiting the country where I lived in 2009 -- as one of a handful of journalists invited on an all-expenses paid trip to see the inner workings. It's significant that the current witch hunt of the Qatar '22 project and everything that it involves has come from several Western journalists who have never set foot in the country. It's not a necessary qualification for comment, but it helps. The investigative team that exposed the systematic abuse of workers' rights deserves praise, but it's the subsequent fevered reaction from other less objective keyboards that has turned the issue so sour, obscuring the potential advantages and positives that this event might spawn -- still a substantial eight years in the distance. The feeling now in Doha, that you're at the centre of things, is quite extraordinary. The city hasn't changed much since 2009. Apart from the amazing West Bay complex, which was still under construction when I left, it all looks pretty familiar. The traffic is still a disaster -- a product of the previously organic urban planning, which the coming World Cup is about to change forever. The Metro, for which the ground has been dug, is scheduled to open around 2019 and will change the traffic snare overnight. The cooled shopping malls still smell


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of soap and fresh coriander, if you can get that. They're the life of Doha, an urban concept, built on a tiny desert peninsula that only a few fishermen and pearl divers could previously be bothered to inhabit -and we're talking about the 1940s. It was only in the next decade that something resembling civic communities began to emerge. Tourists have never come here for the landscape, however, and when they come for the World Cup, they're unlikely to be gawping at the country's small flat patch of desert either. (There are a few dunes, but they're not great.) They're going to be looking at the country's whiz-bang urban aesthetic, because it is amazing. I was in Doha for the Aspire4Sport Conference, now on its fourth edition since the date of the successful bid (Dec. 2, 2010). All the great and good were here, and Qatar's almost limitless budget means it can invite anybody it wants, for the simple "domino" function of attracting the media to an event where they can see the likes of Shaquille O'Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Dennis Rodman and Alan Shearer in the flesh but also listen to some serious stadium-based architectural discourse at the conference proper, where just about all the main companies were present, in a corporate frenzy of talks, bids and networking. This week, Sunday in fact, I was ushered into what looked like a stainless-steel portakabin, isolated over on the far side of the astonishing Aspire sports complex. Once inside, I was shown into the room where the FIFA inspectors gathered to see the digital pitch of the 2022 bid package. Qatar was the last of the candidates that they visited, which may or not be significant. The room seemed overly dark and almost bleak, with a set of black soft armchairs arranged in serried rows. I sat right at the front, and the show began. I was suddenly surrounded on three sides by the slickest, smoothest presentation I have ever seen. German-made, it was simply impeccable in every aspect -- length, special effects, information, clarity, volume and political correctness. When it was turned off, I was overwhelmed by its brilliance. O'Neal, Lennox Lewis and Shearer all said the same the next day, and its effectiveness (apparently the inspectors asked to see it again, in a sort of childlike trance) probably won the bid there and then, not just for its technical brilliance but because you emerge from the room convinced that if the Qataris can pull off what they claim they can pull off, then the cynics might eventually be put to rest. Why bribe the officials if you know your sales pitch is the best? It makes no sense. The Harvardeducated Qataris at the head of this bid are many things, but they are not stupid. What you see is a bid that is not just the preparation of a sporting event, but the remodelling of an entire country, a small one maybe (11,000 square kilometers, about the size of Connecticut) but one that could certainly do with a face-lift. Its desert is not particularly attractive, and there's no sense of Arabian nights stuff here. What you get is a certain urban aesthetic, built up recently from a country that really began to develop any meaningful civic structures only after the discovery of oil in 1940. As a British protectorate until 1971, things still went pretty slowly, but in the past 15 years, the place has begun to assert itself as a global player, largely because of its natural gas reserves.

Some people seem to find this problematic -- a country-bumpkin state with a medieval absolutist monarchy system, putting on a World Cup? What's going on? Well, Qatar hosted the Asian Games (very smoothly) in 2006, but that's not really the main point. Why did it win the 2022 bid? Because FIFA thought it would be a good idea to shift the World Cup from its largely Western-centric context? Probably not. The reason was simple and seems to have been missed by a whole swathe of steaming Western keyboards. Once you see the video sales-pitch, you realise that this will be the most outsourced event in human history. The Qataris have neither the expertise nor the local manpower (only 250,000 of them, and few need to actually work) to carry out a project of this dizzying reach, and so the entire $140 billion fest will be distributed among a wide-ranging set of suppliers, architects, engineers, builders, transport companies (bus, boat, rail and air), advertisers -- you name it, they'll need it. Once you take this on board, the idea that backhanders secured this World Cup appears even more absurd. Geopolitical influence has determined the destinies of the next three World Cups, and that's about it. Brazil's growing GDP helped its bid, and a certain footballing tradition (ahem), but the country's wealth distribution remains appalling and its school marks for the various ethical issues for which the Qataris have been rumbled are equally poor, but just on a greater scale. Because we know about thefavelas, we accept them as part of Brazilian culture. Anything pertaining to Islamic culture, on the other hand, seems to be a problem for the anti-Qatar brigade. Russia too is hardly a paragon of political and moral virtue. But it does have lots of natural gas. World Cups didn't used to be the victims of such intense political and moral scrutiny, but times have changed. Football is a massive corporate business, and as such, it looks to where the money is. It's not entirely wise, of course, and you could argue that it is absurd to award two rich countries (Qatar and Russia) a tournament that will make them even richer. Why not wait until nearer the time and give the World Cup to a poor country that needs the infrastructure that the investors would provide in return for the publicity and long-term benefits that they might accrue from helping a poor nation to get off its knees? There's an idea for 2026, but it will take more than the occasional article to make it happen. Meanwhile, it might be a good idea to get off Qatar's back and try to consider the interesting things that might come from this venture. I talked about all this and more with Roberto Olabe, ex-goalkeeper and director of football for Real Sociedad, now working at Aspire with the Qatari football academy. The idea is to get a decent local crop together for 2022, or even 2018. Olabe oversees the coaching and education of the academy kids along with Mikel Antia (also ex-Real Sociedad) and works from an office five yards away from Raul's. The great man is actually there, door ajar, as I sit opposite Olabe in a plush armchair. He knows me from San Sebastian, Spain (where I live), but I tell him that I worked on an educational project in Doha in 2009 and that the main problem was that the boys in the state schools (the sexes are segregated) saw no reason to study or work, because the emir's law of providing every family with a decent stipend, regardless of qualifications and achievements, made for a passive nation. Was it the same problem for the footballers, all of them Qataris? Olabe nods.

"There's not much hunger here. That's what usually makes great footballers," he said. "Not many internationals in any country have come from comfortable backgrounds. But we're working on it. There are other ways to motivate, and we have these kids here morning, evening and night." The full-time academy boys are in the 12-18 age range, but Olabe admits that they've scouted kids as young as 6. "Even at that age, if a kid's exceptional, it shows," he said. "We don't discount anyone." Of course, money means they can afford to send the best two from each year group to Spain on training camps, with the possibility of playing competitively in Spain's youth leagues. Valencia and Villarreal are two prominent hosts, and the list is growing.


Also, several top clubs (Bayern, PSG, Schalke) send squads to Doha for training periods due to the amazing facilities and mild-weather window from October to March, and their youth teams also come to do sparring with the academy kids. I ask if there are any real gems in the treasure chest. "There's one in the under-16s [declining my request for the player's name], but there are enough to sustain the project -- enough to make me feel we're not wasting our time," Olabe said. I ask if he feels any pressure and if targets have been set. He has managed to survive two years there already. "Of course there's pressure," he said. "But targets? Well - I suppose there are some, but they haven't told me any. Win the World Cup in Russia?" He grins rather alarmingly. Qatar know they won't win the World Cup, but the scale of this operation suggests that they'll need to avoid losing face, a big thing in the Arab world. In a sense, they're already seeing to this, making 2022 into a "conceptual" event if nothing else, and it can serve as a prototype for various legacies. Indeed, "legacy" is one of the buzzwords of the Aspire4Sport Conference. The conference is a fest of snazzy suits, big-name marquee media slots and the world's top stadia architects and engineers. Some of them have already secured their contracts and seemed relaxed on stage, in a slightly condescending sort of way, while others were doing the hard-sell. The latter was slightly undignified, but that's the way the world goes round. The aforementioned stars talked affably about what it was like to play in grand arenas and were whisked back to their hotel by fleets of limos. Some of the architectural discourse was interesting, and some of it was cheesy and corporate, as if the whole shebang was going to take place without a single hitch, conforming to their beautifully chosen phrases. There were some classics, among them the description of the Al-Wakrah prototype stadium: "a

carbon-neutral footprint in the sands of time." The company behind this model scheme, the eponymous Zaha Hadid, a celebrated Anglo-Iraqi female architect, was particularly smooth, floating phrases such as "vernacular architecture" (Al-Wakrah's shape is based on the Arab dhow), "community hub" and the slick description of the air-cooled "precincts" that were to be built around the stadia as "an overflow from the public realm into the commercial realm." Right on! We'll leave the jokes about it looking like female genitalia to other journalists, who couldn't be bothered to do their research properly (not even realising Hadid is a woman). It's too easy to be cynical (and that's without seeing some of the worst affected areas in the country). The Al-Wakrah project, which basically involves converting a fishing village south of Doha into the first template stadium community (it should be completed by 2017), contains all the components to make this a rather different experience, so that the "spectator realm" can be enjoyed "comfortably, economically and sustainably." I'll go for that. The 40,000-capacity stadium will be reduced to 20,000 post-event by disassembling the upper tier and sending it off to some developing nation -- the international legacy. Meanwhile, the Al-Wakrah club and transformed community get a rather nice stadium to use, the local legacy. It's all pretty neat, and one can only hope that Qatar can really make local use of these facilities and perhaps allow a wider range of its expatriate work force to avail this stuff. They are building nine new stadia and remodelling three. The metro system will connect them all, meaning the first "compact" World Cup.



In Brazil, if you want to travel from south to north for a game, it's going to require an eight-hour flight, with all the accompanying expense and hassle involved. In 2022, you can get to see two live games on a single day, at a solar-powered 26 degrees Celsius. Sounds good to me. Workers' rights? The Guardian investigative team did get that one right, for which it deserves various medals. At the news conferences I attended, especially the one following the Amnesty report that came

out Sunday, the Qatari front men took it on the chin. "We are a young nation. We're learning too." There were no lame excuses proffered. They said they would put it right. The new workers' charter, rather hastily assembled, is a step in that direction, but the systematic abuse of workers' rights has not been an active Qatari policy. They've just looked the other way, which is just as bad, but they have the power and money to fix it almost overnight. There is no congress, no bureaucracy. At the swish of the emir's gold pen, new laws come into effect. They were there anyway, but the foreign middle men just ignored them, largely because they were able to. The Qataris are not malicious people, but the civic maturity of the nation is at best adolescent. One thing is a new futuristic concept, another is to see through the entire process ethically. It's not as easy as it looks, and Qatar is hardly the only country with these problems. It's just more under the spotlight. The World Cup will be played there, and probably in the summer. The cooling system, already in place at Al-Sadd's stadium, will work. Alcohol? You can drink in many of the hotels, and a prominent American beer is one of the main sponsors. But why should 2022 be considered a venue for a Western drinkingfest? The first World Cup in a Muslim country invites consideration about other people's values, whether we like them or not. Hospitality is the greatest virtue of the Muslim world, but the host-guest relationship needs to be 50-50 -- a fact recognised by the Qataris, as opposed to many of their critics. Why worry about the availability of alcohol? A month on water and fruit juice might even improve some folks' health. It's an ambitious project, and it deserves to be given a chance. If it succeeds, the template might just make a contribution to the future. If it fails, then like Shelley's Ozymandias, the "colossal wreck" will be eroded down the centuries by the desert sands as a tribute to human folly. The anti-Qatar brigade would like nothing less. I say give them a chance. The only way is up from here.

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