stadiums qatar

Stadiums, Hotels, LNG Export Center: These Are Qatar’s Insignia of Power and New Influence

In just a few weeks, the World Cup will begin in Qatar. Exclusive satellite images show the speed at which the desert state has built its stadiums and luxury hotels – and what makes the country’s wealth possible in the first place. Human and labor rights fall by the wayside.

“Economy from above” is a collaboration between WirtschaftsWoche and LiveEO. This is a translation of the original article written in German by “Jannik Deters“. Access the original article here.

The World Cup is above everything for Qatar. Foreigners who do not have a ticket are no longer welcome between November 1 and Christmas, and the borders are closed to them. The first half of the school year ends early. As far as possible, transportation and infrastructure should serve only one purpose: the World Cup show. If it’s up to Gianni Infantino, the president of the world soccer association Fifa, it will be the “best World Cup” and “the greatest show” ever.

But rarely has the intercontinental competition – especially at this unusual time of year – had such a stale aftertaste. Qatar and the World Cup stand for inhumane working conditions and exploitation, questionable treatment of critics – and incredible wealth.

Exclusive satellite images from LiveEO show the buildings that serve as symbols for the fabulous rise of a small country that was only possible thanks to poorly paid and treated guest workers. Financed by the oil and gas resources in which Western nations are now, of necessity, showing more interest than they might like.

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Images: LiveEO/KompSat-3a, LiveEO/Planet Labs PBC SkySat, LiveEO/Pleiades

Lusail is a retort city north of Doha. A few years ago, there was nothing but desert there. With a capacity of 80,000, the Lusail Iconic Stadium is the largest stadium at this World Cup and is seen as a showcase for the Qataris’ technical innovation. A sophisticated cooling system is to be able to air-condition the stadium at high temperatures. Recycled water is used to irrigate the stadium turf and surrounding plants, saving fresh water and improving air quality.

Qatar presents itself as a sovereign host – and a high-tech partner for solving global problems. Government representatives and engineers have already led dozens of journalists through Al-Janoub Stadium to demonstrate how precisely the temperature in the arena is regulated and how clean the air is.

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Images: LiveEO/KompSat-3a, LiveEO/Planet Labs PBC SkySat, LiveEO/Pleiades

These tours conceal by whom and under what circumstances the buildings were constructed over the past eight years. Thousands of guest workers from Bangladesh, Nepal or Pakistan toiled at low wages. Several workers lost their lives during the construction of Al-Janoub and other sites.

Human rights activists have repeatedly denounced the conditions on the construction sites and in the workers’ barracks as a modern form of slavery. This was ensured by the kafala system practiced in the emirate for many years: workers in other industries as well had to hand in their passports and were only given them back after their employment contract expired – in the best case scenario. Without the passport, they could not leave the country.

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Images: LiveEO/KompSat-3a, LiveEO/Planet Labs PBC SkySat, LiveEO/Pleiades.

At the end of August 2020, Qatar passed a law to abolish this system, which at the same time introduced a minimum wage. The International Labor Organization (ILO) and trade unions commented positively. But NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International continued to identify kafala structures thereafter. Media research revealed that workers were paid too little or nothing at all for months.

The ILO, which has maintained its own office in Doha for several years, has taken on a remarkable role in this. It sees itself as a mediator between the government and workers and likes to emphasize the alleged progress that the state has made on the issue of human and labor rights.

In part, however, the closeness to the royal family already seems to be very pronounced. When asked by WirtschaftsWoche whether the ILO could locate worker camps so that they could be shown on satellite photos, the organization referred to the Qatari government’s press office.

Qatar Uses Sport to Gain Influence in the West

Julius Boykoff is a political scientist at Pacific University in Oregon. On ARD, he said, “Sport is politics by other means. As the tournament gets closer and closer, I don’t know how anyone can say this World Cup is not political.” For years, tiny Qatar has used sports, as well as business, to gain influence in Western countries. Through its sovereign wealth and investment fund, for example, it has bought the Paris St. Germain soccer club and large stakes in DAX-listed corporations such as Deutsche Bank, Siemens and Volkswagen. Political ties with corporate and government leaders could serve its own security in the event of an attack by conflicting, much larger neighbors in the Middle East.

Because of the Ukraine war, Qatar is coming much closer to this goal of tying itself as closely as possible politically and economically to powerful states than it had probably hoped. This is because the country has enormous oil and gas reserves, which are more interesting than ever for states that have long been dependent on Russian gas, such as Germany. In the past six months, German Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) and Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) each made one personal trip to the emirate, and Scholz received Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Berlin.

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Images: LiveEO/Landsat, LiveEO/Maxar

A good 80 kilometers north of Doha lies Ras Laffan, Qatar’s most important export port for gas and oil, from which oil, conventional gas and LNG are shipped all over the world. Soon, perhaps increasingly to Germany.

Qatar Energy, led by Energy Minister Saad al-Kaabi, says it currently trades five to ten million tons of LNG. “In the next five to ten years, we will be by far the largest LNG trader in the world,” al-Kaabi announced in early October, aiming to overtake the British company Shell. Qatar is already the world’s leading LNG exporter.

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Images: LiveEO/Google Earth, LiveEO/Sentinel.

Qataris have been engaged in oil and gas production for several decades. However, the big construction boom in the country started with a delay. Like many cities in the surrounding desert emirates, Doha has been pulled up and down in a very short time with millions in oil and gas.

One building to which the inventors and the Qataris attach a special symbolic power is the Katara skyscraper. It houses not one but two luxury hotels: the Raffles and the Fairmont. The design by a German planning office integrates the swords from the national seal into the architecture. The crescent is meant to symbolize hospitality.

The Raffles offers 132 suites, a 335-square-meter event hall, and a chef with three Michelin stars. There are 362 rooms at the Fairmont, also not a low-budget accommodation.

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Images: LiveEO/Google Earth, LiveEO/KompSat-3a, LiveEO/Planet Labs PBC SkySat.

The World Cup guests should want for nothing. And in keeping with the motto “World Cup first,” the inaugural apartments are reserved for one group only: People from the Fifa circle.

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