Last month, Stenden University Qatar and Edinburgh Napier University said they were jointly embarking on a US$235,000 two-year Qatar government-funded research project to find a sustainable and positive legacy for the World Cup within the country.
Eleni Theodoraki, a reader in festival and event management at Edinburgh Napier and a former Olympics adviser to the London Mayor Boris Johnson in the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012, is one of the academics leading the research.
The researchers plan to set up four or five focus groups in Qatar with key stake holders to find out how to go about achieving Qatar’s stated aims of increasing sports participation at grassroots level and for women and people with special needs.
The academics plan to start work this month engaging with the public in Qatar both in person and through their Facebook page to find out the best ways to achieve these ambitions. They will then draw up a set of strategic options aimed at achieving the objectives in the bid.
“Basically legacy is interested in changing social behaviours,” Ms Theoraki says.
“Major sporting events are going to happen anyway, they are going to receive a huge amount of public attention, what we want to do is use them as a way of creating lasting social change.”
Ms Theodoraki points to the serious health problems Qatar faces due to increasingly sedentary lifestyles as one of the key problems the researchers hope to address in their work.
“With a World Cup or an Olympic Games you have access to big sporting names who will be willing to visit schools and encourage children to be more active,” she says.
But is Ms Theodoraki’s research really likely to provide the legacy the Qatari authorities promised or is this simply another way for them to cut back on their promises and instead to provide “greenwash”?
“This is a very important issue, our scope is quite limited,” Ms Theodoraki says.
“We have a small budget. We won’t be able to deal with all of the legacy plans. There are no two ways about it.”
So what are her hopes of achieving the increased sporting activity and social cohesion promised in the bid?
“We still don’t know whether we were successful in increasing sports participation in London over the long term but recent studies have shown that in the short term, grassroots participation in sport in East London rose between 5 and 10 per cent after the games and part of that we think was down to games-related initiatives,” Ms Theodoraki says.
“People are very quick to say whether one sporting event had a successful legacy or not but really it is very hard to judge,” she adds.
“In the London Olympics we had lots of problems with making the games ethical. We found out that the official Olympic T-shirts had been manufactured in sweatshop conditions in South-east Asia and Dow Chemicals, one of the companies linked with the Bhopal gas tragedy in India in 1984 was an Olympic sponsor,” Ms Theodoraki says.
“The Athens Olympics [in 2004] has been held up by the press as an event with a particularly bad legacy,” she adds.
“But what we really found from that was that they had very similar issues to London. The big difference was that the British were much better at managing their PR.”
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