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With Two Months to Qatar’s World Cup, There’s a Lot Left to Do

Anyone driving through Qatar’s main business hub is sure to notice signs of disarray in this usually tidy and unremarkable neighborhood. Roads are split open, streets are closed, and inexplicable detours make getting to that building just across the street seem impossible.

The construction that’s overwhelmed Doha’s West Bay district is one of the most prominent indications of the race to prepare for as many as 1.2 million visitors — close to half the country’s population — expected to descend for the soccer World Cup in November. One of the largest global sporting events will offer an unprecedented opportunity for the gas-rich country to display its wealth and geopolitical clout.

That’s if things on the ground run smoothly. The influx of fans will put pressure on the resources of a nation smaller than the size of the U.S. state of Connecticut. Small armies of migrant workers are racing to finish construction ahead of a Nov. 1 deadline to stop work, already pushed back by delays because of the pandemic, supply-chain roadblocks and the unprecedented scale of hosting such an event, people with knowledge of the construction plans said.  

The deadline is meant to allow the dust to settle — literally and figuratively — in a desert country that’s been transformed by buildings since winning the rights to host the World Cup in 2010. Some high-priority projects may be allowed to continue past the deadline, said the people, who declined to be identified because the details aren’t public. Qatar’s government has spent more than $300 billion on infrastructure projects, including highway and airport expansions, according to Bloomberg Intelligence estimates. Officials have said much of this development was already planned, though the World Cup sped up timelines.

With two months left for the tournament, an overhaul of the country’s sewage system is partly to blame for the last-minute chaos on the ground in West Bay. The previous sewage system wasn’t equipped to handle the additional waste visitors might generate, some of the people said. Developers were also limited by new rules that went into effect last year to ensure better treatment for more than 1.3 million migrant workers following reports around their poor working conditions and excessive heat contributing to some workers’ deaths. 

Until Sept. 15, outdoor construction was mandated to stop each day between 10 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Daily high temperatures are expected to top 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) through most of September.


Non-World Cup activity will virtually vanish from Doha’s downtown for the last two months of the year to minimize congestion. Schools across the country had a shorter summer break and are set to close for the entire tournament. Offices will only be able to open between 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. with a maximum of 20% of staff present, according to a draft presentation of traffic and movement restrictions from the World Cup’s organizers seen by BloombergThe document also proposes driving restrictions in the most central city districts, limiting daily traffic to vehicles with even or odd license plate numbers. 

No official restrictions on working hours or vehicle restrictions have been announced yet, and the organizers declined to comment on the specifics.

Farther south, authorities have reopened an old airport to help manage the hordes of incoming passengers for the event. The mostly retired terminal will process arrivals on some of  the approximately 90 regional flights ferrying fans from the region to Qatar each day during the event. On the tarmac, the state carrier Qatar Airways is rushing to make upgrades and accelerate service checks, hoping to prevent even one plane from being grounded for unscheduled repairs during the tournament, according to a person with knowledge of the company’s preparations. Other regional airlines that are part of the shuttle service are being pushed to do the same, the person said.

A spokesperson for the airline said it was being proactive in ensuring aircraft would not have to undergo any heavy maintenance during the tournament to ensure the maximum numbers of aircraft are available during the event.

At least 11,000 more hotel rooms and serviced apartments and 12,000 residential units were intended to hit the market in the second half of the year, according to research from real estate brokerage ValuStrat. However, the firm expects only about 5,000 new rooms and 8,000 new residential units to be ready in time to host World Cup fans. The surge in demand has seen landlords in some popular neighborhoods raise rents by as much as 40%, Bloomberg reported last month.

Developers who haven't finished in time for the tournament will complete enough external work that their buildings "look good" from the outside when fans arrive, projects Anum Hasan, the head of research at ValuStrat's Qatar branch. 

"The way things go in Qatar — in a month you'll seen an entire building being made," says Hasan. "I haven't seen that anywhere else in the world."

Other changes have been more superficial: On major roads around the country, humdrum streetlights have been replaced with arching poles that resemble palm fronds. New plants and trees, fed by a web of small, black plastic water pipes, now line previously unadorned roads.

Officials estimate some 850,000 visitors are expected to stay overnight during the tournament. The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the main local organizing entity, said in a statement that "there are no concerns over a shortfall of accommodation."

"The infrastructure is fully ready," Nasser Al Khater, the chief executive of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, told reporters this month. "What is remaining is the beautification of streets and final touches — or what they call, the icing on the cake at the end of this journey."

As much as there is to do, organizers aren’t doing much nail-biting about stadium projects themselves, with seven new venues all ready for play. The last venue to hold a test event — Lusail Stadium — hosted its first game between local teams in August. Still, visitors who venture around the neighborhood will still be able to see empty space and billions of dollars of construction yet to be completed. 

But they may be able to do so from the top of what’s set to be the world’s tallest water slide, at a brand new waterpark built on an artificial island that was little more than empty sand two years ago. Designed to look “rusty,” in a nod to the country’s oil and gas history, the amusement is supposed to open this quarter. That is, once the giant construction crane clears out.