World Cup has a lot at stake for a changing Qatar

Playing against the host country of a World Cup is a coveted accolade. for each and every one who makes up the citizenry, it means nation building, infrastructure, job creation, renewed patriotism and lasting change long after the closing ceremonies.

Qatar didn’t need a facelift, but the country’s leaders recognized the huge stakes when they beat Australia, South Korea, Japan and the United States to become the first Arab country to host the games. Done right, Qatar will create an invaluable legacy, but if mismanaged, it could become an example cited by many Arab nations as to why the games are inherently difficult for their countries to host.

Either way and despite the condemnation that has hit the potential oasis in the desert given its religion-backed policies, as the FIFA World Cup looms, the country has come to play.

Billions of dollars have been spent to develop venues with top-notch environmental architecture and practices to deliver on the nation’s promise that its World Cup will be carbon neutral.

This is part and parcel of the infrastructure development strategy rolled out years ahead of this month’s games. Qatar has built seven of its eight World Cup stadiums, a new metro system, new roads, new skyscrapers and the Emerald City-like Lusail for the games themselves and to enable a easy and environmentally friendly transport between sites.

Karim Elgendy, a member of Chatham House, a London think tank, who was previously a climate consultant for the World Cup, said Qatar’s efforts to “green” the tournament “show a positive trend for a sporting event”.

Of course, if the results aren’t precisely carbon-neutral, would one expect anything more than mass scrutiny, given the deeply austere scope placed on the nation of 2.9 million people, whose the majority are immigrants?

Then there is the sensitive subject of minority rights: the country’s reputation was hit hard when the conditions of its migrant workers came to light and entered the global social consciousness. Minority communities are calling for greater tolerance; their protests should not be ignored before or after the games.

However, we must remember the Qatar National Vision 2030, which calls for a gradual rollback of many historically strict policies. Notably, the World Cup in Qatar will be the first to feature female referees.

The World Cup did not drive Qatar’s evolution, but the games will symbolize a demanding commitment from a historically religious community.

If Qatar succeeds or fails, it will do so publicly.

Like it or not, modern Qatar is booming. The country is now an international transit hub, an oil and gas export juggernaut in a seismically changing geo-trading environment, and home to the largest US military base in the Middle East.

It is easy to condemn a Middle Eastern giant. What does he say about an international community that denounces a lack of tolerance but shows none for a culture that seeks to change its habits to be a good actor in the world? Is the Western world revealing its bias by condemning a Muslim nation for its ambitions?

I am not saying that the heat of the desert is a favorable climate for football. But controversy can foster positive change.

There are too many stakes to avoid the country altogether: a spotlight for Qatari culture and Arab inclusiveness, a celebration of mutual understanding and the preservation of cultural heritage as Qatar adheres to globally recognized standards of inclusiveness.

As the country opens its doors to the world and the games begin, they will be a spectacle, yes. But one with ramifications – simply put, this year’s World Cup is too big to fail.

Duggan Flanakin is director of policy research at the Committee for A Constructive Tomorrow, a nonprofit that supports free-market solutions to environmental problems.

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