Disclaimer: This article shares the controversies that were a result of the 2022 World Cup being hosted in Qatar. Views expressed around Qatar’s social and political atmosphere are those of the individual writer.
The action-packed, controversial 2022 World Cup, hosted by Qatar, a hot, desert country with a population of about 2.7 million people, recently concluded in December. Many criticized the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), the World Cup organizers, for deciding to host the World Cup in Qatar. The controversy first arose after Qatar bribed FIFA to retain hosting privileges, and only escalated as the media covered the lack of human rights for Qatari people, deaths of migrant workers in the stadium building process, and the ban of alcohol in stadiums.
According to the New York Times, in an indictment the United States Department of Justice accused representatives working for Russia and Qatar of bribing FIFA officials to host the World Cup in Qatar. U.S. prosecutors claimed that five members of FIFA were bribed to vote for Qatar in 2010, when FIFA voted to determine which country would host both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. That vote was sent to a runoff after two members were caught on film agreeing to sell their votes. During a 2017 corruption trial, Alejandro Burazco, a former Argentine television executive, stated that three FIFA officials had been paid off to vote for Qatar. The country of Qatar denies any allegations of corruption.
This is not the first time FIFA has been accused of accepting bribes, as they were also accused of accepting bribes from Russia for the 2018 World Cup hosting bid. Calvin Birmingham, a varsity soccer player at Franklin, states that this situation “really sheds light on FIFA’s unethical [conduct] and how they chose to put the World Cup in Qatar.”
Another criticism of the host country is that Qatar does not offer many basic human rights to its citizens. For example, Qatar law prohibits criticism of the amir (the monarch and head of the country) and destruction of the Qatari flag. The Qatari government also controls all media, including newspapers and radio, in the country which prevents the public from receiving accurate, unbiased information.
Additionally, there are severe violations of women’s rights in Qatar. For instance, in court, male relatives generally represent their female family members and judges weigh a woman’s testimony as one-half that of a man’s. Qatar law does not allow adult women to leave the house without a guardian’s permission, single women under 25 are not allowed to travel outside of the country without the permission of their male guardian, women must present a marriage certificate to receive maternity care, and women who give birth out of wedlock receive a 12-year jail sentence and may be subject to corporal punishments and deportations. Many criticized FIFA for allowing the World Cup to be held in a country that does not have basic women’s rights because it shows that FIFA does not value women’s rights.
Furthermore, same-sex sexual relations are prohibited and are punishable with jail time. Homosexuality is punishable by death, although there have not been any reports of executions due to this. Many LGBTQ people in Qatar have to hide their identity and there are no legally allowed LGBTQ advocacy organizations.
According to Vox, during the World Cup, Qatar told fans they could not wear rainbow shirts and they banned teams from wearing “one love” armbands, threatening that they would give teams yellow cards if they wore the armbands. All teams at the World Cup complied with this rule. Birmingham discussed his dismay with the U.S. team’s response to these anti-LGBTQ rules by noting that the U.S. team could have shown their support by wearing armbands or taking a knee before the game but “that aspect wasn’t present, which [he] was disappointed in.”
Franklin social studies teacher, Mark Zimtbaum, stated in an interview that, “Western countries [criticizing Qatar’s lack of human rights] is kind of a double standard,” citing that the U.S. “has a high number of people in prison for minor [charges] and [our country] just took away an aspect of women’s reproductive rights.” He went on to say that “there are a lot of sexist discriminatory things we can point to that say [the U.S.] shouldn’t ever get [to host] a sporting event. I think it helps bring [Qatar] into the world community.”
“Western European countries tend to dominate [these sporting events]. Half the point of going to [the World Cup] is to explore cultural identities, and I think Qatar kind of got a short straw on the fact that they focus so much on human rights’ abuses, which deserves some light to be shown on them, but also the culture and the beauty of the Qatar people and country were never really highlighted,” stated Zimtbaum. He wishes that Qatar could have had more of a chance to show off their natural pride and country, in a way they did not have the opportunity to do because of how harshly they were judged by the Western media. Zimtbaum further observed how hosting the World Cup should be an opportunity to “highlight some of the positives of the country” and Qatar was not able to do so. Zimtbaum adds, “there’s a nomadic history lifestyle that could have been explored deeper.”
Another major complaint brought against FIFA and Qatar was Qatar’s abuse against the workers who built the stadiums. When they initially won the bid to host the World Cup, Qatar did not have enough stadiums to host it so they brought in many immigrants and workers to rapidly build the stadiums. Many migrant workers died during the construction of the World Cup stadiums, although the actual number of deaths is unknown, ranging anywhere from 37 to over 6,500. According to TIME magazine, many human rights groups believe that the death toll is in the thousands. According to a 2016 report by Amnesty International, a metalworker who worked on the stadiums said that working there is “like a prison.” The metalworker complained of being forced to work long hours in extreme heat and being told he would suffer consequences if he complained.
People also complained about the heavy restriction of alcohol from the World Cup stadiums. Qatar is ruled by a monarchy and under its interpretation of Islamic law the sale of alcohol is restricted. Sales points of beer were removed from outside the stadium and only non-alcoholic beer was sold in the stadium. Beer at soccer games has been a long-standing tradition, so people were outraged when this ban was announced just two days before the World Cup began. According to NBC news, the Football Supporters’ Association, a group covering football fans in England and Wales, opined that, “if they can change their minds on this at a moment’s notice, with no explanation, supporters will have understandable concerns about whether they will fulfill other promises relating to accommodation, transport, or cultural issues.” Their main complaint was how soon before the event FIFA and Qatar changed their decision regarding alcohol. Zimtbaum observed that “we believe in the equality of women, which I definitely agree with and respect, but it seems like as guests of [other countries] we should have respected the ideas that alcohol shouldn’t have been there.”
Lastly, FIFA was criticized for holding the World Cup in Qatar because it is a country without a deep history of soccer. This World Cup was the first time Qatar had ever qualified, and it failed to advance past the group stage. Birmingham agreed with that complaint: “we’ve had countries like Brazil host in the past, and this makes sense because Brazil has always been like a clear World Cup contender, but throwing the bid to Qatar doesn’t make any sense because it doesn’t have that history of being a World Cup superpower.” However, some argue that allowing smaller countries, like Qatar, to host helps grow the international soccer community.
Overall, this World Cup brought to light FIFA’s unethical conduct, because they willingly accepted bribes to host the World Cup in a country lacking basic human rights and a country not equipped to host the World Cup. The unpreparedness of Qatar to host the World Cup led to the death of many migrant workers as they worked to rapidly build the stadiums. Hopefully, FIFA will learn its lesson after this World Cup and choose host countries that offer their citizens basic human rights.