Fears that Brazil’s hosting of the 2014 World Cup would end in disaster, as the construction of stadiums and infrastructural improvements fell behind schedule, never came to fruition. But that hasn’t stopped critics from raising similar alarms about the 2022 World Cup, set to take place in Qatar, a tiny Arab nation that borders Saudi Arabia.
The reason for the latest outcry: Lusail, the city set to host the World Cup final, doesn’t exist yet.
Not that the plans aren’t ambitious. Two marinas, two golf courses, a shopping mall, and a zoo are set to rise from the desert sands, along with housing for 450,000. Architects and urban planners wax poetic about diversity, sustainability, and a sophisticated "smart" city command center, spread across 15 square miles. Real estate developers, who say they hope to complete construction by 2019, estimate the total cost at $45 billion.
While that deadline is still five years away, city planners are suddenly under fire. Around the same time that Qatar's promises of air-conditioned stadiums evaporated, an Ecuadorian striker died of a heart attack after playing in a match in a Qatar stadium where temperatures approached 108 degrees F. Allegations that corruption influenced FIFA's decision in favor of Qatar continue to gain momentum, thanks to new revelations that Qatari officials wined and dined a FIFA voter, prompting sponsors like Sony and Adidas to publicly crank up the pressure on embattled FIFA President Sepp Blatter.
Most troubling of all, construction workers at the stadium sites have been dying by the hundreds in a nation already known for exploiting non-citizen labor. Qatari officials have acknowledged close to 1,000 deaths to date; an ESPN E:60 report revealed the dangers of the working conditions in sobering detail.
So far, Qatar has compromised on two fronts. It introduced labor law reforms in May—Blatter proclaimed them a "significant step in the right direction"—and reduced the number of stadiums it will build from 12 to eight or nine, due to rising costs and delays.
But don’t expect Lusail’s city developers to blink. "Qatar has a path ... they're pursuing," Daniel Hajjar, a senior vice president in the Dubai office of architecture firm HOK, told CNN. Even if FIFA’s critics succeed in lobbying to move the World Cup to another location, ambitions for the city of Lusail will survive. "It won't affect their decision to move forward and get it built."