Thousands of people died building the World Cup infrastructure. Still, the country refuses to acknowledge its wrong-doings—is it then worthy of hosting such a significant event?
Global sporting events have often been the ground for contentious political statements. Given their magnanimity, they provide the ideal platform to spread a message. In 1968, athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their black-gloved fists during the national anthem in a black power salute. They aimed to turn the world’s attention to racial inequality and got a lot of mixed reactions at the time for doing so. Another popular footballer who stood against the racial divide was Colin Kaepernick. He kneeled during the national anthem, refusing to “show pride” for the USA flag because he wanted to draw attention to the country’s oppressing black people.
Like most sporting events, the ongoing FIFA (Federation Internationale de Association Football) World Cup 2022 in Qatar is not exempt from controversy. This World Cup is especially important for football fans, as it is likely to be the last one for the two sports legends, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. It is also important because of its location. Qatar is the first Arab nation to hold this grand sporting event, but the country is notorious for violating human rights and ill-treating workers. Here’s a look at why Qatar hosting the World Cup 2022 is problematic.
But first, how did Qatar even win the world cup deal?
Given that host countries are decided well in advance, Qatar scored the deal back in 2010. Some claim that bribery and corruption got Qatar the opportunity to play host to the World Cup in 2022. The choice was made—aptly enough—by FIFA official Sepp Blatter who was removed from his position in 2015 because of bribery charges.
What baffled people more was how a small Gulf nation with little space to accommodate millions of sports aficionados and numerous football players could manage to handle it all. It had no prior experience, and its weather makes it unsuitable for playing in the summer. Yet, lo and behold, here we are, viewing the World Cup in Qatar as local businesses make the most of this opportunity.
Why is it problematic?
In 2010, when the country received the green light for hosting the World Cup, Qatar barely had any infrastructure to support an event of such a grand scale. So, it got to work, bringing on thousands of laborers to build seven new stadiums, roads, hotels and an airport. These laborers were exploited, ignored and housed in dangerous conditions.
Many of them had to surrender their passports to their employers or agencies when they reached Doha in Qatar. Their freedom was kept snugly in the hands of crooked managers, which shined some light on the gruesome human rights violations plaguing the development of World Cup infrastructure.
In addition to that, long working hours, less than promised—and even unpaid—wages and poor working conditions (which sometimes resulted in deaths and injuries), and you have a cocktail of disasters.
If that wasn’t enough, Qatar made sure to take extra measures to prevent any player from taking a stand about these issues. The country threatened players with a yellow card if they chose to don armbands that promoted inclusion and defied oppression. That didn’t stop teams from planning subtle protests though. For instance, Denmark’s kit provider Hummel chose to design toned-down t-shirts so as to not be “visible” at a tournament that has cost thousands of migrant workers’ lives. Some teams, like those of Australia and England, are also using covert tactics to protest against the country’s rigid stance on same-sex relationships.
Some even saw Qatar hosting the World Cup as the nation engaging in “sportswashing”, i.e., using sports to boost its reputation. Given that fans form an emotional connection with the games and teams, host nations, like Qatar, hope that fans also form such bonds with the countries. It’s a shady reputation management tactic, but fans don’t really care about that.
Is it all entirely Qatar’s fault?
Not really. The reason it got the World Cup hosting gig through allegedly deceitful means is that FIFA allowed it. FIFA has been faced with multiple bribery and corruption allegations over the past decades. Moreover, the ideologies of the federation and Qatar are similar. Both have warned players against using the event as a way to express their ideological or political sentiments.
By staying silent on human rights issues that are on the players’ and the world’s minds, FIFA has poised itself as part of the problem. This is further affirmed by the federation’s letter to players before the tournament, asking them to focus on football and ignore any social issues associated with Qatar. Despite the tournament’s reach, FIFA noted in a letter, “Once the World Cup rolls out of town, are we still going to be having conversations about Qatar? I don’t think we are.”
This statement reveals everything wrong with global organizations today: ignorance, complacency and the attitude that things only matter if they are involved. Rest assured, conversations about Qatar have been going on for decades and will continue even after FIFA ends.
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