By: Jocelyn Knorr
**For sake of consistency and international standardization, the word “football” here refers to the sport that the United States calls “soccer.”**
The FIFA World Cup is a quadrennial football competition, in which countries fight tooth and nail to even qualify. It’s an incredible honor to win, and even more of an honor to host—not to mention it’s incredibly profitable. So, it came as a shocking surprise when Qatar, a Middle Eastern country smaller than the state of Connecticut, was awarded the 2022 competition.
Before 1971, Qatar was a nation largely built off of pearl diving and trade. Then, oil and natural gas was found in the little peninsula, rocketing it to international wealth, a coup in 1972 cementing the monarchy. It’s 2008 bid for hosting was described by the country as an attempt to humanize it—get away from oil, sharia law, and its relationship with neighboring Iran. Because of this, Qatar has been accused of sportswashing.
The bid was off to a rocky start—in 2009, a delegate from FIFA, Harold Mayne-Nicholls, visited the country to inspect its infrastructure. His report was a resounding no—Qatar was too small, and was a sweltering 120ºF during the traditional World Cup window of June-July (an issue that has been “solved” by pushing it to the middle of the traditional football season, a massive upset to the schedule that has caused injury, disruption, and lost wages for those whose salaries depend upon the game). Not only did it lack a football stadium, but hotels, highways, and an airport too. Qatar countered with plans for stadiums and hotels, and a proposition to push the tournament back six months. The council was convinced, and in 2010 Qatar was confirmed as host for the 2022 World Cup. Al-Jazeera, a Qatari media company owned by the king, had started broadcasting news of the victory six hours earlier.
All was not well within FIFA, however; before the year was out, every single official who voted on the Qatar decision would be investigated for, or convicted of, corruption. 2 members had already been banned from voting because of an attempt to sell their votes; the US Justice department accused 3 South American officials of accepting 7-figure bribes from the Qatari government. Sepp Blattman, president of FIFA at the time, has been banned from ever holding an administration position within football for the rest of his life.
Nevertheless, the decision held, and Qatar embarked on a massive nation-building project, the likes of which the country had never before seen. To achieve all this, Qatar began recruiting foreign workers; workers from places like Uruguay and Pakistan poured in by the thousands. Qatar has a population of over 2 million, but only 15% of those people are citizens. Instead, the country depends upon foreign labor to keep the economy moving.
Conditions are awful; workers sleep in cramped conditions, passports are held by employers, and they are forbidden to leave or change jobs without the consent of their employers. Many of these migrant workers are in construction, working for over 18 hours a day to build Qatar’s stadiums and hotels; they are making barely 13 USD an hour.
More than 6,500 of these workers have died in the sweltering heat, among them a man named Mosharraf Hossen. He moved from Bangladesh to Qatar in 2014, getting a job working on a stadium to support his family. He died in 2018, collapsing when temperatures reached upwards of 115º; the Qatari government has denied this, and has put ‘cardiac arrest’ on his death certificate. The family has now been left without a way to earn money.
Qatari officials have stated that, more often than not, compensation is received in labor disputes, and the country will not take “destructive criticism” from outside observers. “The World Cup is a stage that will end in [December], but our laws are ongoing and being developed and we don’t implement them [only] for the World Cup.” said Qatar’s Assistant Undersecretary of Labor, Mohamed al-Obaidly.
There are other human rights issues to take into account, as well; namely the treatment of women and gay men. Female citizens of Qatar need to get permission from a male guardian for just about everything, even after a divorce. Pregnant attendees have been advised to be prepared to show a marriage certificate if medical care is necessary, and there have been repeated cases of sexual assaults on women going not only unpunished, but the women being penalized for “fornication outside of marriage.”
As for homosexuality, it’s punishable by jail time—and even the death penalty for Muslims. The Qatari officials have made attempts at sweeping these laws under the rug; despite this, Khalid Salmen, a Qatari football player turned FIFA ambassador, has been quoted as saying that “homosexuality is damage in the mind.” He has been defended fiercely, with Qatar stating that these laws are part of the country’s “conservative values.”
In light of these policies, female fans are being advised by human rights groups to proceed with extreme caution, and LGBTQ fans have been advised to cancel their tickets altogether.
The Qatari government has also been rumored to be using fake fans as a surveillance tactic; allegedly, these are paid plants meant to create atmosphere and hype up the crowd artificially. If this is true, they also serve the secondary function of sniffing out and reporting anti-Qatar sentiment on social media. Qatar has responded to these rumors with a statement from the Qatar World Cup 2022 Supreme Committee; “Fans from all over the world — many of whom have made Qatar their home — have contributed to the local atmosphere recently, organizing fan walks and parades throughout the country, and welcoming the various national teams at their hotels. Numerous journalists and commentators on social media have questioned whether these are ‘real’ fans. We thoroughly reject these assertions, which are both disappointing and unsurprising.”
Taken altogether, these issues with the World Cup have left many fans upset and disquieted. Miles Robinson, a freshman at Highland, and Mary Steffy, a teacher here, have been kind enough to speak to me about their feelings on the matter.
Miles Robinson is a freshman here—the MVP and captain of the Highland freshman football team, this sport is a large part of his life. He’s supporting the Dutch team this year, with USA and France as a close second (allez les Bleus!) Outside of World Cup season, he follows almost every league imaginable—including USA’s MLS, the English Premier League, and Germany’s Bundesliga.
“It shouldn’t be there. Honestly, FIFA was 100% bribed for it to be there. If you look at the infrastructure that was there before 2010, it was minimal at best; they had one major stadium, and had to build nine more. Close to 7,000 workers died building those stadiums. They had so few people in the country, they had to get thousands of migrant workers to build (them). They spent over 200 billion US dollars on infrastructure— they had to build cities, build railroads. They spent way, way too much money and time preparing.
“Not to mention the fact that this World Cup had to be moved to November as opposed to the summer. If a World Cup has to be moved, should it be held in that country? The FIFA World Cup is a staple of the summers. Most professional leagues’ seasons go from August to May—holding this in the summer means that most of the teams’ best players are either going to be tired or injured. France are one of the favorites to win this year, and they have five starting players out with major injuries, because this is the middle of their season. This gives less talented teams an advantage.”
The news coming out of Qatar of human rights and climate problems has even driven some people to a boycott—people like Madame Mary Steffy, another person kind enough to speak to me about their views. She’s a French and AVID teacher here at Highland Park Senior High; not a football fan, as a rule, the one exception being the World Cup. This year, she would be supporting the French national team, famously nicknamed “les Bleus”—she’s Luxembourgish, but the country is too small to support a national team, or indeed a league at all. She found out about the human rights abuses largely via Francophone news sources.
“Monsieur Curry and I follow a lot of online sites, and there was a lot shared—most of Paris and a lot of larger cities in France, for example, are not, on public television, showing any of the games. So we started reading all about it; I had heard some things, even, in the last couple of years about the construction going on in Qatar, and how so many young men had been dying and getting their bodies sent home with [death certificates] saying they had died of natural causes when that was not, in fact, true. The conditions were appalling—it was hot, there was no food or water, [employers] would take their passports, there were injuries; there were just a lot of human rights issues that I became aware of.
“I also became aware, in the past few months, of all the climate issues. When you host a large event like this—even the Olympics—it’s terrible for the planet in general, but Qatar had promised that this was going to be the ‘greenest’ World Cup ever. They really greenwashed it, and that has not happened.”
This is largely a France-based movement, but for Mme Steffy, it’s not a large group effort; it’s just about showing Qatar that they don’t want a World Cup that has been built by the blood of the workers.
“I don’t want to give any of my time, money, energy or attention to a country that has such appalling abuses of people coming in—actually about 90% of their society—and their stance on the LGBTQ community, whom any association with is punishable by death, even for visitors there. I personally, refuse to give them my time, money, or attention; which is what they get when I watch.”
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