Qatar seeks to avoid 'white elephants''

Qatar seeks to avoid 'white elephants''

Published May. 25, 2011 1:00 a.m. ET

Qatar has already attracted plenty of attention for the futuristic and colorful designs of its dozen proposed World Cup stadiums - including one shaped like a traditional Arabic fishing boat and another like a sea urchin.

But the architects of the tiny Gulf nation's stadiums have now unveiled detailed plans that will allow organizers to remove as many as 170,000 seats from nine of the venues and send them to 22 locations in the developing world.

At a stadium conference in Doha this week, they said the initiative was aimed at ensuring the World Cup would leave a long-lasting legacy.

''If we build up to the capacity which FIFA requires, afterward we would have a lot of white elephants around this area,'' said Karin Bertaloth, whose firm is designing six new stadiums and two that will be upgraded. ''I don't think Qatar needs this capacity. We have the concept to build first tier of the stadium permanently and the second would only be for 2022.''


Many of the stadiums also have plans to incorporate hotels, parks and even a spa, or the flexibility to be converted for athletics or other sports.

The push to consider the future of World Cup stadiums is nothing new, but has taken on much greater emphasis in Qatar where a population of 1.6 million people means football clubs can barely fill a 15,000-seat stadium let alone some of the 80,000 behemoths that are required for a World Cup.

It also coincides with changing attitudes in stadium design, with developers under pressure to build facilities that are cheaper, more sustainable and which have a long-term use beyond a sporting venue.

''Cities need to think about how a stadium can be used for alternative uses in the context of city, of the neighborhood, of the community it is in,'' said Mark Fenwick, a director and partner with the designer of Education City stadium, which will go from 45,000 seats to 25,000 after the World Cup.

For Qatar, budget worries are not the driving force behind its strategy since the oil-and-gas rich country has one of the world's highest per capita incomes.

''In Qatar, it's less about financial aspect of it as it is about what the World Cup can do for the country,'' said Dan Meis, whose firm is building the Sports City stadium which will have moving seats, a moving pitch and a retractable roof. ''The idea of creating buildings to be multipurpose and long use, it ends up developing a lot more and that becomes a legacy for Qatar. The World Cup comes here, changes the country and creates development and experiences the country didn't have before.''

But Qatar is also using the World Cup to raise its profile on the international stage and that is where the stadium donations come in. It plans to donate two, 15,000-seat stadiums, eight 10,000-seat stadiums and 12 5,000-seat stadiums as part of a larger football development program that it says will ''contribute emphatically to development of football and local society.''

Eugene van Vuuren, a technical adviser for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa who spoke at the three-day, Stadium and Venue Design and Development conference, welcomed Qatar's offer to give away the seats but warned that it needs to factor in the upkeep and management of these new stadiums.

''It's not just good to give facilities but you have to maintain and upkeep it,'' he said. ''When you are in poorer countries, they just can't do it.''