Landing in Qatar
A reflection on a brief visit to the little desert country with a lot of ambition
Richard Bamber
Dec 2nd 2010
Landing in Qatar

"Ladies & gentlemen, on behalf of Qatar Airways I would like to welcome you to Doha. The local time is 6am & the temperature outside is 29deg Celsius or 84deg Fahrenheit."

A sharp intake of breath can be heard amongst the 266 passengers on the overnight flight from London in response to the pilots annoucement as we taxi to the gate. Outside the window the sun is piercing, even at this relatively early hour. The only thing that can be seen on the ground is sand, there is not a tree or a bush in sight. Just looking at the landscape from the comfort of an air conditioned aircraft makes you feel hot & the passengers on flight QR2 all know that the temperature will rise a lot more in the next few hours.

And so I find myself in Qatar, which has to be one of the strangest small countries on earth & the choice for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. It is May 2009 & I am en route from the UK to neighbouring Bahrain where the company I work for is busy overseeing a construction project at the airport there. It is my first time in the Middle East & I am excited as I begin a 5 day trip which will end with a couple of days hanging out in Dubai.

First off a few facts about the country itself. Qatar is a thumb shaped piece of desert about 120 miles long by 60 miles wide. It sits slap bang in the middle of the Arabian Gulf between Saudi Arabia (which provides the only land border) & the United Arab Emirates. It has a population of about 1.3 million, most of which live in the the only conurbation that can be described as a city, Doha. Although a 75% Muslin country, it is tolerant to a point of western culture however drinking alcohol & kissing women are both banned in public places.

Qatars biggest asset is its massive supply of natural gas & this is the main source of the countrys immense wealth. Like most Gulf states, energy is cheap & this is one of the main factors behind the fact that Qatar emits the most CO2 per capita in the world. Amazingly the average Qatari consumes 3 times as much resources as the average American.

So how come a country a sixth of the size of Colorado has managed to pull off the seemingly impossible & win the right to host a World Cup?

OK so plainly with all those natural resources there is plenty of cash. However the one big thing about Qatar is that it refuses to act like a small country. To explain this I will put it in terms closer to home:

I want you to imagine that Denver doesnt exist and that the largest place in Colorado is the Springs. We also need to make Colorado a more realistic size, so forget anything west of the front range (ie the Rocky Mountains) as well. As a destination it doesnt look very interesting, does it?

Now imagine that 13 years ago, in an effort to promote our area we decide that the best way to get our name out is to subsidize the setting up of an airline flying from Colorado Springs to places all over the globe. Today Colorado Springs Airways is a major player, operating nearly 100 aircraft & flying non-stop to places such as London, Moscow, Sydney, Hong Kong & Mumbai at very competitive prices. The airline also is the main jersey sponsor of a top Premier League club & has an NFL stadium named after it. Due to the number of passengers, Colorado Springs Airport is no longer able to cope so a new one is being built nearby at a cost of several billion dollars (before someone mentions DIA, remember that there is no Denver).

Sounds implausable? Well that is effectively what has been achieved in Qatar.

About 95% of the passengers from flight QR2 head towards flight connections. Whilst some like myself have a relatively short 2nd flight ahead, a lot of people are heading from Europe to South East Asia & even Australia / New Zealand as they take a break in, for lot of cases, journeys involving 24 hours plus on aircraft. It is now clear that Qatars problem not getting people to fly to or know about the country, it is getting people to actually stop and visit the place.

So with fellow Gulf states like Dubai obtaining high profile sporting events such as a Formula 1 Grand Prix, building ever taller buildings & creating amazing resorts on the costline, Qatar comes up with a plan to trump them all & go for the biggest sporting tournament in the world.

It is fair to say that, corruption allegations & conspiracy theories aside, FIFA have either been very bold or very stupid in awarding the World Cup to Qatar which is starting with practically zero facilities in place. In 12 years Qatar plans to build the infrastructure of a country many times its size including not just the 9 new stadia but complete cities to house the tournaments players, officials, media & fans. A brand new rail network is planned as well as the worlds longest causeway which will provide a direct link by land to Bahrain. In effect FIFA have not so much chosen Qatar to host the World Cup, more so decided that it is Qatar that builds a complete region to locate the tournament which the rest of the world can visit.

OK so before I go on I want to make it clear that, like everyone else in the U.S. I am disappointed that FIFA did not see the potential for growing the game massively here. Part of me still hopes that some sort of problem will be found with the voting process or that funding for the Qatari plans will fall apart leaving the door open for America to step in. However there is little point crying over spilt milk & as Sunil Gulati, the President of U.S. Soccer, has said today, the country can look back with pride on what has been achieved with the USA bid & how the profile of the game has increased here.

So we should wish Qatar the best of luck. When about the only two positives I can think of is that the area is relatively easy to travel to & that smokers can buy some of the cheapest cigarettes in the world there, it appears they will need it.

As a finish to this story, a number of months later a job opening came up with American construction firm working on the new Doha Airport which was a great fit to my engineering skills and expertise. I decided to pass on that particular lifestyle choice & chose to come to Denver Airport instead. The rest they say, is history...

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