The Al Janoub Stadium, the first sports facility to be commissioned for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, is now open to the public. Perhaps the stadium will not be remembered as the most brilliant project by Zaha Hadid Architects, but it is undoubtedly the most discussed and criticised by international media.
This structure will make history not for its design but for being an icon of what critics have described as the worst World Cup in history – and for having materialised many of the open questions of our time. These questions are not directly related to the ZHA studio, but they are issues that affect the world of architecture and the ethics of those who are part of it.
Migrant workers, mainly from India and Bangladesh, faced exploitation and death during the construction of facilities destined for the sport competition. In February 2014, Hadid attracted criticism by denying responsibility in her role as an architect in an interview with the Guardian: “What do I do about that? I'm not taking it lightly, but I think it’s for the government to look to take care of. It’s not my duty as an architect to look at it.” The Al Janoub Stadium is one of the case studies analysed by Who Builds Your Architecture?, a research by the homonymous New York architects and activists' collective that explores “links between labor, architecture and the global networks that form around building buildings”.
Another scandal is that related to the assignment of the World Cup to the Middle Eastern country, which was selected despite its summer climate being widely considered unsuitable for sporting competitions. Behind this decision is what the German investigative journalist Jens Weinreich called "the biggest corruption decision ever made in the history of sport," a story that led to the resignation of major officers of FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association), including the president Joseph Blatter.
The main feature of the stadium is therefore the possibility to completely close the roof, with a tensile structure designed by Schlaich Bergermann Partner that makes it possible to air condition the field and the stands. Despite this, it was decided to shift the competition for the first time in history to the winter months, thus allowing for mild and appropriate temperatures for the conduct of the sports show.
Women's rights should not be overlooked in connection with the 2022 FIFA World Cup and ZHA's Al Janoub Stadium, with women forced to wear clothing to “preserve Qatar’s culture and values”. “Female fans should not expect to be treated any differently than they normally would be in Qatar just because of the World Cup. In other words, gender inequalities will be in full force in 2022,” wrote American researcher Samantha Shapiro on a Duke University blog called Soccer Politics.
However, conditions in Qatar are much less restrictive than in other Middle Eastern countries. Director Jafar Panahi, awarded the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, in the film Offside tells the story of six young Iranian women who disguise themselves as men in order to see their national team play against the Bahrain representation. A more recent documentary, entitled World Cup in Qatar 2022, but not for women, explores the situation in Qatar and expresses the hope that the event will give an important boost to women's rights and women's football in Arab countries.
The premonition (or wish), is that the Al Janoub Stadium can become one of the main monuments of our time, to remind us of the decline of the starchitecture and all that it represents: a world with a glittering facade – obviously with complex glass and steel geometries – but that behind hide injustice, exploitation and inequality.