Then: Building swanky stadiums for the purpose of hosting an international football competition. Now: Building a city not just for the purpose of hosting said competition, but also for the thousands of fans who will come along for the ride. And this is exactly what the Qatari government is doing right now, since they’ve been chosen to host the 2022 Fifa World Cup.
Lusail doesn’t exist yet, but it will in 2019. A 72 sq km chunk of waterfront desert is undergoing transformation and, when it is finished, it will be a gleaming city featuring a commercial area; an entertainment district boasting a zoo and an amusement park, a mall, two golf courses, over 20 hotels, housing for over 250,000 people; and the piece de resistance, an 86,000-seat solar-powered stadium surrounded by a moat.
The good thing about Lusail is that building a city from scratch means being able to do everything the smarter, more sustainable way from the get-go. For instance, Lusail’s energy, communications and transport systems will be computer-controlled from one command centre, making the city easily adaptable to varying traffic and weather conditions. Solar panels and a system of pumping chilled water through pipes will be used to keep buildings cool, which is cheaper and more efficient than air-conditioning.
But a beast this advanced doesn’t come easy, and it most definitely doesn’t come cheap. The entire project will take a whopping 20,000 workers to finish and is estimated to cost US$45 billion (S$57 billion). On top of this, it has attracted some very negative press.
There were reports that workers from Nepal have been ill-treated (salaries withheld, poor living conditions, confiscated passports), and at least 44 died as a result of toiling in Qatar’s heat, which can reach 49 deg C.
There have also been rumours of corruption during the bidding process, which has thrown up the possibility of the event being moved elsewhere altogether.
Nonetheless, word on the street is that the show will go on, with or without the World Cup. This is the Middle East, after all, where everything is bigger, bolder and brighter. Come to think of it, even if Qatar loses the World Cup, there’s always the Olympics…