How the World Cup can fit into tiny Qatar

November 26, 2022 at 3:56 a.m. EST

(Video: The Washington Post)

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Qatar is the smallest country ever to host the FIFA World Cup. It is dwarfed by recent hosts Russia and Brazil and by the 2026 host — the entire continent of North America.

The compact nature of the tournament is immediately apparent to visitors arriving in Doha, with one venue, Stadium 974, visible from the airport road, and several other stadiums surfacing on a drive along the capital’s highways. The experience of attending a match can feel urban and local, like a visit to Capital One Arena in downtown D.C. or to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.

At times, the matches have saddled parts of the capital, which already suffered from traffic congestion, with a paralyzing snarl, as was the case Tuesday, when police struggled to ease congestion around the Education City Stadium after Tunisia and Denmark played. On Wednesday evening, Morocco’s supporters flooded one of the subway lines, but the mood was festive, despite the crush. In one subway car, a group of fans gathered around a man holding a cellphone and watching Japan upset Germany, 2-1.

It was no easy feat to squeeze one of the world’s biggest sporting events into one of its smallest countries. We sought to visualize just how remarkable the task was using, what else? Soccer balls.

Qatar is the smallest nation to host a World Cup. Here’s how it compares to other host countries. (Video: The Washington Post)

Qatar is just over 4,400 square miles — that’s roughly the size of Connecticut. Russia, which hosted the World Cup in 2018, is more than 6.3 million square miles — fifteen hundred times the size of Qatar. And Brazil, which hosted in 2014, is more than 3.2 million square miles — 727 times the size of Qatar.

Even Switzerland, the smallest country to host the tournament before Qatar, is more than 3 times the size of the present host.

These 1.2 million visitors will increase Qatar’s population of 2.9 million by more than one third. (Video: The Washington Post)

Despite the cramped quarters, more than 1 million people are expected to converge on the country of 2.9 million, increasing the population by more than one-third.

So where do they all stay? Some are staying in hotels charging more than $1,000 a night. Others are staying in cruise ships docked near Doha. And for those who can’t afford either of these options, there are less expensive apartments available as well as ad hoc shelters where accommodation costs around $200 a night.

Visitors are also staying in neighboring gulf countries and commuting in for the games. But once in Qatar, traveling between stadiums is easier than in past World Cup tournaments.

Brand new

stadiums built

for the World Cup

Brand new stadiums built for the World Cup

Brand new stadiums built for the World Cup

Brand new stadiums built for the World Cup

Distances between arenas at Russia’s World Cup spanned up to 1,500 miles — a day-long journey by train. In Qatar, the farthest one has to travel is less than 40 miles from the center of Doha. Al Bayt Stadium, a 40 minute drive north of the capital and designed like a desert tent, requires a trip to the end of one metro line, and a 25-minute bus ride followed by a 15 minute walk.

The tight squeeze at this World Cup have led to some innovative solutions: Stadium 974, which seats 40,000 people, is built out of shipping containers, meant to be dismantled when the event in Qatar has ended and be sent to other countries hoping to host their own tournaments.

“This is certainly remarkable, to build a temporary stadium,” said Danyel Reiche, a visiting associate professor of political science and international relations at Georgetown University Qatar. Reiche also is co-author of the book “Qatar and the 2022 FIFA World Cup: Politics, Controversy, Change.”

“Here the Qataris are addressing the issues more than others,” he said.

Qatar built seven new stadiums to host the games. Some pay tribute to its cultural hallmarks: Glistening white walls evoke the country’s past as a pearl-diving hub; swooping curves represent the traditional dhow sailboat.

But constructing the infrastructure for the games came with a high human toll.

Ninety-five percent of the country’s workforce is made up of migrants, according to Human Rights Watch, most of them from South Asia and Africa working in the construction or service industries for low wages. Qatar was the target of international condemnation as workers engaged in construction leading up to the tournament toiled in brutal heat for meager pay. Human rights groups say thousands died or suffered life-changing injuries since preparations began 12 years ago.

“It’s important to remember what migrant workers have been through to be able to deliver this, to allow us to enjoy these games,” said Hiba Zayadin, a senior researcher in the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch.

Kareem Fahim in Doha contributed to this report.

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