Qatar’s $300 Billion World Cup is Almost Here and Controversy is Winning: Q&A

Alcohol availability has been a particular flashpoint and on Friday, officials walked back on plans to allow the sale of beer within World Cup stadiums

A visitor takes a smartphone photograph pitch side at the Al Thumama football stadium in Doha, Qatar.
By Julia Fioretti and Adveith Nair
November 18, 2022 | 09:44 AM

Bloomberg — The 2022 football World Cup gets underway Sunday, with hosts Qatar taking on Ecuador. For the first time in the tournament’s 92-year history, it’s being staged in November and December instead of the mid-year months.

It’s set to the biggest sporting event ever held in the Middle East -- and in a conservative, majority-Muslim country to boot. Qatar has spent $300 billion preparing for the tournament, which has been accompanied by controversy from the beginning.

Alcohol availability has been a particular flashpoint and on Friday, officials walked back on plans to allow the sale of beer within World Cup stadiums.

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How many FIFA World Cup 2022 tickets are left?

Fans had snapped up close to 3 million tickets by mid-October -- almost all of the available spots, according to FIFA. Last-minute sales started on Sept. 27 and will run until the end of the tournament on Dec. 18. Tickets are sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

Is it too late to book flights to Qatar?

No it isn’t, not if you’re prepared to pay up. There are match-day shuttle flights operating between Doha and most major Middle Eastern cities, so fans can be based outside of the tiny Gulf state and fly in for matches. There will be almost 100 return flights from hubs including Muscat, Riyadh, Jeddah and Kuwait City. Most of the services will operate from Dubai, which is a 55-minute hop from Qatar. A one-way direct flight from London to Doha with Qatar Airways starts at £669 ($757) in economy. A return flight between Dubai and Doha on Nov. 20 -- the day the tournament starts -- was just shy of $2,000 at the time of publication.

When you land in Doha, you can take the metro service from Qatar’s Hamad International Airport, or jump in an Uber. The government recently eased covid testing rules, which should make your arrival in Qatar smoother.

Are hotel rooms still available in Qatar?

Yes, but not many. Just over one million fans are expected to descend in Doha for the tournament, and while many may stay in neighboring countries, accommodation in Qatar itself has been a big challenge for organizers. Last month, authorities started to release thousands of rooms that had previously been blocked off to the public. In October, a government spokesperson said it’s on track to provide 130,000 rooms for the tournament, and that more than 117,000 rooms are currently available.

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Other options include purpose-built housing, tents, Airbnb-style accommodation and at least two cruise ships with almost 4,000 cabins. To help with your stay, here’s some options available -- and six top places to eat in Qatar while you’re there.

Can you drink alcohol while you’re in Qatar?

Yes, but not too much. Qatar isn’t a dry country, but the government curtails alcohol sales at almost all restaurants that aren’t associated with a high-end hotel or resort. World Cup organizers had said tourists will be able to drink in designated fan zones within stadiums, but reversed those plans two days before the first game.

Is Qatar expensive?

Isn’t everywhere at the moment? Qatar’s riyal is pegged to the dollar ($1 is 3.64 riyal), and so has strengthened against most currencies over the past year -- including by about 20% against the British pound. Inflation is running high and consumer prices rose 6.03% year-on-year in September -- lower than in some countries. According to the Big Mac Index, a Big Mac costs $3.57 in Qatar, making it cheaper than Britain, the US and the Euro area. Currency exchange shops and ATMs are available across the city, but it’s easier to use credit and debit cards, with most accepted.

Will it be hot and what can I wear?

It’s winter so it won’t be excessively hot. Unlike in the summer months, when temperatures can average 42 degrees Celsius (108 Fahrenheit) during the daytime, the mid-November average high in Qatar is a pleasant 29 Celsius (85 Fahrenheit). And it’s even cooler in December.

Both men and women are expected to cover their knees and shoulders in public places. Malls, parks and official buildings routinely deny entry to people who flout the dress code. However, much looser standards apply in places that cater to white-collar expats, including many luxury hotels and The Pearl. Some women wear shorts and tank tops at such places, and bikinis around swimming pools won’t raise eyebrows.

--With assistance from Simone Foxman

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