Hosting the FIFA World Cup tournament has been an expensive gamble for Qatar, both in terms of its record USD 220 billion cost and the critical spotlight in which the small Gulf state now finds itself. Fresh flows of tourism, investment, and infrastructure financing have boosted Qatar’s economic outlook well beyond the tournament, while the country has improved its regional influence and foreign relations. Nevertheless, emerging corruption scandals and reputational factors threaten to undermine some of these achievements.

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Despite being surrounded by controversy, the FIFA World Cup kicked off in Qatar on 20 November. The country has spent an estimated USD 220 billion, roughly 100 percent of GDP, since winning the bid in 2010. Less than USD 10 billion of this investment capital has been spent on the seven stadiums Qatar has built for the games, as well as one stadium that has been renovated. The majority of the funding was spent on transportation, hospitality, telecommunications, and security infrastructure, including USD 36 billion on a metro system for greater Doha, a new airport, extensive road construction, and over 100 hotels, among other capital-intensive projects.

Over one million tourists are expected to have filled these new structures, providing a near-term boon to the economy – especially thanks to increased spending on food and hospitality support services. Several factors limit how much revenue Qatar will reap from the event, however. FIFA owns much of the profit generated during the games by selling its own products. Furthermore, host countries must give tax breaks on merchandise, food, and other purchases from FIFA and its partner brands, limiting the boost to government revenues. Overall, official estimates are that the World Cup will generate USD 17 billion for the Qatari economy while the tournament actually takes place.

Nevertheless, Qatar views hosting a major global sporting event as crucial to its long-term strategic goals. Qatar is wagering that the Cup will jump-start tourism in the longer term. The government is targeting 6 million visitors annually by 2030, up from 2 million in 2019. Moreover, officials will hope that it will enhance its international image as Qatar seeks to establish itself as a key international diplomatic actor and to spur investment and diversify its economy beyond the vital hydrocarbon sector.

PANGEA-RISK assesses that the soft power gains Qatar can expect from hosting the World Cup are more complex to quantify than the costs. On one hand, the extensive negative press that the event has been generating, including over corruption scandals, human rights violations, and its alcohol ban, could sour relations between Qatar and the West. On the other hand, the event may go some way towards strengthening regional ties as neighbours benefit from the proximity of the tournament. Reputational concerns are thus also an important priority, with the official tournament slogan that “everyone is welcome” intended to mitigate concerns over human rights abuses and current laws against the LGBT community. Significant criticisms over these issues are however likely to be a major theme throughout the tournament and beyond and may pose reputational risks for investors in the long term.

A noticeable boost in revenue

While the long-term legacy of the World Cup for Qatar remains questionable, the tournament will likely have a net positive effect on Qatar’s economy in the fourth quarter of 2022. Qatar’s GDP is estimated to grow by 4.7 percent in 2022, and the tournament alone could add up to USD 17 billion to Qatar’s economy. Qatar’s GDP could also rise at an annual rate of 3.2 percent between 2022 and 2030.

With revenues expected to outperform all previous records, many business sectors are reaping huge profits. The tourism and infrastructure industries are no doubt the biggest winners, with Qatar contributing the most in travel and tourism to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region’s GDP. The tourism sector can expect to bring in up to USD 4 billion in earnings to the GCC region, of which Qatar will corner the largest share.

Additionally, around 3.08 million stadium tickets are expected to be sold during the event. The average capacity of stadiums ranges between 40,000 and 80,000 spectators. The transportation sector will also experience a sharp increase in revenue. The airlines will also benefit from the event. According to estimates from FIFA, around 110,000 passengers will be travelling per day during the event. These numbers are expected to increase abnormally during the knockout round. The number of passengers will be the highest around the final match on 18 December.

Qatar also experienced an increase in foreign investment, which will likely increase in the coming years. Many brands and companies invested in Qatar to serve the large customer base during the tournament. The higher investment in businesses is creating more employment opportunities. The tournament is expected to have added 1.5 million jobs to Qatar’s economy. The growing economy and development of infrastructure has created employment and sustained an unemployment rate of 0.10 percent, which is the lowest in the region.

In the coming years, public spending will significantly decline since major infrastructure and construction projects are now finalised. This will strengthen government finances, but since the banking sector has accumulated foreign liabilities, the external debt has risen over the past few years, amplifying the country’s external vulnerability compared to its peers.

Increased Gulf Cooperation, for now

For many years, the country’s vast gas reserves and focus on diplomatic mediation have helped it become an instrumental small-state actor. Recently, Qatar has leveraged its gas reserves to address shortfalls in global energy supplies following the Russia-Ukraine war. It has also mediated between the US and the Taliban to secure Western evacuations from Afghanistan. These episodes in the country’s foreign policy indicate a marked capacity for power projection, even amid dramatic and rapid changes in the emerging international order. It is, therefore, up to Qatar to determine how and whether the World Cup will build on these significant foreign policy wins.

On the regional front, the World Cup could contribute to improving intra-Gulf relations that have been strained in recent years. The challenges Qatar has faced during the run-up to the World Cup have encouraged intra-Gulf cooperation to an extent not seen in the last decade or more. This has happened despite the recent rift and the region’s increasing competition, especially among Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The countries have all taken similar steps to diversify their economies beyond oil and gas, expand their tourism sectors, and boost their soft power aspirations.

So far, the World Cup in Qatar is already benefiting the economies of its neighbours, and revenues in the hospitality, aviation, and tourism services sectors are all anticipated to increase during the month-long event. An intensive schedule of shuttle flights has been organised between Doha and other cities in the Gulf and the broader region. In the hospitality sector, Saudi Arabia had an increase of 106 percent in its hotel occupancy rate, with other countries not far behind. Saudi Arabia is allowing Hayya card World Cup fans to perform Umrah (minor pilgrimage) on this occasion also. The UAE has already postponed the Dubai Marathon due to hotels reaching full booking capacity for the World Cup.


In general, even though the contention between the UAE and Qatar has decreased drastically, significant levels of competition will continue to shape bilateral relations. For instance, the situation in post-US Afghanistan will be crucial in defining relations between both countries. Both Gulf Arab states have competed for influence in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, with each seeking to present itself to the US as the GCC state most capable of serving as a bridge between Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and the West. Thus, whilst the security threats which Afghanistan represents to all GCC states have served to advance Emirati-Qatari reconciliation, such elements of competition regarding the Afghan issue may also fuel animosity down the line.

Looking ahead, the future of the UAE and Qatar’s relationship will remain volatile. The process of mending bilateral ties will possibly further consolidate the progress achieved on this front since the Al Ula summit in 2021 (see GCC: REGIONAL BLOC ENDS COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE QATAR BLOCKADE BUT TENSE RELATIONS ENDURE). Yet, the 2017-2021 GCC crisis has eroded trust between these two countries, and this will require more time to restore. Furthermore, with the root causes of ideological differences between Qatar and the UAE being unresolved, there is reason to believe that major problems between the emirates could re-emerge in the future. If Donald Trump or a similarly-minded Republican wins in the January 2025 US elections, the UAE could feel emboldened to act against Qatar again – a geopolitical risk that is not lost on Qatari officials.

Overall, the UAE decided to reconcile with Qatar because in 2021/22 its leadership assessed that doing so would advance Emirati interests. There is no guarantee that in the future the UAE will not again determine that acting against Qatar would best serve its national interests. So, though the fallout of the previous crises has started to fade, the possibility of a third GCC crisis remains a possibility (see SPECIAL REPORT: MIDDLE EAST FOREIGN POLICY RECALIBRATION ENHANCES ECONOMIC COOPERATION).

Solid foundations for investment

The challenge for Qatar is how the country will leverage its soft power gains and massive economic investments to sustain economic growth after the event. The increase in capacity that was created to host the World Cup can only be sustained by encouraging new economic activity and effectively utilising what Qatar has already built. This will require Qatar to attract foreign direct investment and support the development and growth of small and medium-sized enterprises. Qatar has been investing heavily in its human capital. It boasts among the strongest post-secondary education systems and research institutions in the region.

Together, the World Cup and Qatar National Vision 2030 have shown Qatar to be open for business. Opportunities abound in a high-income state driving towards economic diversification and liberalisation. With a holistic vision, well-established free trade zones and a determination to diversify away from over-reliance on oil and gas, there are clear investment opportunities. Raw materials, finished goods, and professional services are all in demand. In general terms, Qatar provides good foundations for business, with high average incomes, a good credit rating, and long-term political stability. A successful delivery of the 2022 World Cup should add to the country’s reputation for dependability. And while the country’s leaders know that diversification is key to a prosperous future, they also have massive national resources (especially natural gas) to finance key initiatives in the short and medium term. The price of natural gas has increased by 127 percent since early January, significantly boosting Qatari government finances.

At the same time, there are challenges when trading with Qatar that foreign businesses should be aware of. While the population is prosperous, it is also relatively small. With around 2.7 million inhabitants, many businesses see Qatar as a gateway to the wider Gulf region, rather than an investment end in itself. The wider region is volatile, and Qatar’s current dependence on gas exports – while highly profitable – leaves its economy vulnerable to global headwinds.


Investors will benefit from the diversification and gradual liberalisation of the Qatari economy, but some sectors are still off-limits to foreign capital or are monopolised by state-run companies. Like most Gulf states, Qatar has a specific labour law (the kafala system). This requires all migrant workers (working primarily in the construction and domestic sectors) to have an in-country sponsor, usually their employer, who is responsible for their visa and legal status. This practice has been criticised by human rights organisations for creating easy opportunities to exploit workers.

While Qatar has enacted some comprehensive reforms of the kafala system ahead of the World Cup, there is still criticism that reform efforts should be more extensive and better enforced. Therefore, foreign businesses trading with Qatari companies that practice the kafala system could potentially face reputational issues. There are also specific issues around business culture. For example, it can be difficult to get hold of financial information on private Qatari companies. Only publicly listed companies are obliged to publish financial statements, so establishing professional relationships is essential when dealing with unlisted companies.

Human rights violations and scandals grow reputational risks


Hosting the World Cup has heightened Qatar’s exposure to criticism from international observers, nongovernmental organisations, and foreign government officials. The sharpest criticism centres around human rights issues, especially the treatment of migrant workers and minority groups, such as the LGBTQ community. Other, less significant criticism revolves around the availability of alcohol – including a last-minute decision to ban sales of alcoholic beer at the eight stadiums hosting matches – and the lack of affordable tour packages for international fans.

Several cities in Europe have decided to not put on public screenings of the event. Paris – home to Qatar-owned football club Paris Saint Germain – announced in October that it would join the boycott. The level of scrutiny over Qatar’s human rights profile has been much more intense than for previous hosts of the event. This, in turn, has caused a rise in reputational concerns associated with the tournament itself and investment in Qatar. These risks have been further highlighted by an unfolding corruption scandal involving bribe-taking by European Parliament lawmakers and officials implicating Qatar. A recommendation to allow visa-free travel to the European Union (EU) for Qataris was set to be voted on by MEPs this week, but has now been shelved. Prosecutors in Belgium have said they suspected a Gulf state had been influencing economic and political decisions of the parliament for several months, especially by targeting aides. Although reports widely named the state as Qatar, the Qatari government said any claims of misconduct were “gravely misinformed”.


Separately, corruption scandals continue to pose a significant additional reputational risk for Qatar. On 17 November, five Qatari and Ecuadorian insiders alleged that eight Ecuadorian players had been bribed with USD 7.4 million to lose the opening match against Qatar. If proved to be true, this scandal would further undermine the credibility of the tournament and its organisers. This is in addition to past allegations claiming Qatar’s bribing of FIFA officials to award it the World Cup. Social media criticism will likely also focus on these issues over the coming weeks, providing a further reputational concern for multinationals associated with the event. Major criticism, including the targeting of brands associated with Qatar, is likely to intensify throughout the tournament and may linger on for some time after.

While there is little Qatar can do to change the negative narrative in western media now, accelerating the implementation of reforms, especially regarding human rights and labour rights offers an opportunity to improve the legacy of the Qatar World Cup and future projects. Heightened scrutiny of Qatar’s labour rights record has played a key part in accelerating labour rights reforms which are moving at a faster pace than in the rest of the GCC states. In May 2022, for example, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) confirmed that the implementation of new rules is getting better, including in key areas such as wages, worker representation, and occupational health and safety. The adoption of several new laws regulating the country’s labour market in August 2020 marked the formal dismantling of the country’s kafala system.

Both the International Labour Organisation and the ITUC have welcomed the new legislation and have played a central part in implementing the new regulations. Most importantly, migrant workers no longer require the permission of their employers to change jobs. Another significant change is the introduction of a USD 275 a month minimum wage which applies across all sectors and regardless of nationality. New regulations also ban outdoor work during the hours from 10h00 to 15h30 between 1 June and 15 September each year. Previously, the work ban was effective between 11h00 and 13h00 from 15 June to 31 August.


Continued engagement with international labour organisations over the dismantling of the kafala system suggests that conditions for migrant workers will improve – at least in the short term. But the extent to which Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup can remain a catalyst for social and labour rights reform is uncertain. Ultimately, the outlook over the coming years will depend on the willingness of the Qatari authorities to prioritise labour rights reforms after the world’s attention fades. Nonetheless, there are clear incentives for Qatar to push further on key social and labour rights issues. Crucially, bond markets, equity markets, and foreign investors are paying increasing attention to sovereign environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) performance, and reputational risks. Striking a balance between maintaining Islamic and cultural values and the many issues that come with rapidly changing Gulf societies will continue to be a challenge for Qatar’s social and economic transformation plans long after the World Cup final has ended in Doha in December.


Qatar’s economic diversification and business attraction efforts, as guided by the 2030 National Vision, have substantially strengthened the country’s economic prospects. The legacy of the FIFA World Cup in 2022 has raised the country’s profile and boosted non-hydrocarbon industries such as real estate, hospitality, sports, and healthcare. These effects will help Qatar maintain long-term sustainable growth and create a wealth of opportunities for foreign investors. The hydrocarbon sector is also expected to continue to support the economy, particularly with the North Field Expansion. The first gas from the USD 28.75 billion project is expected to be produced by 2025. Qatar’s high living standards, thanks to the large hydrocarbon revenues and general satisfaction regarding the quality of life, reinforce political stability. The World Cup will also strengthen Doha’s relationships with key security partners. Nevertheless, the divergences in foreign policy with other regional powers, namely the UAE and Saudi Arabia may become a source of instability in the long term.

  • The Al Thani dynasty has been ruling Qatar since the family house was established in 1825. The current ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani is unlikely to be challenged over the coming year owing to Qatar’s high per capita income and supported by strong public confidence. Qatar’s generous welfare system and extensive patronage for Qatari nationals and its small population reduce the risk of politically or economically motivated unrest. There have been minimal calls for democratic reforms to change the role of the Emir. There are no organised Qatari opposition groups, and the large population of migrant workers is unlikely to resort to violent protests given the high likelihood of deportation. There are serious reputational risks in the financial sector as the government has been accused of supporting Islamist terror groups in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere. Other corruption scandals have also raised reputational risks.
  • Qatar’s security outlook is unlikely to deteriorate over the coming 12 months. The Qatari government maintains closer relations with Iran than most Gulf monarchies; this, and the presence of the major US military base at Al Udeid, reduces the likelihood of its maritime and offshore assets being targeted, barring a major conflict in the Gulf. The likelihood of a US-Iran war in the Gulf, which would inevitably involve Qatar, has been reduced by the US willingness to re-engage with Iran over its nuclear issue. Reconciliation of a boycott of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt took place in January 2021, and relations are expected to improve further in 2022. Any future disputes are unlikely to escalate militarily as long as the US rejects this option.
  • Qatar’s real GDP growth will accelerate to 4.7 percent in 2022 before declining to 3.1 percent in 2023. Qatar’s current account surplus will likely grow from 14.3 percent of GDP in 2021 to 21.4 percent of GDP in 2022. The large surplus will be mostly driven by elevated global oil and natural gas revenues, paired with higher services exports during the FIFA World Cup in November and December 2022. The likelihood that the government will reduce capital spending after hosting the World Cup has the potential to prevent a deterioration in debt metrics over the longer term. Qatar’s fiscal surplus is expected to be around 9.5 percent of its GDP in 2022. This offers the government an opportunity to reduce the debt burden below the level last seen in 2016. The debt could drop below 40 percent of GDP by the end of 2023.