A stroll down the impressive Corniche area of Doha sees you met with the lapping Persian Gulf to one side and huge, dominating skyscrapers on the other. This is the image of Doha the country wants people to see. An Instagram dream. Perfect blue lapping water with engineered modern masterpieces dotted around in a show of economic strength.
Along the seven-mile stretch of promenade (not unlike Mumbles in the summer but without the steelworks in the background) tournament organisers have placed benches and backdrops specifically for social media opportunities. This is the ultimate superficial World Cup. And it does look good, at least on the surface.
But you only have to walk a few steps off the promenade to find a slightly more desperate sight, the one organisers would rather the world didn't focus on.
A stone’s throw from the now infamous gleaming mural of Gareth Bale stands half built hotels, unfinished skyscrapers, building sites, cranes, diggers, roadworks and a migrant workforce battling against the clock. Every city has building work of course, every city centre has infrastructure issues. But broken pavements, cables, pipes and bits of iron sticking out the ground where fans will be walking are stark.
More starkly are the reminders that this World Cup has come with a cost. A human cost. On one of the high rise building construction sites is a sign. It proudly reads: “10 million man-hours without lost-time injuries.” That’s not a sign a construction firm should need to write.
More than 80% of Qatar’s population of three million are foreign migrant workers. The treatment of these workers has been described as akin to modern slavery under the country’s Kafala system. And while that system has now been reformed, thousands are thought to have died since the World Cup was announced in 2010.
Migrants were found crammed into inadequate housing and paid £1 an hour. Some were made to work 12-hour days and six-day weeks.
If you try and speak to migrant workers in Doha they won’t talk. Partly because they have limited English, but partly because we understand they have been warned not to. When we took the images and video footage in this article we were followed by a man in a high-vis jacket and a walkie talkie. We weren’t stopped but we were clearly being observed.
The question which remains, and which will shortly be answered is this. Can the city cope?
It’s an incredible task. Qatar’s population is less than three million. There have been estimates of 1.2m visiting Doha for the World Cup. That is mind-bending.
The brand new Metro system is brilliant, clean and efficient. It is easy to use. But the barriers being erected outside each station already suggest long queues and uncomfortable journeys.
I don’t know what Doha looked like a decade ago, I can barely even imagine. The transformation is incredible. But a lot of money has been spent on this vanity project with the purpose of launching Qatar’s profile, opening it up to global tourism. It remains to be seen whether the project succeeds. The truth is, whatever you think of Qatar, it’ll probably look amazing when it’s finished. It just isn’t yet.