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The World Cup and beyond – what next for construction in Qatar

The world’s showcase men’s football tournament, the 2022 FIFA World Cup, is coming to the Gulf region later this month.

In order to host football’s main event, the State of Qatar has invested substantial sums in construction projects in the years leading up to the tournament. Once the football is finished, it will be interesting to see whether there is an upturn in construction disputes in the region and Qatar’s priorities in terms of major projects that will commence in the months and years after.

In a country busy with new construction for much of the previous two decades, Qatar has not only seen the construction of 8 stadium projects to host World Cup matches (7 new build and one major refurbishment of the Khalifa International Stadium originally opened in 1976) but also major construction projects such as Hamad International Airport, the Doha metro system, road construction projects, hotel developments and civil infrastructure. Not all these infrastructure projects were World Cup related, but some were essential in order to provide Qatar with the infrastructure necessary to host the tournament.

 

View on the ground

In early October I was back in Doha to meet with clients and contacts as well as make new connections. With around six weeks to go before the start of the World Cup at that time, there was excitement in the air as final preparations for the tournament were being made and the West Bay skyscrapers were already adorned with promotional material showcasing the imminent arrival of the world’s most famous footballers.

As much as the football is bound to be exciting, and for fans of England there is likely to be the usual psychodrama to contend with, events such as the World Cup are of particular interest to construction and engineering lawyers. We are used to advising our clients on projects where there is an obligation on the contractor to complete the work by an agreed date, and commonly liquidated damages will apply should the contractor fail to do so. Equally there are typically events which, should they occur, entitle the contractor to an extension of time for delay that was not the contractor’s fault. A key component of our work is advising our clients on with claims where the project has been completed late and the arguments are whether the contractor caused the delay or was entitled to relief in the form of extension of time.

Construction projects associated with events such as the World Cup turn these conventions on their head because the ultimate completion date is not one that can be delayed or extended. The World Cup cannot be delayed—nobody would want to postpone an event attracting the world’s attention because stadiums are not ready, for example, and even if that could happen neither employer nor contractor would want to be the party associated with a delayed World Cup or Olympic Games. In these unique situations, extensions of time and liquidated damages are of no benefit. Completion of the project on time is essential and failure in that regard is not an option.

This tends to mean that claims associated with construction projects related to events such as the World Cup or Olympic Games:

  1. arise after the event and not before, because before the event the only goal (pardon the pun) is completion on time; and
  2. concern acceleration and disruption costs and not extension of time and liquidated damages—i.e. the claims are only about money and not time because substantial sums and resources are likely to have been expended to ensure on time completion.

Events such as the World Cup or Olympic Games are huge exercises in logistics and project management that are planned many years in advance. Part of the delivery of a successful tournament is typically the creation of a vast amount of new infrastructure such as the Stratford area and transport links in the case of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

In the case of Qatar there are numerous projects associated with accommodating and transporting many more visitors than the country is used to at one time. While for now we will sit back and enjoy the football, once the desert dust settles on the 2022 FIFA World Cup it remains to be seen how many construction disputes emerge from these projects where delay was simply not an option.

 

What next?

Looking further ahead, there was optimism among the contractors I met with who are looking forward to the opportunities for new infrastructure projects in Qatar that are expected in the months and years after the tournament. While the oil and gas sectors are already very active and expected to remain so, considering the reconfiguration of energy supply around the world resulting from the situation in Ukraine—there will be further major construction projects required to deliver the Qatar National Vision 2030 such as the Doha metro extension.

As a result, while all eyes will soon be on Qatar for a few weeks of football, construction lawyers are likely to remain invested for substantially longer.

Freeths is uniquely placed to assist clients in Qatar and the Middle East region facing construction and engineering disputes. We are dedicated specialist engineering and construction lawyers who advise our clients on issues faced on their most important projects.


If you have any queries on this article, please get in touch with Alex Johnson or Steve Evans.


The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.

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