The World Cup of Controversy
From being awarded the bid for the World Cup in 2010 to its last-minute preparations, Qatar has been subject to a number of allegations of corruption and human rights violations questioning its suitability as a host country for FIFA’s 2022 iteration of the world-famous football tournament. The 2022 Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup is set to kick-off on November 20th, being the first world cup to be hosted in the Middle East as well as in the winter season. However, the Persian Gulf country’s milestones have been overshadowed by a series of controversies that continue to see the light of the day.
Bribery and Corruption
Qatar was accused of buying the votes of several FIFA executives involved in selecting future host countries in 2010. Having never qualified in a tournament themselves and being ranked 113th in the world, it came as a surprise to see that the country had ranked near the top of the bidding list for FIFA’s next World Cups, beating high-market destinations like the United States and Japan among others. Further, FIFA themselves categorized Qatar as a “high-risk” host country due to its lack of facilities and blazing temperatures.
After an investigation by the association, two out of the 24-man executive committee were suspended after evidence of bribery was found on video, with the Sunday Times catching officials requesting hard cash in return for World Cup votes in an undercover investigation. Although FIFA claimed to have cleared Qatar of said allegations post investigation, prosecutors from the United States (US) found another three executive committee members (of FIFA) guilty of accepting bribes for their votes. Furthermore, an investigation carried out by The Associated Press (AP) just last year found that Qatar had hired a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agent to ensure that officials’ votes were favored towards the country. Former FIFA President Sepp Blatter, in retrospect, even went as far as to say that Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup was a “mistake” due to the influence of “political considerations,” suggesting there was direct political influence on executive committee members. Despite Qatar’s continued denial of vote-buying and FIFA clearing it of any wrongdoing, decade-long investigations proved that both FIFA and Qatar involved themselves in corruption during the World Cup bid, with the latter continuing to receive criticism, tarnishing its reputation. However, the criticism does not end there.
Like its many Arab counterparts, Qatar abides by the Islamic Sharia Law, in which homosexuality is illegal. In fact, homosexuality in Qatar is punishable by death penalty for Muslims and can be sentenced up to seven years in prison. FIFA was quite aware of this when awarding the World Cup to the country, and has since failed to enforce effective policies to protect LGBTQ+ visitors. Hassan al-Thawadi, Secretary General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy responsible for coordinating and delivering infrastructure for the World Cup, said that the tournament was open to gender diverse visitors so long as there is no public display of affection as it is not part of their culture and tradition.
“We have a set of values that we ask the world to respect. Of course, we don't believe in PDA. But we are also ingrained towards welcoming everyone from all backgrounds.” Hassan al-Thawad
Although in late 2020, it was decided by FIFA officials that displaying of pro-LGBTQ imagery would be permitted as per FIFA’s inclusion policy, in April 2022, they had to double back on their decision in the name of safety measures. When asked about inclusion of LGBTQ+ members into the World Cup in 2021, CEO of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Nasser Al-Khater stated that “everybody is welcome here and everybody will feel safe here”. Not only this, but Khater also welcomed Australia’s Josh Cavallo, the only openly-gay male top-flight professional footballer, to the World Cup. The country has stuck by its claims towards inclusivity, but this has yet to change the global consensus as discrimination has remained rampant and there have been no attempts to alter societal mindsets.
In an interview with Human Rights Watch, Mohammed, a homosexual man, claims that openly expressing his sexuality is impossible as he fears he would be jailed, verbally and sexually harassed by the police again— referring to his experience with police brutality in 2014. This is just one of the many instances that showcase the level of threat faced by and the subsequent fear instilled in the LGBTQ+ community residing in the country.
Recently in May, many hotels in the country expressed their discontent towards the community by outright refusing to provide accommodations to same-sex couples. FIFA have claimed that hotels have been mandated to welcome guests in a non-discriminatory manner, but this has yet to convince many to travel out of fear of persecution. Although Qatar has insisted that there is no cause for fear, there continues to be tensions rising among the LGBTQ+ community surrounding their safety in the country. In June, The Guardian raised a number of questions related to gender diverse fans and their concerns but were met with the same generic response: “Everyone will be welcome to Qatar in 2022, regardless of their race, background, religion, gender, sexual orientation or nationality. We are a relatively conservative society – for example, public displays of affection are not a part of our culture. We believe in mutual respect and so whilst everyone is welcome, what we expect in return is for everyone to respect our culture and traditions.” They concluded that the country “fails to offer World Cup safety” to LGBTQ+ fans.
Exploitation of Migrant Workers
Perhaps the biggest criticisms that Qatar has received has been on its human rights violations pertaining to its treatment of migrant workers. Ever since Qatar opened itself up to foreign investment in 1995, it has seen a mass influx of workers, constituting nearly half of its 2 million population, who have helped build the country. Following its win over hosting rights for the World Cup, Qatar opted to build seven stadiums for the World Cup finals, a new airport, hundreds of new hotels, a new metro system along with new roads. Even before construction projects began, both the Human Rights Watch and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) alleged that Qatar’s Kafala, or sponsorship, system—one that denies workers of any trade-union power—subjects workers to systematic abuse and slave-like treatment.
Awareness rose in November of 2013 when Amnesty International published reports on the “serious exploitation” of workers, claiming many were robbed of their salaries and passports. Qatar promised to create reforms to better protect migrant workers the next year, starting with requiring companies to pay employees via electronic transfers to ensure that workers were paid for their labor. However, in 2016, Amnesty International once again accused companies of using forced labor, providing testimonies from laborers who were subject to expensive recruitment fees, appalling living conditions, delayed or withheld salaries, and who were disallowed from leaving the country.
“My life here is like a prison. The manager said: “if you want to stay in Qatar, be quiet and keep working.” Deepak, a metal worker on one of Qatar’s stadiums
The government responded with major labor reforms in 2017, limiting working hours and improving living conditions of camps. Additionally, in 2020, Qatar introduced reforms to the Kafala system, increasing trade-union power by allowing workers to have more say in decision-making. They were now allowed to change jobs without their sponsor’s permission, minimum wage was increased nation-wide, and workers could leave the country without an exit permit. Furthermore, in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, the country provided $824 million to pay wages for the migrant workers during quarantine. Although this marked a milestone in the improvement of migrant workers’ human rights, there is evidence that exploitation continued.
In early 2021, The Guardian alleged that a total of 6,500 workers from Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Bangladesh had died since Qatar had won the bid in 2010. To add on, the same year, a report by Human Rights Watch detailed the “punitive and illegal wage deductions” and “months of unpaid wages for long hours of grueling work” faced by workers. Over rising pressure from international organizations and the International Labor Organization (ILO) themselves, Qatar abolished their Kafala system in August of 2020, hoping to eradicate the forced labor and exploitation that persisted. Despite the abolishment of the Kafala system, migrant workers continued to be treated as second-class citizens, with many still failing to receive their stipends. This has prompted protests against the working conditions of workers. However, in an act of retaliation, the country has begun to arrest and deport protestors, claiming their allegations to be unjustified.
To this day, human rights groups such as Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch continue to ostracize Qatar for their mistreatment of migrant workers and LGBTQ+ groups alike have expressed fear in travelling to the conservative, anti-LGBTQ+ country. Diplomatic relations have also been severed in the last decade following the country’s diplomatic crisis in 2017, where Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt accused Qatar of supporting terrorism, diminishing the integrity and credibility of the Middle Eastern nation. Some suggest Qatar used the 2017 Gulf Crisis to avert attention from the allegations. Most countries have been silent due to the risk of them being removed from the World Cup. Others are subtly vocal at best. Denmark’s national team, for instance, has toned down all details on their jerseys as a protest against Qatar’s human rights record. FIFA’s credibility has been adversely affected due to allegations of corruption and allowing the World Cup to be hosted by a nation with a shaky human rights record for the second time after Russia’s holding of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. That is to say, Qatar’s FIFA World Cup 2022 is more a World Cup of controversy than it is football.
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