Here’s What Will Happen to Qatar’s Billion Dollar Stadiums Now That the World Cup Is Over

Here’s What Will Happen to Qatar’s Billion Dollar Stadiums Now That the World Cup Is Over
General views of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 host cities

General views of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 host cities

An exterior detail view taken of shipping containers at Stadium 974, a venue for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, in Doha, Qatar, March 23, 2022. It is the first structure in World Cup history to be demolished and is thereby the first temporary World Cup stadium ever. Credit – Photo by Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images

The men’s World Cup ended in Qatar on December 18 with one of the most thrilling finals in the league’s 92-year history. It was a night of heartbreaking drama that went into overtime and then some, culminating in Argentina being crowned world champions. For Qatar, a gas-rich Gulf nation with big ambitions and little football tradition, it was a star-studded coming-out party that marked their entry onto the world stage by showing off their political and sporting eventing skills. Qatar has spent around US$220 billion over 12 years preparing to host the championships and spent US$6.5 billion building seven of the world’s most technologically advanced stadiums and renovating another. Countless migrant workers who were imported for work died in the process. But while the athletes bag their trophies and the last of the fans trickle home, what happens to the stadiums after the party is over?

Great sporting events are often remembered by the white elephants they leave behind, huge stadiums that cost hundreds of millions to build, require millions more to maintain each year, and are rarely, if ever, returned to full capacity. Cape Town 2010 World Cup Stadium has become a treasured local landmark, but the occasional concerts and $4-per-person tours aren’t enough to fund the constant repairs. Eight of the 12 stadiums built for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, spread across a country of 143 million people in 11 time zones, are doing slightly better for hosting local football teams and sporting events, but none of them are likely to recoup that investment costs.

Qatar, the smallest country to host the World Cup since Switzerland in 1954, now has a surplus of very expensive stadiums on its hands. The country’s compact size – the furthest distance between two stadiums is 55km – was a boon for superfans looking to pack in more than one game in a day, but now that all the fans have gone it seems overkill. The total seating capacity is 426,031, almost 100,000 more seats than the entire local population of Qatar. Even factoring in the country’s 2 million migrant workers, there’s enough seating for every seventh resident.

Continue reading: Thousands of migrant workers died in Qatar’s extreme heat. The World Cup forced a reckoning

Nonetheless, Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the government body responsible for organizing the World Cup, has pledged that its stadiums will not suffer the same fate as previous tournaments and promised to implement “innovative legacy plans to ensure our tournament this does not leave ‘white elephants’ behind,” said the Secretary-General of the Supreme Committee, Hassan Al Thawadi, in a statement. Some of the stadiums will be dismantled and recycled. Others will be downsized and some converted into residential and shopping destinations.

But before Qatar gets out the sledgehammers, there’s another party ahead: the 2023 Asian Football Cup, which is expected to be played in early 2024 to spare fans and players the sweltering heat of a Qatari summer. China was supposed to be the original host but gave up the rights earlier this year to continue its zero-Covid policy. Qatar will also host the 2030 Asian Games and is bidding for the 2036 Olympics, which will be awarded in 2025. If the Olympic bid is successful, some of the stadiums could be redesigned to meet the needs of different sports.

At least one stadium won’t make it that far. Ras Abu Aboud’s Stadium 974, made from 974 recycled shipping containers (it’s not a random number – that’s Qatar’s international code), will be completely dismantled and shipped to a country yet to be determined in need of a used sports stadium. The world’s first fully demountable indoor soccer stadium, 974, could provide a template for low-impact sports arenas and completely eliminate white elephant syndrome. The surrounding area will be transformed into a waterfront business district.

The capacity of the other stadiums will be reduced by up to half. These excess seats, totaling about 170,000, will be donated to underdeveloped countries that need sports infrastructure, according to a statement from Ali Dosari, the Supreme Committee’s director of facilities, “allow[ing] promoting football culture and, to an even greater extent, love for the sport around the world.”

The organizers are hoping for a bit more football culture from the World Cup in Qatar. Qatar owns football club Paris Saint-Germain, where final rivals Lionel Messi and Kilian Mbappé play when not playing for their national teams, but enthusiasm for the domestic Qatar Stars League is less pronounced and rarely draws more than 1,500 spectators on . Nonetheless, local football clubs Al Rayyan and Al Wakrah will move to the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, where the USA played Wales on November 21, and the Zaha Hadid-designed Al Janoub Stadium, respectively.

Not surprisingly, the Education City stadium, home to most of Qatar’s universities and research institutions, will serve students and faculty from nine different universities and 11 schools.

The top level of the tented Al Bayat Stadium, which hosted the opening game on November 20 and the USA-England game on November 25, will be removed and converted into a five-star hotel and shopping mall. A sports medicine clinic is also planned for the basement levels on the playing field side. Al Thumama Stadium will receive similar treatment – refurbished with a sports clinic and hotel – while unspecified sporting events continue to take place.

The Fabergé Egg of a stadium in Lusail City will be fully transformed into a community center and residential area housing shops, schools, cafes and medical clinics. The upper level, overlooking the spiers and construction cranes of Qatar’s nascent architectural wonderland, will be converted to outdoor terraces for the venue’s new residents.

The Khalifa International Stadium, built in 1976 by former Emir of Qatar Sheikh Khalifa ibn Hamad Al Thani as a pro-independence gift to his people, is the only stadium left as is, ready to host matches and major tournaments, when Qatar doubles down on its ambition to become an international sports destination. If that were the case, that $6.5 billion would have been well spent on the stadium’s spending spree. If not, Qatar will join several other well-meaning members of the International White Elephant Club.

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