I was in the Gulf when the decision was announced. People offered commiserations over Australia’s defeat. But, of course, they were glad Qatar won. Qatar is precisely the kind of place to host a World Cup. It has plenty of money to build the stadiums, roads, and hotels. There won’t be any labour disputes or delays of the kind that plagued the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. It will be done to an extravagant budget and finished on time.
Qatar is a major oil producer. Its gas reserves dwarf those of Australia. The labour to do the construction will be mostly imported. Out of a population of about 2 million, only a minority are actually Qataris, and – along with Lichtenstein – they have the highest per capita income in the world. There is no tax in Qatar. The funds to host the event will come from the country’s oil and gas revenues, which are ultimately owned by the ruler, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani.
When Abu Dhabi decided to stage its formula one race, it developed a whole island – Yas Island – with hotels, marinas and permanent grandstands, at a cost estimated at $40 billion. Does that mean that Australia should pay a similar sum to stage its race? Not for a moment. If the oil-rich kingdom has that kind of money to spend, that is a matter for it. Many Australians will have the chance to go there and enjoy it. But we don’t have a spare $40 billion sitting around – not even for uncommercial projects such as the national broadband network.
There are benefits in promoting tourism to Australia, and major events such as the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games can draw in tourists. But I have never believed the claims that they run at a profit. Our best tourism campaign was Paul Hogan throwing another shrimp on the barbie. It cost so little that Hogan’s fee hardly troubled the Tax Office.
The recent visit of Oprah was a piece of sensational public relations. Time will tell whether it boosts visitor numbers. But for a week it put Australia right in the forefront of exposure to the world’s largest economy. The coverage was as sympathetic as you could imagine. It had a lot of stereotypes – crocodiles, snakes and the like – but that’s what tourists look for.
It helps to have our own famous people – Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe – promoting Australia in these programs and good on them for doing it. But one of our famous people who climbed on the bandwagon should not have been anywhere near the scene of the Opradulation.