In many ways, Qatar 2022 is considered one of the most controversial sports mega-events in recent history—enough of the competition for such a title, after all.
China has hosted the Olympics twice in the past 20 years, and Russia has already staged the Winter Games and the 2018 FIFA World Cup in the past decade.
While both countries have been accused of horrific human rights abuses – despite fears such events have been used to encourage autocratic regimes – Qatar has arguably sparked the most outrage and dismay during the 12 years since Fifa handed it the right to organize football’s biggest event.
Unlike China and Russia, Qatar is a crucial ally of the West, and it is reportedly the tenth largest landowner in the UK, owning Heathrow, Harrods, and the Shard, among others. It insists the UK is struggling with rising energy costs, so Qatar’s World Cup is unfair as it is an increasingly important gas supplier.
A ground-breaking tournament that should be celebrated and promises to be a spectacular first-ever Middle East World Cup. Sports will develop, inspire the youth, promote tourism, diversify the country’s economy, and promote sustainability, an event that welcomes all. It is also expected to prove a unifying force, with regional tensions partially easing, following Qatar’s neighbors’ lifting of an economic blockade last year.
There is no denying that the structure of this tournament was particularly worrying.
The bid and the fallout
With no history of World Cups and sweltering summer
There were deep doubts about how it had been won – as soon as disgraced former FIFA president Sepp Blatter announced Qatar’s victory in 2010 in the tiny desert kingdom. Organizers have always denied it, and allegations of corruption, vote-rigging, and links to trade deals at the highest levels of government remain unproven.
The 22 Fifa executive committee members that voted 12 years ago were suspended after a newspaper expose alleging the pair sought to cash in exchange for World Cup votes. As a result, most have since been
accused, banned, or indicted of corruption and wrongdoing, including two others already suspended.
As recently as 2020, three former senior FIFA officials were accused of taking bribes – as part of the FBI’s massive corruption probe into the governing body – by US prosecutors to vote in favor of Qatar.
Many people have decided that Qatar bought the World Cup despite FIFA clearing the country of corruption several years ago. Blatter has suggested the vote partly resulted from an arms deal
between the government and France.
Then there was the frustration caused by the subsequent rescheduling of the football calendar, the unprecedented upheaval the players had initially been told they would face, and concerns about how they and the fans would cope with the extreme summer temperatures. Security
operations in an Islamic country with strict alcohol rules and no experience of anything on this scale but cracking down on it during the European season have raised concerns about player welfare.
Environmental impact is another topic of the tournament. Despite being one of the world’s least sustainable countries, Qatar 2022 will have the highest carbon footprint of any World Cup. Despite claims that this will be the first ‘carbon neutral’ World Cup, experts now claim emissions will be three times higher than expected.
Organizers of the tournament point out that it will be held in a city and stress that sustainability is at the core of their sport, featuring electric buses and an off-setting and carbon credit program.
They also consider the legacy of the tournament’s eight stadiums. Seven new stadiums have been built. One stadium will be made from storage containers, Stadium 974, demolished after the game, and six others will be repurposed (some will become hotels or community centers).
There is also uncertainty about the fan experience in Qatar. Various types of accommodation are available such as apartments, hotels, desert camping, villas, fan villages, and even cabins on moored cruise ships.
But some fans have complained about limited and expensive
accommodation options. Thirty thousand extra hotel rooms will be made available, equivalent to a million nights, helping to provide 130,00 rooms for the event.
However, it remains to be seen whether that will be enough to meet demand.
Migrant worker deaths and LGBT fears
As well as discriminatory laws that ban homosexuality and curtail women’s freedoms through male guardianship laws, a persistent fear of the human toll involved in constructing such infrastructure in such a short period has hurt The show’s fame.
Since 2014, three ‘work-related’ deaths have occurred on actual stadium construction sites – and 37 off-site deaths unrelated to construction. The Supreme Committee promised to give priority to the welfare of workers.
The authorities insist that the figure is commensurate with the size of the migrant workforce. However, it is disputed and unclear whether that act was linked to the World Cup and how many of these deaths were act-related.
Human rights campaigners say thousands of deaths are unexplained because of a lack of investigation. The Guardian reported in 2016 that 6,500 migrant workers from five countries had died between 2010 and 2020, with natural causes accounting for 69% of the deaths among Indian, Nepalese, and Bangladeshi workers.
Promoters insist that the tournament will always be blood-soaked regardless of official figures or recent labor reforms.
The organizers have always maintained that all visitors are welcome regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexuality. While they have said they expect their laws and culture to be respected, many LGBT supporters say they haven’t received the assurances they need about safety. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly was criticized for urging gay fans to show some “flex and compromise.” As a result, the Sports Minister, Stuart Andrew, has sought assurances from Qatar’s authorities.
Can the World Cup bring social change?
Qatar 2022 will force the sport to reflect on how such events can bring about social change, compromise on the part of host countries – or those who visit them – and tensions that may arise as global events expand across borders.
It is hard to argue that hosting significant sports events in Russia and China, for instance, was a catalyst for change.
Despite the World Cup’s increased international scrutiny, most agree that the changes to Qatar’s labor system in recent years – including better protection for workers, minimum wages, and dismantling kafala sponsorship – were only possible because of the increased international scrutiny. Human rights groups also say these have not been fully implemented yet. And they are dismayed by the failure to set up a Migrant Worker Centre and a compensation fund for the families of those killed or injured.
Some politicians and fans have refused to visit Qatar on principle, and some European cities have canceled shows in public places due to
human rights abuses. However, many believe spotlighting conservative Muslim countries like these are a better way to win the World Cup. Despite this, many see it as hypocritical of Fifa to state non-discrimination in its statutes and then award the World Cup to hosts where some people can’t be themselves under the law.
Would it not be better, it is often asked, for equal rights to be a condition of staging such events – or at least considered? For example, it did not evaluate Qatar’s bid in 2010 in terms of worker or human rights. Should demands over protections not have been put in place then?
‘Focus on football.’
Some of the game’s most prominent names have gotten involved in these debates because of the emotions swirling around this event.
For instance, former England defender Gary Neville has been criticized for agreeing to commentate at the World Cup for a Qatar-owned TV network. Meanwhile, David Beckham accepted a lucrative ambassadorship role for the event, attracting similar criticism from fellow Manchester United legend Eric Cantona.
While Fifa meanwhile, suggested competing teams stay focused on football rather than getting entangled in political or ideological arguments.
Russia is already banned, and Iran is also being called to be excluded, whose drones are believed to be used by Moscow to terrorize Ukrainians. After a young woman was killed in the custody of the morality police, the state crackdown on protesters.
In the meantime, Fifa was unsure how and where to draw the line in light of the many teams taking sides via videos, training tops, and armbands. No country can be perfect. As well as the football confederations of Asia and South America, its stance was supported by the United Nations.
Nevertheless, the 10 European football associations said in a joint statement that FIFA’s request that teams remain silent seems increasingly unrealistic when players are seen to express their human rights on social and political issues as universal, increasingly interesting, and inevitable.
As it always seems, the hosts will be banking on the narrative changing – once the action gets going. Could this be an example of ‘sports washing’ – an attempt to portray the country as prosperous and powerful through sport? Would such an approach backfire?
First, Covid, then the war in Ukraine. Much of the world’s attention has shifted elsewhere in the past two years. Tournament organizers have denied that since the tournament began in recent weeks, there has been a barrage of negative headlines ranging from fans being paid to ‘spy’ on their friends to reports of covert hacking operations.
The increasingly agitated Qatari authorities, perhaps also fueled by racism, are beginning to suggest that their critics are not just hypocrites. ‘Expect Amazing’ was the motto of their bid team in 2010.
Maybe they didn’t expect that a winning vote would bring constant scrutiny.
After a decade of controversy, it will be genuinely excellent if this World Cup eventually is remembered more for the football than for the ferocious duststorm that preceded it.