After the disappointment of England's abject failure in its bid to stage the 2018 World Cup, perhaps the biggest surprise was the identity of the eventual winners. Both Russia's and Qatar's bids were rated 'high risk' yet they were chosen to stage the 2018 and 2022 competitions.
The reason for the awards is, apparently, that FIFA is keen to develop football in new areas. The World Cup finals have never been stagnated in Russia, Eastern Europe or the Middle East but there are fears the seasons may cause problems. Both countries have to undertake major construction projects and there are other factors that threaten trouble.
Russia is viewed as Europe's largest emerging football market but the country's vast size is seen as a possible problem. Although the World Cup Finals are being restricted to the European part of Russia, they are still being stuck in 13 cities with 1,550 miles between Yekaterinberg in the east and Kaliningrad in the west.
In order to alleviate the perceived problems, the government has promised to scrap the need for travel visas for ticket holders and to provide free travel between the host cities. All venues are supposedly no more than a two-hour flight from Moscow.
Russia 2018 as a Legacy Project …
One consequence of Russia's size is that its transport infrastructure is under-developed. To prepare for the event, it is estimated it will need to build 4,791 miles of roads and 1,257 miles of rail track to provide a high-speed network. This will cost over £ 22 billion out of the forecast £ 31.6 billion total price.
Added to the rail and road construction will be the building of much needed hotel accommodation and upgrading of airports. There's also the small matter of providing 16 stadia for the event, with three due to be upgraded and the rest built from scratch at a cost of £ 2.4 billion, the largest figure of all the European bidders. The country currently does not have a stadium with the required 80,000 minimum capacity for the final. However, the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow has a 78,000 limit that is to be extended to 89,000 seats.
The aim is to have five stadia ready by 2013 and the rest available well before the finals. Given the award was only made recently, little progress has been made so far but officials are confident they have the plans in place. However, preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics, due to be held in the Russian city of Sochi, do not inspire confidence.
Sochi is also to be a 2018 host city but progress there has been mired in controversy. There are allegations of corruption, mafia involvement and general lawlessness. The situation allegedly prompted one of the President's aides to make a plea for a World Cup “without kickbacks”. Neverheless, the hope is that Russia will be left with a legacy of improved transport infrastructure and new sports stadia. Its exposure to visiting fans and the world's media is also expected to make it a more regular tourist destination.
Qatar: Small Is Beautiful? …
The 2022 host country, Qatar, also has challenges due to its size. However, in this case it's at the opposite end of the scale, being a small country with a population of 1.6 million. It is, in fact, the smallest country to host the World Cup Finals and its size is being put forward as an advantage due to the small distinctions between venues.
The Gulf State is the world's second richest country in terms of gross domestic product per capita and it plans to spend $ 100 billion over the next five years on infrastructure projects. These were, apparently, planned before the award and will upgrade road and rail networks as well as airports and seaports.
Qatar is to use twelve stadia for the event, building five and upgrading others. The new stadia have mainly been designed by German architect Albert Speer & Partners. Some feature temporary seating that will be disassembled after the World Cup and donated to other countries. The Al-Khor Stadium will have 19,830 temporary seats among its 45,330 capacity while the Al-Wakrah Stadium's 45,120 seats will be reduced by 25,500 once the event is over.
The country's greatest challenge is the fierce summer heat, with daytime temperatures reaching 50 ° C. It is countering this with cooling technology that will ensure temperatures do not exceed 27 ° C for players and spectators. The cooling system is being provided by Arup Associates and will use solar power for carbon neutral operation.
The main venue, the Lusail Iconic Stadium in the capital Doha, will have a capacity of 86,000. Designed by Foster + Partners, it has a saddle-shaped roof with a retractable canopy. Solar power from parking lot canopies will power the stadium, including its air conditioning, and provide energy for the surrounding area at other times. A new metro line and direct roads connect the stadium to central Doha.
Last minute chaos surrounded Doha's staging of the Asian Games in 2006. However, it is due to host the 2011 Asian Cup and has plenty of time to prepare for 2022. For Europe, FIFA's determination to take the finals into unchartered territory and having hosted the finals in 1990, 1998, & 2006, it could be some time before the World Cup comes back to the continent.