Ever since Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 FIFA World cup, international criticism directed towards the reasoning behind this, raising valid points on climate and the general feasibility of the tournament being held in a country that is not known for its football pedigree. Having the World Cup in Qatar is a big concern and still is the state of human rights that workers are subjected to when working on the infrastructure. Foreign worker abuse was something common such as not paying them at all, confiscating their passports so they cannot move to another country and poor working conditions. That only scratches the surface of many institutions’ concerns about Qatar being given the go-ahead to host the World Cup.
The Controversies around the Qatar 2022 World Cup
We had similar arguments regarding the integrity of the host nation and their bid to host the tournament in previous World Cups but not many match the outcry surrounding the Qatar World Cup. The World Cup in Russia faced similar arguments, with many people not warming up to the fact that it’s a safe country and many human rights watch dogs suggesting that there are deficiencies in the way they employ workers, especially migrant workers.
One of the most pertinent arguments surrounding Qatar as the nation selected, was that in Summer, you could barely withstand the heat with highs around 42/43°C and lows around 30/32°C. So hosting this tournament in Summer is near on impossible with players unable to cope with temperatures that high. That sparked the argument of moving the World Cup to Winter and how that would impact the domestic leagues, with mainly the Premier League being the league that plays most of the fixtures during the festive period. A date was settled to be in November running to December the first time in World Cup history, which gives temperatures ranging from 29 °C – 20°C. This would be the first Winter tournament running bang in the middle of domestic leagues and we will judge it’s effect in the coming year when it comes to player fitness and it’s psychological impacts. Since the 2022 World Cup will be in November, taking the Premier League as an example, players will go hammer and thong up until mid October, then fly over to Qatar with their National team for a month long tournament, then fly back and continue their push in the domestic league, which might be too much for most players to handle.
The Qatar government made it a point to include state of the art air conditioning in various stadiums to help cool the atmosphere for the players and for fans alike. Something that was well received by the FIFA’s executive committee but also added an extra challenge to FIFA’s pledge to make this World Cup carbon neutral.
What will it be like for the fans?
As the world continue to drive towards equality and kicking out racism out of Football, Qatar’s bid might be another step into that inclusivity, but not without its own challenges. Meaning, people from all over the world will be flying over to Qatar to watch their National team perform and the cultural differences might be tricky to balance. Qatar is a traditional Muslim society with modest clothing as the norm, Women and Men must cover their bodies from shoulder to knees, something that for some people might be unheard of. It will surely be a huge test for those who are attending to make sure that they do not fall short of the country’s regulations.
Public displays of affection are unwelcome; even hand-holding is rare, which again might be tricky thing to implement if there is thousands of people doing it.
Being a Muslim country, alcohol is ‘haraam‘ – forbidden, but the visiting fans, again taking England supporters as an example, love to consume alcohol in and around sporting events. That might be tricky to do as they are not available to be purchased except in the designated ‘fan zones. The World Cup organizing committee worked hard to get this sorted as it was a major concern, and also they wanted to respect the Muslim culture.
One of the biggest concerns of many human rights watch dogs and human rights groups all over the world was and still is the human rights abuses that foreign workers are subjected to. Qatar’s government has a system called the Kafala system, where workers’ rights are not taken into consideration and should a worker wish to change jobs, this is a near impossible task to do. Many workers who left their home countries to find a stable job in building these stadiums have been exploited with various unpaid wages and forced labour.
Foreign workers, particularly from South Asia and Africa, have been exploited to help build the stadiums in extreme heat and workplace accidents that led to a high number of deaths. The Qatari government documented 37 Deaths, from which only three were ”work-related; which was later discovered to be an underestimate because Qatar doesn’t count deaths from heart attacks and respiratory failure as work-related – even though these are common symptoms of heatstroke, brought on from doing heavy labour in very high temperatures.
Football fans around the world were shocked by the decision, and some national teams took matters into their own hands by protesting and showing their support for migrant workers who were abused by Qatar hosts. Norway, as a country that was particularly vocal about these concerns, protested by wearing human rights t-shirts during World Cup qualifiers.
So naturally, the question is asked, why was this given the green flag? Why was the World Cup 2022 given to Qatar if certain criteria weren’t met?
The concerns raised when Qatar was officially hosting the Winter world cup raised flags about the integrity of this decision eight years ago, with former FIFA president Sepp Blatter still in charge of FIFA when this decision was taken. We all know what Sepp Blatter did, so naturally, questions were asked about the integrity of the bidding process. Current FIFA President Gianni Infantino is working tirelessly with FIFA executive committee as well as Qatari officials to reach a compromise, especially on unpaid wages and foreign workers’ rights.
In previous months, the Norwegian Football Federation called for stronger action in the FIFA congress, by FIFA as it has to support the families of migrant workers who had been killed and those injured working on the World Cup 2022 project. In response to these accusations, Qatar’s Supreme Committee insisted that she should educate herself on the issues at hand.
What is the Kafala system?
This is a system used to monitor migrant workers working primarily in the construction sectors in Gulf countries. The system requires all migrant workers to have an in-country sponsor, usually their employer, who is responsible for their visa and legal status. Such practice has been hugely criticised by organisations for creating pathways for exploitation of workers’ rights, as many employers take away passports and abuse their workers with little chance of legal repercussions. Workers had to get sponsors’ permission to switch jobs which made the process very hard for the workers.
Anything else? well, of course, Qatar’s government was pushed to pass rules that would defang the male guardianship system, a loose group of practices that make many women’s personal decisions contingent on approval from a male family member.
Homosexuality is officially illegal, but penalties are infrequently enforced, and local World Cup organizers said they will allow displays promoting LGBTQ rights in stadiums, such as rainbow flags. The country represses the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and punishes same-sex relations with up to seven years in prison. Qatar’s bid came after FIFA’s own governing statutes ban LGBT discrimination of the kind Qatar enshrines in its national laws, and FIFA’s due diligence to enforce its own policies around the world was proven to be ineffective.
Did anything change?
Qatar’s government refuted some specific allegations related to the treatment of labourers; Qatari authorities set about building new living quarters for workers and promised to improve safety. In 2020, various labour laws were passed that guaranteed a minimum wage and made it easier to move jobs in what it stated in an effort to dismantle the system. Groups such as Amnesty International have said enforcement of Qatar’s human rights reforms has fallen short, but note the changes have been positive and pushed back on the idea of a boycott. Additionally, a new report by Amnesty International stated that FIFA should earmark at least $440M, which is the same as the World Cup prize money, to compensate the abused migrant workers. Which is a small figure for FIFA compared to the suffering that these workers have been subjected to. Agnes Callamard, which is the Secretary-General, reiterated that ‘providing compensation to workers who games so much to make the tournament happen and taking steps to make sure such abuses never happen again could represent a major turning point in FIFA’s commitment to respect human rights.
Benefits of the Qatar World Cup
The footballing world, in general, might reap the benefits of Qatar being the host nation in the coming years with more inclusivity and cultural awareness. Financially, on the other hand, Qatar will benefit a lot, gaining around $20 Billion for their economy.
Another big aspect is rivalling Dubai as a tourist destination in the Middle East and enhancing the overall landscape of the country through the World Cup. A good example is Lusail City, which did not exist when the bid was placed, and the Qatar government built an entire new city to be more hospitable to the world. Qatar being a small population with 2.881 Million citizens and having most of the land not being worked up due to various factors, took such an opportunity to develop the desert into what could be described as a secondary Dubai outlet.
For the government, this could be a great show of power and wealth, where people would change their perspective on Qatar and would warm up to such Persian countries even more. Such benefits are centred on Qatar and other elite members of society rather than the people who actually do the work and the middle-class citizens.
Human Rights groups have decried the treatment of foreign workers; Qatar says the event is a catalyst for improving labour laws. The effects of the 2022 World Cup in such scenarios need to be re-evaluated after the World Cup. It might just be that changes are being done to satisfy the outcry of people, and when things are back to normal, the world isn’t focusing on them; they revert to their old labour camps, foreign workers abuse.
The benefits surrounding the World Cup are marginal to the negative impact it had on workers and their families, and monetary aid could not bring back the lives lost in making the stadiums so great. It taints the spectacular stadium designs just by the thought of forced labour and people losing their lives just to sustain our own entertainment.
The tournament is likely to go forward as planned, but the controversies surrounding the event will be remembered for years to come. Fans are excited for the tournament, as it might be the last opportunity to see many great players like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, and several others in an international event. But the dark side of the tournament can’t be neglected as well. We hope that we will witness some great footballing moments like we enjoyed in the previous World Cup and hope that the operation of the 2022 World Cup will be smooth with no violence or injuries.