In less than 84 months, the world’s second largest sporting tournament will officially kick off in Qatar.
Last night marked seven years until the start of the 2022 World Cup opening ceremony at Lusail Stadium. The symbolic milestone is a reminder of how much effort has already gone into preparing Qatar for the football tournament, as well as the amount of work that still needs to be accomplished.
Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SCDL), which is overseeing the construction of the country’s World Cup stadiums and training facilities, captured the moment on one of the digital countdown clocks inside the organization’s offices.
“Great progress has been made so far,” said Nasser Al Khater, SCDL’s assistant secretary general, in a statement. “We are pleased about where we are seven years from kick-off,” he added.
Progress on the stadiums themselves draws the most attention. Construction has started on six venues: Al Khor, Al Wakrah, Lusail, Al Rayyan, Education City and Khalifa Stadium, which will be the first completed in late 2016.
Al Khater previously said that all of the stadiums will be completed by 2020, even though the locations of at least two facilities have yet to be identified.
While Qatar said in its bid that it would use 12 stadiums, the country is widely expected to trim that figure to eight – the minimum required by FIFA.
This is expected to be one of the issues discussed next month when FIFA officials meet with Qatar’s Local Organizing Committee for its second board meeting.
While the SCDL is overseeing the construction of the country’s football stadiums, many of the other buildings and essential infrastructure are being developed by other government departments and the private sector.
That includes the Doha Metro, which Qatar Rail says is on track for its scheduled 2019 opening.
The construction timeline of a long-distance rail line, connecting the GCC countries, is less clear. Last year, Bahrain’s transport minister said the original 2018 deadline would be “very challenging” to meet and that all the GCC countries had fallen behind schedule.
There have been scant updates about the project’s progress over the last year. In Qatar, the first phase involves 148km of freight and passenger lines extending up from the Saudi Arabian border with passenger service will extend to Education City, where travelers would be able to transfer to the Doha Metro, while a freight line extends to the new port and industrial area in Mesaieed.
In late August, Qatar Rail floated tenders to oversee and manage the first phase of the project, as well as provide design and construction services management.
There have also been questions about the number of hotels that will be ready in time for the tournament. Hospitality companies have been rapidly increasing Qatar’s stock of hotels, which now stands at approximately 17,900 rooms. FIFA requires at least 60,000, although Qatar promised 100,000 in its bid.
Last year, business consulting firm Deloitte said that constructing an additional 42,000 rooms would mean building some 210 new hotels, or 30 hotels a year for the next seven years.
By contrast, Qatar’s previous peak was 12 new hotels completed in 2012, Deloitte said.
Officials have previously said they plan to use cruise ships to accommodate some fans.
On the pitch
Meanwhile, athletes and coaches are working hard to improve Qatar’s on-field performance. Many are hoping that Qatar can avoid the dubious distinction of being the first host in recent history to have never previously qualified for the World Cup finals.
“My friends want us to qualify not just for the second round (of the World Cup) but maybe more – because it is in Qatar, and because everything is helping us, and there are no excuses,” 19-year-old midfielder Ahmed Moein told The Guardian earlier this month.
Qatar rattled off a string of victories this month to become the first team to secure a spot at the 2019 Asian Cup and the next round of 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
However, coach Jose Daniel Carreno has sought to keep the country’s expectations in check:
“We are on the right track. However, right now we haven’t won anything,” he told French newswire AFP. “When it comes to playing in the World Cup, we are still a long way from it.”