DOHA, Qatar — Luxury hotels featured prominently in Qatar’s master plan to host the 2022 World Cup, and in the more than a decade since the tiny Gulf country was awarded the hosting rights to men’s soccer’s biggest championship, five-star accommodations have risen alongside the city’s high-rise towers at an astonishing rate.
That frenzy only intensified this year amid a desperate rush to be ready for the start of the tournament on Sunday. But as visitors started arriving, it became clear that Qatar was not quite ready for at least one group of its most demanding guests.
Last week, only a few days before the most senior executives of FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, were set to jet into Doha for meetings ahead of a World Cup 12 years in the making, local officials delivered the bad news: The five-star hotel picked to house FIFA’s leadership — a group infamous for its affection for perks, its healthy appetite for life’s finer things and its six-figure salaries — would not be ready for them.
FIFA declined to comment on the change in plans, saying it was a matter for Qatar’s Supreme Committee, the local organizing committee for the World Cup. And two senior officials in the organization affected by it said they had been told their inconvenience would be temporary: Their original hotel, a spectacular curved waterfront edifice with interiors inspired by luxury superyachts and what has been billed as the world’s tallest chandelier, should be ready soon, perhaps within days.
The officials declined to be quoted by name, given the embarrassing nature of the episode for both the organization and its Qatari hosts. The Supreme Committee, which has delivered eight stadiums, dozens of other projects and tens of thousands of other rooms for visiting fans, sponsors and journalists, did not respond to a request for comment.
Once FIFA gets settled, its high command will be reacquainted with the FIFA Club, an exclusive hangout that has been a fixture at previous World Cups, featuring an endless supply of fine foods, free cocktails and well-guarded privacy.
A Brief Guide to the 2022 World Cup
What is the World Cup? The quadrennial tournament pits the best national soccer teams against each other for the title of world champion. Here’s a primer:
Where is it being held? This year’s host is Qatar, which in 2010 beat the United States and Japan to win the right to hold the tournament. Whether that was an honest competition remains in dispute.
When is it? The tournament will open on Nov. 20, when Qatar plays Ecuador. Over the two weeks that follow, four games will be played on most days. The tournament ends with the final on Dec. 18. Here’s the full match schedule.
How many teams are competing? Thirty-two. Qatar qualified automatically as the host, and after years of matches, the other 31 teams earned the right to come and play. Meet the teams here.
How does the tournament work? The 32 teams are divided into eight groups of four. In the opening stage, each team plays all the other teams in its group once. The top two finishers in each group advance to the round of 16. After that, the World Cup is a straight knockout tournament.
How can I watch the World Cup in the U.S.? The tournament will be broadcast on Fox and FS1 in English, and on Telemundo in Spanish. You can livestream it on Peacock, or on streaming services that carry Fox and FS1.
When will the games take place? Qatar is five hours ahead of London, eight hours ahead of New York and 11 hours ahead of Los Angeles. That means there will be predawn kickoffs on the East Coast of the United States for some games, and midafternoon starts for 10 p.m. games in Qatar.
Got more questions? We’ve got more answers here.
In the meantime, FIFA has managed to secure a backup hotel: a palatial redoubt with spectacular views over the Persian Gulf and a flotilla of wooden dhows, traditional Arab boats, moored just in front of its private beach. The hotel opened on Tuesday; the FIFA executives were its first guests.
The hotel troubles for FIFA’s elite class, though, were not the only sign of strain for Qatar’s plans to welcome the world to an event that has already cost the country more than $200 billion for preparations, facilities and infrastructure improvements.
On Wednesday, organizers were forced to issue an apology to a Danish television crew whose broadcast was disrupted by overzealous private security guards who demanded — live on air — to see that they had the correct credentials to film.
The confrontation’s footage quickly went viral and appeared to show one security official waving at the camera when informed by a reporter they were live. Rasmus Tantholdt, the Danish journalist whose broadcast was interrupted, asked a security official: “You invited the whole world here. Why can’t we film?”
Qatari officials described the incident as a mistake, and noted that after a check of their credentials the crew had been allowed to continue filming. Qatar has hired thousands of private security workers from around the world to help police the tournament, which is expected to attract one million visitors.
Another sign that things are still in flux has been the repeated fine-tuning of plans to sell beer in a country where the sale of alcohol is strictly controlled. On Saturday, FIFA officials were left embarrassed after The New York Times reported on the hasty relocation of beer tents at the eight tournament venues. According to people involved in that change of plans, moving the beer to more discrete positions was part an effort to not upset the local population in a largely conservative Muslim country.
Then this week, as Qatar hosted an event to mark the first sales of beer in a dedicated fan zone close to Doha’s waterside Corniche, fans were asked to pay the equivalent of $14 for a half-liter, a price that was almost double what officials had been privately promising for months.
That fan zone, Al Bidda Park, was billed as a hub for foreign visitors but appeared to be a work in progress, too. On Thursday, workers in blue coveralls were busy laying paving stones, and metal barriers still divided the property.
Inside FIFA’s temporary hotel, meanwhile, officials looked on as workers struggled to carry a six-foot placard decorated with one of the tournament’s catchphrases through the building’s ornate, Arabesque doors. “Expect Amazing,” the sign read.