Skip to content

Expert blog: Will the FIFA World Cup in Qatar bring economic prosperity to the Middle East?

By Dr Johan Rewilak, Senior Lecturer in Sports Economics


Despite being surrounded by controversy, the FIFA World Cup kicked off in Qatar approximately three weeks ago. Moving towards the “business end” of the competition, most teams now have packed their bags, while others are preparing for the quarter finals.

However, off the field has hosting this sporting mega event brought economic prosperity to Qatar and more broadly the Middle East?

The economic benefits from hosting sporting mega events are often limited and far smaller than initially predicted. Predictions in the run up to Qatar 2022 claimed that hosting the FIFA World Cup would bring in $17bn to the local economy. One reason for this is attributed to the large increase in sports tourists arriving to watch the event.

In order to capitalise on these tourists, hosting a sporting mega event requires large infrastructural development. Even Rio de Janeiro, an existing and well-established tourist hub, was required to build 15,000 additional hotel rooms to stage the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. In terms of international tourist arrivals over the calendar year, prior to hosting the World Cup Qatar lagged well behind its counterparts. The United Kingdom, for instance, had more than 15 times the number of international tourist arrivals compared with Qatar.

Tourist arrivals

With one million simultaneous arrivals scheduled during the World Cup, Qatar built numerous luxury hotels to stage the tournament, but despite this effort the nation was forced to turn to temporary accommodation to satisfy this demand.

This is far from the image the country attempts to portray, such as the luxurious in-flight experience its national carrier Qatar Airways prides itself on. As such, could this be one possible reason why the economic benefits for Qatar may be limited from hosting the World Cup?

Given that fans may have been reluctant to stay in such accommodation, have some of the economic benefits been diluted outside Qatar’s borders towards other nations in the Middle East? With Abu Dhabi and Dubai a one-hour flight from Qatar and both existing tourist hubs, have sports tourists situated themselves – and spent their income – elsewhere? This certainly appears to be the case according to CNBC.

Something else that may benefit the wider region is that the World Cup has created a break in domestic football. As a result, Premier League football clubs such as Liverpool and Arsenal have decided to host training camps in the region, playing several friendlies against other top European opposition. This may just provide enough of an incentive for soccer-fanatics to stay in these destinations as opposed to Qatar itself.

Of course, one must not forget that when calculating the economic benefits from hosting the World Cup, projections are also based on future income streams. These are often legacy effects such as establishing a long-term tourism strategy. However, given fans potentially being dismayed by the temporary accommodation, or how Qatar’s human rights record has been emphasised during the last several months, it is possible that these legacy effects may not flourish and further depress the optimistic monetary projections.

Worse still, without repeat visitors, could these newly constructed hotels become white elephants, similar to when 40% of Lillehammer’s full-service hotels became bankrupt due to a lack of demand after the 1994 Winter Olympics.

In any case, it is doubtful whether hosting the World Cup will bring $17bn of economic benefits to Qatar or even the Middle East. However, Qatar will not care. In total it has spent over $300bn to host the showcase tournament, exceeding the cost of all previous World Cups combined.  

Given the Gulf State’s vast wealth - driven by its exports of oil and natural gas - placing it in the top ten richest countries in the world based upon GDP per capita, Qatar does not need, or will not care, about a positive monetary return on this investment.

Being awarded the 2022 World Cup has given Qatar a sense of prestige. To be entrusted to host significant sporting events provides a country with large intangible benefits. Qatar seems to have a preference to host large sporting events, having held the 2019 Athletics World Championships and has a ten-year contract to host a Formula One Grand Prix.

Therefore, it is happy to trade off large sums of income to attain a sense of happiness.

After spending over $300bn on the World Cup, Qatar has just hosted a very expensive party and it is unlikely that it will be the last.

Expert blog: Will the FIFA World Cup in Qatar bring economic prosperity to the Middle East?

Published on 8 December 2022
  • Subject area: Sciences including sport sciences
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Science and Technology

Still need help?

+44 (0)115 941 8418