When Qatar won the race to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup more than 10 years ago, the neighbors of Doha began planning how to profit economically from this event. As is customary, Iranian officials began speaking of ambitious visions and dreams, but it soon became clear they were all pipe dreams, like a politician’s electoral promises.
Since Qatar won the bid, three Iranian presidents have held or come to power, namely Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hassan Rouhani and Ebrahim Raisi, all of whom stated on various occasions that Iran is prepared to help in organizing the World Cup. Rouhani reiterated Iran’s readiness to participate in the planned construction of infrastructure and facilities, as well as to provide Qatar with whatever it may need during the event in at least two phone calls with the emir. Raisi also stated that Iran was willing to provide any help to hold the event.
Though their remarks and promises were ambiguous, comments by deputy ministers and senior officials have revealed surprising details, such as Iran’s willingness to participate in hosting the event and even host some of the games on Iranian soil. Iranian officials also stated that football teams would be hosted on Iranian islands near Qatar, such as Kish Island, for training and friendly games. This is in addition to claims that Iran would attract 5 percent of World Cup fans, generating revenues worth nearly $500 million through hosting supporters from countries such as Mexico, Senegal and Ghana in Kish, while accommodating fans from Central Asia and Russia in northern Iran and then transporting them by buses to the south of the country before transporting them by boat to Qatar.
Other ambitious proposed projects included hosting fans from Islamic countries as part of a “halal tourism” program, starting low-cost tourist trips for Iranian football fans to Qatar, launching maritime routes and preparing ships to transport fans to and from Iran, along with many other promises.
A few weeks before the event kicked off, however, it became clear that all these promises were nothing but pipe dreams. According to the Iranian Hotel Companies Society, the number of airline tickets sold and rooms booked by Iranian fans is zero. Mohammed Mirzaei, an Iran-Qatar Chamber of Commerce board member, announced that Iran’s share in the World Cup tourism market is also zero. He also announced the cancellation of planned maritime journeys between Iran and Qatar. Meanwhile, lawmaker Mahmoud Nabavian stated that Kish Island is not currently prepared to receive fans during the event. The Fars News Agency, which is close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, confirmed that the island is not prepared to receive Iranian correspondents and fans. It was also discovered that Iran’s food exports to Qatar have not increased in recent weeks.
As is routine, Iranian officials were ready with justifications for their failure to take advantage of this event
Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami
As is routine, Iranian officials were ready with justifications for their failure to take advantage of this event. The Raisi government blamed its predecessor, with the current youth and sports minister accusing the Rouhani government of lethargy in carrying out its responsibilities, asserting that work should have begun years ago to achieve the desired result. Other government agencies have been accused of negligence. The CEO of the Kish Free Zone blamed the Ministry of Tourism for inadequate coordination with the Qataris.
Some officials have gone further, blaming Iran’s failure on the ongoing protests and accusing the protesters of causing the country to miss out on this opportunity to make economic profits from the event. The deputy cultural heritage minister, meanwhile, blamed some countries that asked their own citizens not to travel to Iran ahead of the World Cup, while other officials accused the Qataris of being “insufficiently cooperative.”
It would not be an exaggeration to say that Iranian officials outperform all others in terms of rhetoric and making false promises. However, there is a startling disparity between Iran’s grand visions and its real track record of failures. Instead of carrying out development, building and construction projects, the Iranian regime has a long history of creating militias that have destabilized the region and the world. Corruption and mismanagement, as well as a culture of nepotism and favoritism, have spread throughout the regime’s apparatuses, imposing heavy burdens on the Iranian people. According to the regime’s own Budget and Planning Organization’s figures for 2021, of the 382 public sector companies in various fields in Iran, 323 declared insolvency.
So, why do Iranian officials insist on continuing to come up with empty promises, which everyone knows will not be fulfilled? This is further evidence that some Iranian officials live in their own fantasy world, suffering from paranoia and delusions of invincible strength, despite their inability to comprehend the reality of events in Iran and around the world. If these officials had a true understanding of reality, they would have compared the number of tourists visiting Iran each year to the number visiting neighboring countries. They would also have realized that, given the regime’s policies and its meddling in the smallest details of people’s lives and affairs, it would be impossible to attract such a large number of tourists, let alone football fans.
On the other hand, many Iranian officials are now aware of how dire the situation in Iran is, particularly how utterly shambolic its infrastructure is. They are aware of the true capabilities of Iran in comparison to other regional countries. These officials do not anticipate a miracle that will allow Iran to secure economic benefits during the World Cup. To reap any economic rewards, Iran would need to invest massive amounts of time, planning, work and effort, as well as radically shift its approach and policies. Nonetheless, senior Iranian officials continue to promote delusions, make false promises and give the impression that there are actual accomplishments on the ground in an effort to “instill hope and self-confidence in the people,” albeit falsely. These officials bet on their ability to deceive the Iranian people, while also fearing an uprising by the same people to depose the regime.
Twelve years was not enough time for the Iranian regime to entice even one World Cup fan among the hundreds of thousands planning to attend the event in Qatar. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan, which is even further from Qatar than Iran, has managed to attract World Cup fans to stay on its territory, according to an Iranian official. After all of Iran’s promises have proven to be false, Iranian fans who have already purchased World Cup tickets are questioning whether they will even be able to enter Qatar.
One final important point also needs to be clarified. The Iranian football team’s participation in this event is totally different from past ones. In the past, the majority of Iranians at home and overseas used to wholeheartedly cheer on and ardently support their football team. In the 2022 World Cup tournament, however, a considerable proportion of Iranians have called for Iran’s exclusion from the World Cup, arguing that its participation serves nobody but the regime, which continues its repression, arrest and killing of protesters even while the event kicks off in Qatar.
The refusal of three of the most famous former Iranian footballers to accept invitations from FIFA and the Qatar Football Association to attend the tournament in order to express their solidarity with Iranian protesters — who have been staging massive protests since mid-September over the killing of young Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini by the regime’s so-called morality police — is the best case in point.
In conclusion, it seems that whatever the results of the 2022 World Cup, Iran’s regime will be the loser.