When Qatar was announced as the 2018 FIFA World Cup host, citizens of Doha took to the streets to celebrate the first World Cup to be staged in the Arab world.
Nonetheless, the 2010 decision was met with immediate backlash from a variety of quarters who voiced concerns about human rights abuses, bribery and corruption among FIFA officials who voted for Qatar, and the difficulty of holding a sporting event in a country where summer temperatures regularly top 100 degrees.
Now, with only a few days till the start of the World Cup, the Gulf country is bracing for the influx of over a million supporters. More than a billion people will watch each of the 64 games in the tournament. Still, the debates haven’t died down.
Recently, even FIFA’s former leader admitted that they made a mistake by picking Qatar.
“Ultimately, that decision was a poor one. As president at the time, I had to take the blame for that “said Sepp Blatter, whose tenure as FIFA president was cut short by a corruption scandal in 2015.
Poor infrastructure and the loss of life among migrant laborers.
Qatar, the world’s smallest country, hosted the World Cup in 2022, despite lacking the infrastructure needed to host the world’s largest sporting event.
Only 4,471 square miles in size, Qatar is significantly less than Connecticut by about 20%. The majority of the country’s 2.8 million people lives in and around Doha, the country’s capital and largest city.
When Qatar was chosen in 2010, it lacked several of the arenas, hotels, and roadways necessary to host the event. To build them, the country turned to its massive population of migrant workers, who make up 90% or more of its labor force. (Only roughly a third of the population of Qatar actually has Qatari citizenship. They are vastly outnumbered by migrant workers whose permits are tied to the jobs they take. (This is a widespread practice in the Middle East.)
Migrant workers were regularly subjected to exploitative and unsafe working and living situations. More than 6,500 migrant laborers from five south Asian nations had perished in Qatar since 2010 due to heat-related illness, job accidents, car accidents, and suicides, according to a 2021 investigation by the Guardian.
“Stadium construction workers who collapsed and were afterwards removed from the site are among them. Some of the employees on the company bus were killed in traffic accidents on the route to work. And many others in their work camps mysteriously perished “In an interview from last year with NPR, Pete Pattison, one of the reporters on the project, said:
That figure is contested by FIFA and Qatar. Qatar claims that just three workers’ deaths can be directly attributed to their work on World Cup construction sites, while acknowledging an additional 37 “non-work-related” deaths.
Additionally, Qatar portrays the World Cup as a “great opportunity to increase welfare standards,” and officials claim that working conditions have improved for workers since the country was chosen to host the tournament. New safeguards for workers were established in 2014 under a new set of Workers’ Welfare Standards (although advocates say the new regulations are not always enforced).
In May, a coalition of human rights groups called on FIFA and Qatar to create a solution fund – a pool of money that may be used to pay migrant workers, along with the families of those who died, for abuses faced while building stadiums and other infrastructure necessary for the World Cup.
It has been suggested that the fund’s total size should equal or exceed $440 million, the same amount awarded to the winners of the 2018 World Cup.
“We don’t think athletes would be interested in playing in stadiums where people lost their lives during construction. We believe that fans don’t want to stay in hotels or use metros that people died to build,” said Minky Worden, the director of global programs at Human Rights Watch, one of the organizations advocating for the cash.
Other human rights problems
Human rights abuses are a larger problem than how employers treat migrant employees. ‘In a word, the human rights situation in Qatar is awful,’ Worden said NPR.
Human Rights Watch published a 42-page study this week outlining “the myriad human rights concerns surrounding Qatar’s preparations for the 2022 World Cup,” and urged journalists to broaden their coverage beyond sport.
Qatar’s criminal code makes having sexual relations outside of marriage a punishable offense, which has resulted in the prosecution of rape victims. Furthermore, homosexuality is practically criminalized; having sex with another man is punishable by up to seven years in prison, and males who “instigate” or “entice” another man to perform “an act of sodomy or immorality” face one to three years in prison.
An official from Qatar’s World Cup bid team recently gave an interview to a German television, where he referred to homosexuality as “damage in the psyche.”
“Importantly, everyone here will be fine with them coming. On the other hand, they’ll have to play by our guidelines “ex-Qatari national team player and current ambassador Khalid Salman made this statement. The United States State Department was among the many western governments to strongly denounce the remarks.
LGBTQ persons in Qatar are allegedly subjected to conversion therapy, official harassment, and incarceration, according to advocates.
Dr. Nasser Mohamed, who was raised in a very conservative culture in Qatar, said of his fear of persecution for his worst orientation, “The fear is so, so genuine.” He sought refuge in the United States.
The Qatari embassy told NPR that the “safety of all visitors is of the utmost importance” to the host country and that Qatar is a “relatively conservative society.”
When it comes to the World Cup, “everyone will be welcome in Qatar,” the statement said. To paraphrase, “We simply ask all visitors to appreciate and respect our culture, just as they would if traveling elsewhere in the region and around the world.”
Allegations of bribery and corruption
accusations of bribery and corruption have haunted Qatar’s selection as World Cup host ever since the country was chosen.
Following a series of voting by FIFA officials, the winner was proclaimed in 2010. In the end, Qatar’s proposal was successful over that of the United States, South Korea, Japan, and Australia.
Over the years, numerous FIFA and non-FIFA officials have been accused of taking or offering bribes to steer the World Cup to Qatar.
According to James Montague, a journalist who has written about Qatar and the World Cup, in an interview with NPR’s Throughline, “there have been just so many allegations of corruption against the Qatari bid,” referring to political machinations in the form of government deals, gas deals between countries that would have a vote on who would host the World Cup finals.
About a dozen FIFA executives, including former president Sepp Blatter, were involved in the selection process and have subsequently been banned from the organization or indicted on corruption charges. Michel Platini, a French soccer legend and the former leader of European soccer, was arrested in 2019 as part of an investigation into a $2 million payment related to his attempts to bring the World Cup to Qatar. Both Blatter and Platini have repeatedly denied any misconduct.
After an investigation by FIFA in 2014 cleared Qatari officials of wrongdoing, the event went on as planned.
The November schedule has put a strain on many players
The summertime is when the World Cup is often held. With the oppressive summer heat and humidity in Qatar, the event was postponed until November. (The games will also be held in air-conditioned arenas.)
Significant changes have been made to the schedules of professional soccer leagues because of the timing. This is notably true in Europe, where most leagues normally operate from late summer through the following spring. Professional leagues including England’s Premier League, Germany’s Bundesliga, and Spain’s La Liga have all planned two-month pauses to accommodate the World Cup.
According to a new research by FIFPRO, the union that represents 65,000 players throughout the world, this tight scheduling has resulted in “unprecedented workload pressures” on players.
The survey indicated that the average number of days for preparation and recovery for Premier League players for a summer World Cup was 31 and 37, respectively. The labor organization claims that this year’s total prep and recovery time was seven to eight days.
An ominous threat to player health and performance is posed by “overlapping tournaments, successive back-to-back matches, extreme weather conditions, a limited preparation period, and insufficient recovery time,” according to the research.
Injury is “very high” for players in the cup, according to Darren Burgess, a FIFPRO consultant and exercise scientist.