Achieving 2022 Despite COVID-19
The FIFA 2022 World Cup in Qatar is likely to be the first global football event played since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, since the virus began preparations for the 2022 tournament have been significantly interrupted. With just over 25 months before the opening of the competition, and the pandemic still causing disruption worldwide, is Qatar still on target to host the event?
Staying On Schedule
The first case of COVID-19 in Qatar was confirmed in February 2020. The Qatari government took immediate steps to contain the disease in March with a strict lockdown, numerous social restrictions, the isolation of specific vulnerable groups, widespread testing, and effective tracing procedures. To date, there have been just over 125,000 confirmed cases, and only 214 deaths - one of the lowest death rates in the world. The rate of infection has been driven down to around 200 cases a day. The country's 'R' rate remains stable below one. A phased easing of restrictions began in June.
While the virus is still at large, early steps by the government, and sustained efforts by World Cup organisers, contractors, workers and local industry, have ensured that despite the impact of COVID-19 the 2022 tournament is still very much on track. The Supreme Committee (responsible for the delivery of the World Cup in Qatar) have been confident throughout the outbreak that Qatar is adaptive, committed and tenacious enough to continue to complete their milestones towards the 2022 competition. Admittedly, the race to complete preparations has been running at a slower pace. But, with 85% of tournament preparations already completed before COVID-19 hit, the Supreme Committee has every right to maintain their positivity. And, progress on the ground is testament to that...
When the virus hit the peninsula, the Supreme Committee, in line with government recommendations, took direct action across all of their projects to ensure that the outbreak did not spread throughout the workforce.
'At risk' workers with pre-existing conditions or over the age of 55 were isolated in safe facilities - with full pay. On-site testing was instigated. Rigorous health and safety initiatives were implemented, including temperature checks, on and off-site health monitoring, social distancing and sanitising policies and procedures, and the widespread distribution of masks and sanitisers. Quarantine and isolation facilities were established. And, COVID-19 awareness training and campaigns rolled out amongst workers. Workers unlucky enough to contract the disease, and those in close contact, were quickly isolated and provided with free healthcare, as well as their full salaries.
Major infrastructure contractors followed suit with similar health and safety and well-being procedures.
The result of the collective actions was the continuation of construction across stadiums and other tournament venues and facilities, infrastructure and utility projects, and all with a healthy workforce. Qatar's achievements during this time speak for themselves:
In June 2020 the Education City Stadium (Diamond in the Desert) was completed and digitally launched, having received a coveted 5-star rating from the Global Sustainability Assessment System (GSAS). Al Rayyan and Al Thumama stadiums are rapidly taking shape and remain on course for completion by the end of 2020 and 2021, respectively. Al Thumama Stadium recently achieved a major milestone of 20 million working hours without a lost-time injury. And, both Lusail and Ras Abu Aboud stadiums are progressing towards their completion dates, well before 2022.
The final station, Legtaifiya Metro Station, of Doha's new 37 station automated rapid transit system opened in early September. The station's completion saw the finalisation of the Metro's Red Line. The station provides access to The Pearl, Lagoona Mall and is the interchange to the new Lusail tram system (opening soon).
Construction works at Doha's Hamad International Airport also began and continue this year. The phased expansion plans include construction works to formidably increase its capacity by 2022, and to improve its facilities and services. The upgrade works include the introduction of smart solutions throughout the airport to reduce passenger journey times (i.e. contactless and paperless services utilising mobile and biometric identification technology, high tech security screening technology and other touchless facilities). These solutions have been fast-tracked this year to reduce the risk of contamination and ensure passenger safety during the pandemic.
In addition, the construction of Qatar's new network of multi-lane highways, and other road transport upgrade projects, have been continuing at a pace. As have several utilities projects - electricity, water and sanitation - to meet the requirements of the 2022 World Cup population and beyond. Currently, Qatar's national utility company, Kahramaa, is developing a large-scale 800MW solar energy plant, and a mega water reservoir project to provide 6.45 million cubic meters of water security.
Additional projects under construction for the World Cup and continuing during the pandemic include a host of new hotels, a multitude of leisure and recreation facilities (which consists of an entire island dedicated to entertainment, Qetaifan Island), and the ambitious futuristic city of Lusail.
Getting Back on the Pitch
Aside from progressing World Cup infrastructure, Qatar has also focussed on getting their football industry back on track - the first of the Gulf nations to do so. The return to football has been necessary to help progress nationally and regionally towards the World Cup in terms of the game, but also to send a message of hope that normalcy can return.
The local leagues and the national team began their return to the pitch in June. Summer training for the national squad was their first outing since the pandemic started. The comeback was phased and followed strict guidelines drawn up by the Supreme Committee in consultation with the Qatar Football Association (QFA), the world-class specialised orthopaedic and sports medicine hospital, Aspetar, and the nation's Ministry of Health. With comprehensive, regular testing for players, officials and staff, strict isolation policies and thorough on-site sanitisation, the games return was a success. Signed pledges and hefty fines for breaking protocol helped too!
On the back of this success, Qatar agreed to host the AFC Champions League for the west region (September 14th to October 3rd), with matches played at the Khalifa International, Al Janoub and Education City stadiums.
For the tournament to go ahead, Qatar implemented stringent safety measures covering every aspect of the players, officials and staff's journey throughout the competition. From their arrival at HIA, their accommodation, transportation and time spent at training sites and stadiums, to their leisure time, specific safety precautions, virus testing and medical care were implemented to ensure health and safety were maintained.
The tournament to date, which also saw the newly inaugurated Education City Stadium kick off its first international sporting event, has helped to facilitate a return to continental football. And, of course, have helped Qatar in further increasing their preparedness for the World Cup in 2022 - not least in crisis management.
The COVID-19 pandemic remains problematic, but Qatar has proved again in 2020 that it is determined to be ready for the World Cup in 2022 and to deliver an amazing tournament. From the progress to date, it should be well on the way to achieving its goal.
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