PLANNING, POLITICS AND A PANDEMIC:
THE STORY OF QATAR
The most expensive World Cup ever is only a few hundred days away. Qatar has managed to construct huge projects for the games all the while weathering the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic. Today we are going to take a look at how much of this success is down to planning and how much can be ascribed to Qatar’s unique political situation.
Qatar’s infrastructure investment boom has made global headlines in recent years. Since the Gulf state was awarded the 2022 World Cup, both the government and international investors have been quick to scale up budgets and visions for the country’s future. From state-of-the-art stadiums to Education City, the infrastructure industry in Qatar is experiencing a veritable flood of both interest and investment. Indeed, most of the world’s current megaproject construction pipeline is set to be built in Qatar.
However, one aspect seems to be working against Qatar in its bid to transform its landscape: time. With the World Cup quickly approaching and the dual challenges of COVID-19 and regional instability threatening project timelines, the potential for substantial delays is very real.
As the World Cup looms, the planning time for the stadiums, hotels, and traffic infrastructure has shrunk significantly. The large amounts of labour resources required for the projects have been difficult to obtain quickly enough. Although nobody could’ve predicted the immense pressure put on workforces due to the pandemic, workforce problems plagued this monumental series of projects before lockdowns swept the world.
Despite this, it appears that Qatar had prepared itself for surprises…
With the World Cup quickly approaching and the dual challenges of COVID-19 and regional instability threatening project timelines, the possibility that these megaprojects could be facing substantial delays is very real.
Qatar's reaction to threats
When Qatar announced the National Vision 2030 decision-makers could not have foreseen the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic. However, when the government launched its response to the virus it is clear that megaprojects took centre stage in its strategy.
Infrastructure investment in the 2022 World Cup alone reached $200 billion. Workforce levels have hit 2 million workers in a country with a population of only 2.6 million, almost all of which is migrant labour. At the time of writing, project teams had completed 4 of the 8 stadiums required for the tournament. The completion of these stadiums (and in many cases surrounding roads, hotels, and leisure facilities) during a global pandemic is impressive.
Project leaders may look in awe at the amount of work conducted by Qatar to get these stadiums up and running in such time despite pandemic restrictions. However, we must keep in mind the political backdrop of these projects before accepting planning as the standalone success factor. Indeed, Qatar is a unique state.
Qatar is one of the richest countries in the world (GDP per capita). As the world’s top liquefied natural gas exporter it has amassed incredible wealth. Robust levels of spending on public services and its booming infrastructure industry have long been hallmarks of the Gulf state. Almost all of this spending comes directly from the sovereign wealth fund, one of the largest investor organisations on earth.
Qatar is therefore uniquely placed to overcome shocks to project programmmes. Its ability to meet challenges with vast amounts of funding, with no real impact on the national debt, is not common. For example, when Japan estimated that it was to spend 4X the original estimate on infrastructure for the Tokyo Olympics, the government had to answer to the fact that Japanese taxpayers will foot 80% of this bill.
With this in mind, maybe planning was not the sole factor determining Qatar’s response to the COVID crisis. The ability to complete 4 stadiums within 3 years is without doubt impressive. However, project teams very rarely work with the astronomical budgets and unique political context present in Qatar.