Last Sunday, the 20th of November, was a festive day for football fans worldwide. The long-awaited 2022 FIFA World Cup kicked off Its opening match between the host country Qatar and Ecuador. Not only does this mark the first-ever winter World Cup in sports history, but it is the first time the tournament is held on the Arab Peninsula. Let alone for the trivia; the FIFA tournament attracts great general media attention. As some people might imagine, the headlines of current articles and broadcasts should relate to the tournament predictions, best bets, and odds, and football fandoms being passionate and festive about the future winners getting closer to winning the 18-karat gold FIFA World Cup Trophy.
However, the reality differs quite drastically. The keywords surrounding typically a fun-fueled game that brings people together tend to be “Sportswashing,” “Football Corruption,” “Stadiums of Shame,” “Funeral World Cup,” and “Repulsive True Crime Show.” Thus, in the upcoming weeks of the tournament, whistles will be blown, but they will echo concerns over basic human rights, football corruption, and the dire cost of hosting the mega event by Qatar at the expense of blood, sweat, and tears of migrant workers.
How did the oil-rich small country even get to host the biggest football tournament with 32 teams competing for the world football leadership? It all dates back to 2010 when the Royal Family of Qatar met the eighth FIFA president Sepp Blatter announcing Qatar winning the bid with claps and ovations. It seems odd that the country that had never qualified itself to play for finals, nor was famous for being a football warehouse, unlike its rival bid, the U.S., got 14 votes to eight. The fact that 16 men out of 22 votes who got to decide where the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups would have taken place were accused of corruption and ethical violations by FBI investigators sparks even more suspicion over the scandalous football event. The series of investigations and allegations from the U.S Department of Justice, FBI, and private human rights investigators claimed that Qatar winning the right to host World Cup could be linked to bribery and ethical wrongdoings in the voting process. Even though in 2017 FIFA published a report that found the voting process hardly flawed, it is still remarkable that FIFA is a federation infamous for its high-position officials’ (Sepp Blatter and Jack Warner) wrongdoings during their tenure.
Besides the above-mentioned ambiguous factors that are still up for discussion and future investigation, there is still sufficient evidence that indicates holding the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar deems problematic. The country that is rich in sand and rocky deserts has an unfavourably humid and hot climate for football games and has challenges in accommodating football fans and official guests. Qatar had to splurge an unsustainable amount of money on World Cup preparations which amounted to more than 200 billion dollars. They had to build an entirely new city of Lusail, construct eight stadiums and roads, extend its airport and build new roads for commuters to stadiums. The question is not only to what extent this sport event is sustainable, but we should put the true ethical cost of building the facilities uppermost.
Despite being one of the wealthiest nations, wealth distribution in Qatar is exceptionally unfair and polarized. Out of 2.9 million residents of the state, 90% of the workforce is estimated to be migrant workers, usually from Bangladesh, Nepal, and India. Even though slavery was banned in Qatar in 1952, the country practices the sponsorship system, known as “Kafala” system. Workers from low-income households move to Qatar through recruitment agencies in their home countries, hoping for better wages and economic soothing for their poverty-stricken families. However, the reality they face differs drastically. They are frequently deprived of primary healthcare, water, and healthy accommodation.
Furthermore, their “sponsor” takes away their passport, which removes their freedom to stop working even when the working conditions pose substantial health hazards to their lives. 6500 migrant workers have died since World Cup was awarded to Qatar. Most of these workers moved to Qatar because the country undertook the vast building plan for FIFA 2022, and the high demand for workers looked promising. However, the country’s official data indicates that only 37 workers were linked to FIFA 2022 building sites, and only three deaths were work-related. However, in this discussion, Qatari officials refuse to perform autopsies. On these documents, respiratory complications or heart failures of the migrant workers are recognized as natural causes of their death.
Meanwhile, the migrant workers’ families who are left in dire poverty, often unable to pay back the loans they needed to lend for sending their family members abroad, are demanding justice from afar. Whereas, within the country amid an absolute monarchy under which freedom of speech and a right to protest is not granted to citizens, migrant workers are arrested and deported for protesting dire working conditions. Amnesty International demands that “FIFA should earmark at least $440 million to provide a remedy for the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who have suffered human rights abuses in Qatar during preparations for the 2022 World Cup,”. The president of FIFA is planning to work on a remediation program with Qatar. While the guest-workers; families are grieving their loved one’s tragic and inhumane death, the Gulf state is offering to pay hundreds of millions for celebrity endorsement. The royal family has recently provided David Beckham with a 150 million deal for his ambassadorial role to promote World Cup.
The safety of migrant workers is under threat in Qatar, and the LGBTQ+ football lover community does not feel welcome. Under Qatari legislation and Sharia law, same-sex relationships are immoral, with a punishment of imprisonment or even the death penalty. Many local LGBTQ+ community members have been beaten up, detained, and harassed by the Preventive Security Departments of the Interior Ministry. Due to the notorious LGBTQ+ intolerance, some football fans are skipping the tournament as same-sex couples might risk facing “gay bashing” from Qatari residents. During the ongoing match, Qatar is complying with FIFA values and is trying to be inclusive. Therefore, the pride flags are displayed at the football tournament. However, outside the well-monitored and guarded place, the inhumane treatment of LGBTQ+ people remains unchanged. “We do this work because we want to make sure that everybody can be free to be who they are, and if you’re a Qatari and you’re not able to, then it just feels like window dressing,” says Chris Paouros, a member of the English Football Association’s inclusion advisory board. Even some footballers do feel concerned about Qatar hosting the tournament. Josh Cavallo, an Australian gay footballer who came out around a year ago and remained the only openly gay top-flight football player in the world, worries about LGBTQ+ people in Qatar who feel scared to walk the streets.
Millions of visitors are currently visiting Qatar for the World Cup 2022. The visitors enjoy their alcohol-free beers at the stadiums built with massive funds of billions of dollars. The rainbow flags are being modestly waved; the football stars are doing their best to get the world scale “W.” However, not everyone shares the same excitement about the game. While Dutch bank ING stopped sponsoring any World Cup Campaigns, Sony is refusing to extend Its sponsorship deal with FIFA. Human rights activists are also looking closely at LGBTQ+ and workers’ rights violation cases. The media is finally giving enough attention to “modern slavery,” under which discriminated workers are not even granted valid death certificates.
Amidst the debates about the major human rights violations by the Qatari government, FIFA is facing challenges in protecting its reputation. Many football fans are currently boycotting the World Cup. The sport’s governing body is expected to manage its corruption and sports-washing scandals before it can claim that football is the game for all again.