Qatar faces rocky road to 2022 World Cup after athletics test

DOHA Despite triumphs on the track, Qatar has come

under fire for its hosting of the World Athletics Championships with

questions raised over Doha's ability to deliver the football World Cup

successfully in three years' time.

Perhaps the most stinging off track criticism of the 10 day event which

concludes Sunday was sparked by the spectacle of a near empty stadium during

the opening days, raising fears for attendances in 2022.

It's a classic mega event failing, believing that 'if you build it, fans

will come', said Simon Chadwick, professor of sports enterprise at Britain's

Salford University.

Crowds at the 1976 Montreal Olympics and the 2004 Games in Athens also

failed to meet organisers' expectations despite ambitious stadium

construction, he noted.

International Association of Athletics Federations chief Sebastian Coe has

come under fire for the dismal crowds that turned out in Doha to watch blue

riband events including the men's and women's 100 metres.

The crowd is an easier subject to talk about rather than some of the more

insightful stuff around the events, said Coe, who attacked what he viewed as

negative media coverage.

Spectator numbers improved as the week wore on after at least one large

state funded organisation offered staff free tickets for the Khalifa

International Stadium.

It totally felt different, there was a lot of energy, said former 1,500m

world champion Jenny Simpson on Thursday after the American won her heat.

'Reasons to be there'

Despite Western diplomats warning Qatar would be judged harshly for

missteps during the athletics, Chadwick said Doha would be unfazed by

criticism of meagre crowds.

The country instead sees the Championships and World Cup as a means of

bolstering security, he said.

Even if nobody turned up to watch the athletics, it doesn't matter. Qatar

has mitigated the threats it faces by making itself visible, relevant and

important, said Chadwick.

Qatar is embroiled in a bitter two year dispute with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain,

Egypt and the United Arab Emirates which accuse Doha of backing Iran and

radical Islamists.

They have cut direct transport links, closed airspace to Qatari aircraft

and restricted their citizens from visiting over the claims, which Doha

denies.

By hosting such events, Qatar has a degree of protection against some of

the threats, Chadwick said, adding that the 2015 World Handball Championship

and the 2016 cycling Road World Championships were also poorly attended.

FIFA would now seek clarity about Doha's ticketing strategy following the

sight of a near empty stadium on some days at the athletics, he added.

People want to know is there going to be somewhere nice to stay, can

they buy a beer? Chadwick said.

What kind of event ecosystem are they constructing around that ticketing

strategy? You've got to give people reasons to be there.

Qatar World Cup organisers declined to comment on the ticketing challenges

at the athletiics but sought to head off fears around the World Cup,

including alcohol prices in the conservative Gulf monarchy.

Officials also sought to reassure LGBT fans their safety would be assured

as they showed off rapidly evolving World Cup infrastructure to visiting

media ahead of the athletics.

'Qatar no more'?

Another recurring issue was the heat in the road races, with some

competitors berating organisers for the sweltering temperatures and humidity

during the marathons and race walks that were held outside the air

conditioned stadium.

Canada's Lyndsay Tessier, who placed ninth after 28 of her 68 rivals

dropped out of the women's marathon, told AFP it was really scary and

intimidating and daunting seeing competitors collapse.

But World Cup organisers insisted to visiting media that 2022 will not be

dogged by high temperatures as it will be staged in the winter months and

played in air conditioned stadiums.

Championships spectators faced grim traffic jams across Doha with many key

roads and junctions undergoing construction, although competitors and VIPs

received police escorts.

Congestion surged when the Al Sadd football team hosted Saudi outfit Al

Hilal at home on Tuesday, just minutes away from the Khalifa Stadium. It also

highlighted that soccer is more popular than athletics among Qataris, despite

the fact that thousands of locals packed the stadium to see home hero Mutaz

Essa Barshim retain his high jump title on Friday.

Pressure is also mounting on the authorities to open all 37 metro stations,

of which only 13 are currently operational, by the promised New Year

deadline.

Chadwick said Qatar was skating on thin ice following the challenges of

the World Championships.

They have to get the World Cup right otherwise, after 2022, there's going

to be a question about what happens next, he said.

If sports governing bodies walk away saying 'Qatar no more', then that

does expose Qatar again to geo political vulnerability.

Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)