The 22nd FIFA World Cup in 2022 will take place in Qatar, the smallest, least populous, and the first Middle Eastern country to host the global football tournament. The tiny, oil-rich nation also happens to be the home of the Al Jazeera broadcast network.
Qatar won the 2022 World Cup despite allegations that the country "bought" the games and concerns by Western nations about human rights and freedom of the press. The emirate does not recognize Israel, but would allow the Israelis to compete if they qualify. The Al Wakrah Umm Salal stadium will be decorated with Islamic art. However, the Muslim state said it would permit alcohol consumption during the tournament and believes that the World Cup presents an opportunity to dispel misconceptions about Qatar and the Arab world overall.
It will be interesting to see the effects of Qatar's weather on the athletes. Temperatures in the country can reach as high as 50° Celsius (122 °F). Each of the carbon-neutral venues for the World Cup will harness solar energy that will then be used to cool the stadiums. Organizers say that the stadiums' cooling technologies will able to reduce temperatures from 50 ° to 27° C (122° to 80 °F).
Meanwhile, Qatari-owned Al Jazeeranetwork has secured the broadcast rights of the World Cup in the Middle East and increasingly is taking on powerhouses such as BSkyB and Fox Soccer Channel for rights to other international matches. Al Jazeera has spent $400 million to secure rights to Ligue 1, UEFA Champions League, Bundesliga, and Serie A matches shown on its beIN Sport pay channel in France.
Further, Al Jazeera wants to cover the world's most popular league, the English Premier League (EPL), which is shown in the U.S. on Fox Soccer and ESPN. It also covets the U.S. rights to Italy's Serie A and Spain's La Liga. Backed by Qatari wealth, Al Jazeera could go head-to-head with News Corp's Sky Network for the UK rights to the EPL.
With an area roughly the size of the state of Connecticut and a population of only about 1.5 million, Qatar is an unlikely sports powerhouse. The emirate's vast oil and natural gas resources enable it to invest millions into Al Jazeera's global sports ambitions and make both the country and the broadcaster major force to be reckoned with. The network has an English languagewebsite, Twitter page with 2,500 followers; a Facebook page with 1 million "Likes"; and aYouTube channel.
It seems the "CNN of the Middle East" is increasingly trying to become the "ESPN of the Middle East," as well. After all, its owners have deep pockets and can make substantial bids for any sports broadcasting rights it chooses to pursue.
A native of Newark, Jed Hughes is Vice Chair of Korn/Ferry and the leader of the executive search firm's Global Sports Practice. Among his high profile placements are Mark Murphy, CEO of the Green Bay Packers; Larry Scott, Commissioner of the Pac-12 Conference; and Brady Hoke, head coach of the Michigan Wolverines. Earlier in his career, Mr. Hughes coached for two decades in professional and intercollegiate football where he served under five Hall of Fame coaches: Bo Schembechler (Michigan), Chuck Noll (Pittsburgh Steelers), Bud Grant (Minnesota Vikings), John Ralston (Stanford) and Terry Donahue (UCLA). Follow him on Twitter @jedhughesKF.