Picture the scene. It’s November 21, 2022 and you’re in the Lusail Iconic Stadium in Qatar for the opening ceremony and first match of the FIFA World Cup. Your face is painted with your country’s flag and your voice is drowned out by the 86,249 other spectators looking down at the pitch and waiting for the referee’s whistle.
The stadium, the hotel you’re staying in, the mall where you bought the replica shirt and the waterfront restaurant you plan to visit after the match are all new. All of them are part of the development of Qatar that was kick-started on December 2, 2010 when former FIFA President Sepp Blatter announced the world’s largest single sport event would be coming to the Gulf state.
A lot of time will pass between the two dates – 4,372 days to be precise. It will be a 12-year stretch not without controversy and there are many hurdles for organisers and developers to cross. But, we ask what can fans expect to see in Qatar that we don’t have already?
The answer, as you may expect in this rich desert nation, is a lot. Billions of dollars are being spent on stadia, hotels, infrastructure and attractions to keep the predicted 500,000 to 1,000,000 visitors busy during the FIFA World Cup. Some estimates say upwards of US$200 billion, in fact. An eye-watering sum which will buy a lot more than some footballs and a whistle for the referee.
First there are the mega-developments coming to Qatar. Lusail City, for example, is a remarkable destination yet to fully take shape. Already revealed as the location of the opening game and final, plus numerous games in between, it is more than just a stadium neighbourhood. This entire new city, built to the north of Doha, will eventually extend to an area of 38 square kilometres. At the final reckoning it will have four exclusive islands, 19 sub-districts, numerous five-star hotels and dozens of residential, leisure, commercial and retail buildings.
If you think you know about Lusail already, think again. While it has already opened, in part, the final reckoning will be a home to 200,000 residents, 170,000 employees and 80,000 visitors. The combined potential 450,000 population of the brand-new city will, upon project completion, enjoy new golf courses, Zaha Hadid-designed tower blocks and world-class art and culture venues. Listing all of the potential new attractions destined for Lusail would take more space than Time Out has just here.
Place Vendôme is just one fraction of Lusail City and it is fair to say it would stand out as world-class in any city in the world. The QR4.4 billion retail and hospitality development is based on the famously chic Rue de la Paix in Paris. What this means for style-seeking city dwellers is that there will be more fashion-conscious shopping in the city. Five hundred retail outlets more, to be precise. With a level of the shopping centre dedicated to haute couture and specific sections crammed with fashion stores, it’s on track to become the region’s premier style hub. (We have to do something between the games, right?) Work is already underway on the 1,000,000 square metre locale which is also promising five-star hotels under the patronage of Le Méridien and Luxury Collection by Starwood brands.
Lusail alone would be growth enough to last most city’s decades. But it is just a fraction of the change forecast for Doha. Another major development is the QR20 billion ongoing regeneration of Msheireb. The sustainable downtown project will inject new commercial opportunities and lifestyle activity into the heart of Doha’s city centre. Which is development speak for the whole district is going to be smartened up and modernised.
With a strong eye on community and heritage, it might not have the flashy stadiums and island beach resort glamour of other parts of Doha’s changing landscape, but it is a significant project that will modernise the area and change the lifestyle of city residents beyond recognition. Put simply, you might not attend a capacity sport event in a stadium or go to a VIP hotel by the beach every day, but we're willing to bet that Downtown Msheireb will become an integral part of daily routines.
It is the dozen stadiums – either newly built or existing arenas being extended – which a global audience looking on will see once the World Cup is in full swing. Planned capacity of more than 600,000 match spectators in state-of-the-art and purpose-built stadiums will make sure Qatar gets envious glances when the world’s eyes are on it.
Name: Lusail Iconic Stadium
Trivia: 15 kilometres north of Doha, the early plans for the largest stadium show it surrounded by a moat and connected to the city by the forthcoming Doha Metro. It will be the venue for the opening ceremony and final.
Name: Khalifa International Stadium
Capacity: 40,000 (after expansion)
Trivia: Being 30 years old makes the stadium positively ancient in Qatar. Having already been used as a venue for the 2006 Asian Games and 2011 Pan Arab Games, as well as high profile friendlies, it is a reliable venue facing planned expansion.
Name: Al Bayt Stadium
Trivia: In Qatar’s northern city of Al Khor, this stadium – plans for which were unveiled in 2014 – will be 60 kilometres north of Doha. Designed to resemble a Bedouin tent, but on an epic scale, it has a striking design with a quirky legacy planned. Following the tournament completion, it will be partially removed and sent to developing nations.
Name: Al Rayyan Stadium
Trivia: Much has been made of the air-conditioning of the stadiums in Qatar. With evening kick-offs and a winter schedule, it may not be required as much now, but architecture firms Ramboll and Pattern have factored it into plans anyway. The design will resemble sand dunes when complete.
Name: Al Wakrah Stadium
Trivia: In one of Doha’s oldest inhabited areas comes the most modern stadium designs. The bold design from the late Zaha Hadid is a representation of dhow boats and their billowing sails.
Name: Qatar Foundation Stadium
Trivia: The Qatar Foundation name is witness to some remarkable football. It is, after all, on the front of Lionel Messi and chums’ Barcelona shirts. So we expect the sparkling diamond motif stadium design is going to sparkle come 2022 as well.
Name: Ras Abu Abboud Stadium
Trivia: Designs are not yet finalised for this project being worked on by architecture firm Populous. What is known, however, is that the waterfront stadium will look towards West Bay and have hospitality areas.
Name: Al Thumama Stadium
Trivia: As with all the stadiums there will be international headline-grabbing initiatives such as cooling technology and sustainable capacity reduction here. What will really excite Doha residents, however, is that the stadium management is consulting with local community groups to see what they want to happen to the stadium after the tournament.
Rooms and rides
Hotels are another aspect of Doha’s growth required to successfully host the World Cup. Reports in newspapers in Qatar this year point to US$7 billion worth of construction projects and a hotel pipeline of more than 64 properties coming soon. International brands such as JW Marriott, Hilton, Waldorf Astoria, Dream Hotels and more are headed for these shores. Competition is fierce with existing hotels, as well as future properties, all battling to stand out from the crowd. When Qatar won the bid to host the FIFA World Cup 2022 it had more than 40,000 hotel rooms and it’s looking to more than double that number by the time the tournament kicks off. New developments and projects are updated almost monthly with ambitious plans and rumours including cruise ship hotels and luxury Bedouin camp developments being suggested as methods to cope with demand.
Needless to say the massive influx of visitors is going to place enormous strain on the roads in Doha. The answer, of course, has been to revolutionise transport in the city with a rail network of almost 100 stations. The Doha Metro might not be complete for another ten years at which time it will comprise 300 kilometres of track on four different routes.
Phase One faces a 2019 deadline and will be 75 kilometres on what are being called Red, Gold and Green lines. Stations will be approximately three minutes apart and, by 2021, developers Qatar Rail forecast more than 600,000 trips a day will be taken on the three lines. The Red Line is set to be the most dominant with 40 kilometres of track stretching from Al Wakrah to Lusail and intersecting the city through the central Msheireb district. Station designs seen by Time Out combine the modern and traditional to create a space-age-Bedouin vibe and will be dotted along the line at Katara, West Bay, Qatar University and even joining up with Hamad International Airport. Developers promise a journey time of just 36 minutes from the airport to Lusail so look forward to some drastically shorter commutes.
In the shorter term, mega shopping malls are set to change the landscape of shopping in Doha. Two gigantic complexes are likely to open doors in the coming six months and offer even more options to city residents and visitors. Mall of Qatar is on the final march for an October 29 grand opening this year. Targeting an annual footfall of 20 million shoppers with its 500 stores and 100 food outlets, it has recently declared readiness as the final 100 days before opening countdown began. As well as shops, the arrival will bring Doha a 19-screen cinema, eight-lane bowling alley, a 16,500 square-metre family entertainment complex and a five-star Hilton hotel.
Doha Festival City Mall is another imminent attraction, slated for a February 2017 opening, that will be crammed with attractions and retail opportunities. Including, but not limited to, an Angry Birds theme park, Harvey Nichols store, 18-screen cinema and family zone and 400 stores.
Shopping, lifestyle, multi-purpose stadiums, train lines and billions of dollars’ worth of construction are changing the face of Qatar. The FIFA World Cup 2022 is, it is important to note, just one of the steps on the journey to the Qatar 2030 vision. This target outlines the national goals of Qatar by the end of the century’s third decade. Goals have been set for human, social, economic and environmental development. The FIFA World Cup 2022 is not the end game, but merely a step on the journey to building modern Qatar.