Political and human rights criticism grows louder as World Cup nears in Qatar

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Western outrage was felt as early as 2010 when FIFA, soccer’s governing body, chose Qatar’s bid to host the 2022 World Cup. German tabloid Bild reacted to the move with the headline “Catastrophe”, arguing that only oil wealth and corruption could have influenced the Gulf kingdom’s choice. “The only explanation for this decision is that FIFA sold the World Cup in the desert of a small country to the sheikhs,” noted Bild. “There is no other explanation.”

There were also elements of disbelief and condescension. “How can such a small country with no sporting tradition host such an important event?” observed the then-leftist French daily Liberation. “For several reasons – demographic, economic, environmental, sports and tourism – the choice is surprising.

Twelve years later, much of that feeling remains. Pop star Dua Lipa denied she performed at the opening ceremony, saying she looked forward to visiting Qatar when it fulfilled its human rights commitments. Philipp Lahm, who lifted the World Cup trophy as Germany’s triumphant captain in 2014, has cited human rights concerns as the reason he will not take part in Doha. Even with the World Cup starting in a few days, talk of boycotts is only getting louder.

Soccer fan protesters showed their displeasure over the weekend, particularly in Germany, where tens of thousands of fans held up pre-tournament banners at local club league matches in Hamburg, Berlin, the Ruhr Valley and elsewhere. They included a list of complaints about the host country’s autocratic monarchy, including its alleged human rights abuses, suppression of dissent, persecution of LGBTQ people and mistreatment of migrant workers.

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“5,000 dead for 5,760 minutes of football. Shame on you!” read a message echoed across Germany, which pointed to the number of workers killed in Qatar’s ambitious construction projects since Qatar won the tournament 12 years ago.

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Even the leader who presided over Qatar, which won the bid, now says it was a “mistake”. Qatar “is too small a country,” former FIFA president Sepp Blatter recently told Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger. “Football and the World Cup are too big for that.”

To be sure, there is a strong note of sour grapes in Blatter’s remarks. He left the post in 2015 amid a corruption scandal that also implicated some of his colleagues. In previous years, he had campaigned hard to take the tournament to Qatar, whose vast natural gas reserves would fund the Middle East’s first World Cup, despite the country itself not having competed in any previous tournaments.

Although Blatter is still embroiled in legal wrangling over fraud allegations, Qatari officials are outraged by the accusations against them. In a speech last month, Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani said his nation had been the target of “unprecedented” external attacks that “are fabrications and double standards that have been so brutal that they have unfortunately led many people to question the real reasons . and campaign motives.

There is no clear chain of evidence linking the Qatari authorities to any wrongdoing or graft that secured their bid for the World Cup. Indeed, a far cry from Zurich, where FIFA is based, Qatar went public with its state assets after winning the bid, increasing its influence with the purchase of French club Paris Saint-Germain. PSG’s squad is now the true Harlem Globetrotters of the global game, including some of its most famous superstars in Brazil’s Neymar, Argentina’s Lionel Messi and France’s talisman Kylian Mbappe.

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Critics are calling PSG’s ownership a “sporting wash” to soften the image of a troubled regime. They would extend that argument to the World Cup itself, on which Qatar spent an estimated $220 billion. USD to build the massive infrastructure needed to host a tournament of this magnitude from scratch. This includes new roads, a subway system, dozens of hotels and seven new stadiums.

This massive construction project has always drawn attention to the country’s labor rights record. Eighty-five percent of Qatar’s 3 million people are foreign workers, and a significant portion of that cohort are migrants from poor communities in East Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia. Long before Qatar won the World Cup, rights groups documented the abuses and harsh conditions faced by these migrants, who form a permanent underclass in Gulf monarchies such as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Last year, The Guardian revealed that around 6,500 South Asian workers had died since Qatar received the World Cup. However, these deaths were a common figure for all workers and were not linked to the World Cup projects. Qatari authorities said around 38 people died at the construction sites, although Amnesty International said Qatar was not investigating the cause of most of the workers’ deaths.

The external audit revealed a range of problems in the labor sector, from housing conditions to heat-related illnesses to unpaid wages and other abuses by employers. Since being awarded the World Cup, Qatar has overhauled its labor laws, introduced a minimum wage higher than much of the region and said it would abolish its infamous kafala system, a de facto indentured servitude policy governing migrant rights. workers in some Arab countries.

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The UN’s International Labor Organization commented in a report released this month that Qatar had implemented “significant” reforms that had “improved working and living conditions for hundreds of thousands of workers” but acknowledged that “more needs to be done to fully implement them.” and carry out labor reforms”.

A recent report by human rights organization Eqidem documented a series of abuses by workers involved in FIFA-related projects over the past two years. The prevalence of these alleged abuses “in workplaces so tightly regulated by Qatar, FIFA and their partners,” the group noted, “demonstrates that the reforms of the past five years have provided cover for powerful companies seeking to exploit migrant workers.” impunity”.

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Qatari and FIFA officials are urging the millions of fans flocking to the country to temper their political criticism and respect the tournament for its historic uniqueness.. For many Qatari fans, celebrities and politicians posturing elsewhere is hypocritical. In 2018, when Russia hosted the tournament, there probably wasn’t this level of condemnation from other sports authorities and fans. Russia’s broader human rights monitoring also did not appear to be as intense as Qatar’s now — even though at the time President Vladimir Putin’s regime was fomenting a separatist war in Ukraine and committing war crimes in Syria.

Responding to German criticism, Qatar’s foreign minister questioned the agendas. “On the one hand, the German population is being misinformed by government politicians; on the other hand, the government has no problem with us when it comes to energy partnerships or investments,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper in an interview this month.


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