Inside USMNT’s ‘incredible’ Qatar hotel on a $15 billion man-made island

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DOHA, Qatar – The half-hour drive from the airport to the base of the United States Men’s National Team World Cup takes you past skyscrapers and then winds to the right on an exotic island which was once the sea.

Upon their arrival last weekend, the USMNT players walked past the marinas of The Pearl, Qatar’s most exclusive neighborhood. They drove to Porto Arabia and took a two-lane road with blue-green water on either side. They arrived at the Marsa Malaz Kempinski to find American flags flying and unparalleled luxury, an entertainment lounge and a private beach.

“Amazing,” midfielder Brenden Aaronson said of the accommodation. “It’s world class.”

Top soccer players, of course, are used to a certain degree of lavishness. But this hotel, the only World Cup hotel on an artificial island, staffed by American football staff eager to meet every conceivable need, is “one of the best”, said striker Tim Weah. Their living room includes big-screen TVs, PlayStation 5s, ping-pong tables, a pool table and putting green, the players said.

The larger hotel, meanwhile, presents itself as a “stately palace” that “exudes both Arabian and European elegance.” During the World Cup, a standard room costs $5,163 per night. The palace has an ornate spa, a huge “oyster chandelier” and marble throughout. It has seven restaurants and four bars; outdoor swimming pools and paddle courts. It is, in his own words, “an island of palatial grandeur”.

The USMNT specifically picked him and picked him up before the competitors could, more than two years before they even qualified for this World Cup. In September 2019, FIFA presented them and other nations with more than two dozen potential hotel and training ground pairings. Head coach Gregg Berhalter and longtime US Soccer administrative director Tom King narrowed the list down to three. They traveled to Qatar that month, shortly after friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay, to visit their favorite facilities. They settled on Al-Gharafa SC for football and preferably Marsa Malaz Kempinski for everything else.

King then sat down at a computer in early October and immediately rushed to open apps.

“It was important to try to get it right,” Berhalter said more than three years later at his first press conference here in Doha. “We’ve done a lot of work to make it accommodating, to create the kind of environment the players are used to. … We want to be here for a long time, so we want it to be comfortable for them.

A view of The Pearl Doha - Marsa Malaz Kempinski hotel, where the USA Men's National Team will be staying during the Qatar World Cup in Doha.  (Henry Bushnell/Yahoo <a class=Sports)” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/VC.AfoupxujICbVnEr529A–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU0MA–/https://s.yimg.com/os/creatr-uploaded-images/2022-11/4e7a1930-6751-11ed-bf9b-a0f80cb883be”/>

A view of The Pearl Doha – Marsa Malaz Kempinski hotel where the USA Men’s National Team will be staying during the Qatar World Cup in Doha. (Henry Bushnell/Yahoo Sports)

The 15 billion dollar pearl of Qatar

The Kempinski sits on an isolated extension of approximately 1,000 acres of land that two decades ago did not exist. The area was, at the time, “a sub-littoral mudflat inhabited by seagrass, algae, sponges, shrimp, worms, shells and snails”. In 2004, Qatar built a “cofferdam” and constructed “reclaimed land” both below and above sea level.

Eighteen years and around $15 billion later, The Pearl is Qatar’s premier destination for wealthy Westerners – tourists and expatriate residents. Its central artery, Pearl Boulevard, runs along man-made beaches and a promenade. There are canals meant to replicate Venice. There are Maserati dealerships and tanning salons – though the sun is almost always blazing. There are yacht clubs and neighborhoods with extravagant European names. There are high-end apartments and carefully maintained greenery.

There are other five-star hotels, not just the Kempinski, but this is the most prestigious of the group. From a distance, it appears to hover over the water, a few hundred meters out into the gulf, with the flags of the 32 nations participating in the World Cup planted around it. You can catch a glimpse as you walk around the grounds of Costa Malaz, but only through locked gates that lead to restricted, unused beaches.

The street that circles the island, separated by a bay, is quaint and peaceful, with a playground and borderline mansions. There is a hot chocolate truck and sports facilities. There are roundabouts and a three-tiered fountain that two workmen were tending to on a recent afternoon. And, of course, there is construction.

There have been allegations of forced labor and appalling working conditions at Kempinski, as in many places in Qatar. There were, according to The Guardian, excessive hours and wages below minimum wage – which itself is less than $1.50 an hour. The contrast with the luxury of the hotel was striking. Liverpool have reportedly rejected a chance to stay there through the 2019 Club World Cup, citing ethical concerns.

US Soccer, in part to ease its conscience, has hired a ‘compliance officer’, Lisa Saad, former executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, to oversee the hotel, its other suppliers here and their compliance practices. work. Saad, says US Soccer, “attends meetings with workers and management, visits worker accommodations and reviews audits produced by the Department of Labor.”

As journalist Grant Wahl has detailed, auditing the complex network of contractors and subcontractors who supply Qatari hotels and construction projects with migrant workers can be difficult. Less than a year before the World Cup, a security contractor was violating laws and workers’ rights. But US Soccer’s efforts appear to have brought change, while paving the way for relatively uncontroversial comfort.

This photo taken on October 15, 2022 shows a view of the lobby of The Pearl Doha - Marsa Malaz Kempinski hotel, which will serve as the base camp for the United States national soccer team during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 in the capital Doha.  (Photo by AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)

View of the lobby of the Marsa Malaz Kempinski Hotel – the base of the USMNT during the Qatar World Cup in Doha. (Photo by AFP via Getty Images)

We have everything we need’

When the first of 26 players arrived in Doha last Thursday, Berhalter advised them: “Unpack your things, put your books on the bookcase, put your clothes in the drawers, make yourself comfortable here.

Because it’s not a typical World Cup that requires travel within the country. Whereas in 2014, as defender DeAndre Yedlin said, “in Brazil you were flying three or four hours, so you didn’t really have a base – we had a base hotel, but it didn’t really look like at a base” – in Qatar, they will spend all the nights of their World Cup at the Kempinski.

Apart from their bus journeys to training and matches – all between 15 and 40 minutes – they will spend most of their hours there. Aaronson said he spent a day “playing a ton of pool.” The players’ lounge, built by US Soccer staff members prior to the team’s arrival, serves as a liaison and relaxation center. On Monday, Weah said, players curled up in blankets and watched the Netflix documentary “FIFA Uncovered.”

When asked what he thought of it, Weah realized he had found himself in an uncomfortable corner, given the subject of the documentary.

“Me personally, I didn’t watch it. I was concerned,” he said. “But, I mean – hey.” He smiled.

But the living room itself is more than comfortable. “Big couches, we were all laying there with blankets,” Weah said. “And it’s cool to be with everyone.”

“And our rooms are great. Our chiefs have done an exceptional job,” said midfielder Kellyn Acosta. “We have everything we need. It was awesome.

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