Warning over apparent Qatar bid for 2025 World Cup

James Gordon
Khalifa Stadium could host Qatar 2025 World Cup

PA Images

The 2025 Rugby League World Cup could be facing a hat-trick of disasters, if the apparent interest from Qatar comes to fruition and the tournament is moved there.

The Arab nation emerged as an unlikely host to take over from France, when International Rugby League chief Troy Grant claimed there had been interest to take rugby league there for the first time.

What that interest entails remains open to conjecture – a well-sourced national newspaper journalist told me last week that despite making contact with a dozen people in or linked to Qatar, no one knew where this interest was coming from.

That may turn out to be a blessing in disguise for rugby league, which can ill-afford further embarrassment following the withdrawal of France from hosting the 2025 World Cup.

A u-turn in government funding is being blamed for the cancellation of the much-anticipated tournament, though there were concerns about whether they could make the tournament stack up financially and whether it was worth the risk. Although financial details won’t be released until later this year, it is thought that the World Cup in England last year fell well below its targets, having been heavily subsidised by a government grant.

France is the second failed host for 2025 after the initial decision to award hosting rights to North America. Those rights were stripped away due to financial concerns emanating from the doomed Denver test match between New Zealand and England, which left both governing bodies picking up a sizeable tab of lost revenue.

Money not a problem for Qatar

Cash wouldn’t appear to be a problem for Qatar, though rugby league’s crumbling image might be.

Qatar are believed to be keen to continue forging their presence on the global sporting landscape, with Grant claiming that two approaches from the Gulf nation combine state and public funding.

Although the 2022 FIFA World Cup was a relative success, football is a behemoth that cannot be compared to. Where the Rugby League World Cup actually sits on the global sporting landscape is another debate.

A more realistic comparison would be the 2019 World Athletics Championships, which saw the elite athletes in the world compete in front of empty stadiums.

British sprinter Dina Asher-Smith won a silver medal in the 100m, but there were barely 1,000 people inside the 40,000 Khalifa Stadium in Doha when she undertook a lap of honour.

This was an event that the IAAF (international athletics federation) took to Doha to try and spread the sport.

Guardian reporter Sean Ingle wrote: “Empty seats and ghostly silence have been the sad feature of this PR disaster for the sport, the IAAF, Lord Coe and Qatar.

“(Lord) Coe continues to maintain that track and field must venture into new territories to help spread the word. Tell that to the 1,972 athletes from 208 countries here in Doha. For many this will be the pinnacle of their careers. How sad, then, that it has turned into a nadir for their sport.”

As has been evidenced over the past decade or so, rugby league does tend to get weak at the knees when people with money come along (see also: David Argyle, Marwan Koukash).

Qatar is awash with cash, the sort that dwarfs anything that rugby league, certainly in the northern hemisphere, can imagine.

All it would take is one cash-rich Sheikh to fall in love.

It is no doubt the finance that will be the motivating factor to considering any bid from Qatar (whether interest is genuine and not just a PR stunt).

Ahead of the Athletics championship, Doha offered £23.5m towards extra sponsorship and promised to build 10 new tracks around the world to win the hosting rights ahead of Eugene and Barcelona.

They are unlikely to have to go to such lengths to persuade Rugby League World Cup chiefs to take the sport there.

More on the 2025 World Cup

Brian Carney dishes out international rugby league reality check after World Cup fiasco

The four countries to have shown interest in hosting the 2025 World Cup

What next for the World Cup after the cancellation of France 2025