FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar: Why is it Scandalous?
The FIFA World Cup that happened in November and December of 2022 in the oil-rich nation of Qatar was one of the most controversial sporting events in recent history. Corruption? Human rights issues? Geopolitics? Let's see what's the reason for the controversy in this article.
FIFA is one of the world's most popular sporting events in the world, as well as a lucrative business with a four-year cycle. In 1904 a Frenchman named Robert Guerin founded FIFA as a non-profit organization. However, with the amount of attention it received, it became less about the beauty of sport and more about the money.
Eventually, it grew into an NGO that generates billions of dollars while promoting football, the world's greatest sport worldwide. Its decision-making body, FIFA Council, has 37 members, including a president, eight vice presidents, and twenty-eight additional members, and it oversees various social development activities.
FIFA in Qatar
The 2022 FIFA World Cup was held in Qatar, a country built from foreign labor and rich in oil and natural gas reserves that will also be remembered as the first Middle Eastern and Arab country to host the FIFA World Cup. This turned out to be the most expensive sporting event ever held.
Many controversial opinions have been made in response to Qatar's hosting of the FIFA World Cup, casting doubt on the integrity of the FIFA Council. While England and the United States boasted about their stadiums and technically competent bids, Qatar stole the show.
The United States charges that FIFA officials were bribed in order to award World Cups to Russia and Qatar. However, Qatar strongly denies these allegations.
Accusations made by the U.S.
Following a strong competition between Qatar and the United States, FIFA President Sepp Blatter made an announcement in December 2010 that Qatar had won the right to host the FIFA World Cup 2022.
There was some surprise at how Qatar won the offer. The US claimed that the Qatari government bribed FIFA officials. Later, severe claims of labor exploitation were also leveled.
The Qatari government has invested a great deal of money in infrastructure improvements such as stadiums, hotels, motorways, and the expansion of Doha International Airport in order to prepare for the World Cup.
The country's sponsorship system, known as the kafala system, restricts migrant laborers, who make up 90 percent of the workforce for these projects. This system provides complete control over foreign workers' wages, travel ability, and visa status to employers and paves the way for labor exploitation.
It is really remarkable that Qatar, a little desert country with a population of less than 3 million created entirely by foreign labor, beat over heavyweights such as the United States, Japan, Australia, and South Korea.
Football is not a popular sport in Qatar, which is yet another surprise that makes us wonder why on Earth Qatar. Qatar's excessive heat is plain unsafe. Although the game is being hosted in the winter, this may not be the best time for most attendees because FIFA tournaments are usually held in June, which is a good time for people to watch during their summer vacations.
Qatar has discriminatory homophobic laws that target the LGBT community; they suffer legal issues that others do not. The basic human rights of migrant laborers who helped build World Cup infrastructure were severely abused. Analysis has revealed arduous labor conditions, long hours, filthy living circumstances, and salary theft.
The debate is whether the world's second-largest sporting event, after the Olympics, should be conducted in a country where progressive views are suppressed and workers' fundamental rights are under threat.
FIFA is the most exciting sports event in the world, and Qatar has gone to great lengths to prove it. According to one source, Qatar has spent 16 times more money than the previous host country, Russia.
Over the previous 12 years, Qatar has been preparing stadiums, airports, transportation links, and lodging facilities to ensure a flawless launch of the major event by undertaking the greatest infrastructure projects in World Cup history.
They have constructed numerous hotels, private islands, apartments, villas, eight new stadiums, a new metro system, and even air conditioning for the imported grass that they have cultivated.
The country's financial officials acknowledged spending $500 million every week on the infrastructure project for years. According to reports, Qatar has invested nearly $229 billion in World Cup infrastructure.
Geo-Political Strategy behind the World Cup
To understand the geopolitical agenda behind FIFA, we must first examine Qatar's history. Qatar gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1971. It used to export pearls to other countries until 1980 when it discovered oil reserves. Soon after, it became the wealthiest country in the world, with the greatest natural gas reserves, next to Russia and Iran respectively.
Currently, Qatar has secured the fourth-highest GDP in the world. It has become Europe's largest LNG supplier. It has hotels, restaurants, and businesses in every country on the planet. It owns significant stakes in the world's most important stock exchanges, automobile manufacturers, and financial institutions such as Barclays, Porsche, etc.
Qatar's vulnerability, however, is currently larger than its wealth. Qatar is excessively reliant on its oil and gas assets. Oil and gas account for 60% of its GDP. The demand for oil and gas is expected to fall in the near future, and Qatar may no longer be able to rely on its natural resources post-2050, raising the question of why Qatar is hosting this World Cup, which will generate no profit but only a loss because all revenue generated by the event will go to FIFA.
Qatar is also surrounded by giant rival countries like UAE and Saudi Arabia which is a direct threat to the country which has an army of less than 22,000. Even FIFA had to ask the Pakistani army for help. Currently, Qatar has a security guarantee from the USA but in coming years when the value of oil goes down, it may lose US security cooperation. The answer is “Sportswashing.”
Sportswashing is a public relations approach that is used to improve a country's image in the eyes of an international audience. It is a strategy to entice investors to make large investments in one’s country that will benefit it for many years to come. It appears that Qatar is using the World Cup to improve its image and attract new foreign investment.
FIFA provides a platform for Qatar to present the globe with an image of a developed country with excellent infrastructure. A country that has not only discovered oil deposits but has also gotten increasingly modern and developed so that it may draw worldwide investment.
Many countries, including Germany during Hitler's rule and South Africa in 2010, Saudi Arabia, and even China have used this technique of Sportswashing in the past.
Importance of FIFA
Every time FIFA is held, more money is spent on it. Surprisingly, countries that host FIFA lose a lot of money, but they still want to have it in their bucket because it is not the profit they bet on but the PR (Public Relations).
There is enormous power in having the entire world focused on your country and stories circulating about developments you make to come closer to the World Cup. It is an extraordinary opportunity to attract investors and tourists across the world by shining on a global scale, in another term ‘soft power’.
Headway Qatar made toward hosting the tournament
Qatar has taken significant steps to ensure that FIFA is well-managed. It has done more than just build advanced infrastructure. In 2017, it made changes to its labor laws. It even introduced QR codes in 30 other languages, making it easier for others to access services during FIFA.
The renowned liquor ban imposed by the Qatari authorities may have disappointed some who enjoy drinking alcohol during FIFA matches, but it has also prevented unplanned and unwelcome conflicts between fans of various clubs, which had previously occurred due to the allowance of liquor.
FIFA Corruption: Qatar World Cup
Qatar was awarded the bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup on December 2, 2010, defeating the UK, Japan, and the United States. The decision was made by a committee of 22 FIFA members.
FIFA was criticized for selecting two hosts at the same time, as well as the selection of host countries such as Russia and Qatar. Both were considered the riskiest place for FIFA World Cup. On the one hand, there was the scorching summer heat and illegality of homosexuality in Qatar, and on the other, Russia's severe political environment.
Despite all odds, Qatar won the 2022 FIFA World Cup bid, and Russia was named the 2018 host country. Two members of FIFA's executive committee were banned in October 2010, two months before the election, for requesting bribes in exchange for their votes.
The Sunday Times, a British newspaper, revealed that they had undercover footage of Amos Amadu of Nigeria requesting $800,000 for the construction of four artificial pitches in his homeland Reynald Temarii of New Zealand demanded $2.3 million to fund a football academy in New Zealand, and they were temporarily suspended and barred from voting in December.
As the election date approached, the FFA issued a technical study in which it rated Qatar as a "high operational risk" as a host country due to its harsh climate, blazing summer heat, incidences of labor abuse, and persecution of homosexuality.
Russia's precarious political situation has raised numerous questions but Qatar managed to draw more attention than Russia. Only 22 of the 24 members were left to decide on FIFA hosting in 2018 and 2022.
Meanwhile, Lord Triesman, the former head of the Football Association, accused four FIFA executive committee members of unethical voting behavior and urged FIFA to reconsider England's hosting of the 2022 World Cup. Shortly after, he resigned as bid director and chairman of the Football Association in disappointment.
These four include Jack Warner, who wanted $4 million to create a school, Nicolas Leoz, who asked for British knighthood, and Issa Hayatou and Jacques Anouma, who each wanted $1.5 million to vote for Qatar.
Meanwhile, Mohamed Bin Hammam, the President of the Asian Football Confederation, was charged with bribing 25 officials for their votes and was banned from football for life.
These allegations were investigated by the former US attorney for the Southern District of New York, Michael J Garcia. After two years, he delivered his 'Garcia report,' which FIFA initially refused to release but ultimately issued an edited summary denying any misconduct by any FIFA member.
Russia and Qatar were accused of FIFA corruption in the initial report. Michael quit shortly after, claiming that his work had been misconstrued. Investigations also revealed that then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy had asked UEFA President Michel Platini to vote for Qatar.
The President attended a private lunch with Qatar's crown prince, Sheikh Tamim Bin Halam Altani, and Michel Platini. Platini was later banned by FIFA for four years for receiving a $2 million payment from Blatter in 2011.
They said it was a late payment for services done by Platini years before. Under severe pressure from ongoing investigations, Blatter chose to leave as FIFA president after 17 years of service.
An investigation conducted by The Sunday Times in 2019 found that Qatar's news agency Al-Jazeera paid FIFA $400 million to obtain the VC rights to the events and another $100 million if Qatar won the bid.
However, the story does not finish here. Qatar's record on human rights casts a long shadow. Migrants from Bangladesh, India, and Nepal have been abused in a variety of ways. They can't leave the nation, they can't quit their jobs, and they frequently have to wait months for their pay.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that suspicions of corruption have been leveled against FIFA bids. Even before 2016, Germany's bid and South Africa's bid in 2010 were viewed with mistrust.
Double Standards of the West
Qatar appears to have failed to open up to the essential reforms, and there are evident gaps where it does not come across as a liberal state, but rather a conservative Islamic state with restrictive LGBTQ rules that prohibit players from wearing LGBT bands on the field.
However, we must understand that it is not a one-way street. Opposing Qatar's hosting of the FIFA World Cup for whatever reason appears to be more of an attempt to gain control over the sport.
European countries want FIFA to remain Euro-centric, which is really disappointing because there is a lack of readiness to share the spirit of the sport due to Qatar's Islamist status.
Despite all of Qatar's criticism on various grounds, the question arises as to whether the criticism is constructive or simply meant to belittle Qatar due to geographical and ideological differences.
Has the West never ever failed the LGBT community? And are the flaws in FIFA management so significant that they outweigh the benefits of cultural exchange? Is it necessary to change one's national policy in order to enjoy the spirit of sport?
And why has no country before come out in support of Qatar's LGBT community? Why didn't anyone raise their hands till Qatar won the FIFA bid?
And, if Qatar amended LGBTQ+ rules, would it not ruin the beauty of cultural distinctions and impose cultural hegemony? Wouldn't that be a purging of your own views in order to fit in with Western values?
Furthermore, isn't accepting one's cultural beliefs the first step toward spreading them? What has the world come to that even sport is not immune to global politics?
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Shipra Swaraj is a Political Science graduate from Patna University, in India. She is a Researcher at Grant Thornton and a Researcher/Writer at the International Youths Organization for Peace and Sustainability.
Inputs and Edits by Aswin Raghav R.