Human Rights in the 2022 Qatar World Cup: No Humans Left

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Sports and politics have always gone together, especially when the event is as global as the world cup. While most people believe in football’s reforming power in terms of human rights, diversity, and unity, there is a long-known problematic duo revolving around the structure of FIFA: corruption and conspiracy. The implications for the diplomatic world might be far more significant than expected. 

With Qatar hosting more than 1.4 million football fans in the 2022 FIFA World Cup, it is as if the world is shifting towards a new epicentre of global and financial power, the Middle East. [1,2] It comes as no surprise after the well-known English team Manchester City was bought by a United Arab Emirates-led group or after Newcastle United was bought by a Saudi Arabia-led consortium. [3] The sudden interest of the Middle East in the close-knit football community can be justified—Qatar had never qualified for the World Cup finals after all—but what made the mainly Europe-dominated sport admit such foreign influence?

Education city stadium 2022

Indeed, it is a matter of diplomacy. Qatar spent hundreds of billions of dollars on infrastructure for the tournament, more than all previous countries combined, to prove its wealth and attract global attention. [4] It is also the first country in the Middle East to host the World Cup. It represents not only itself but also countries in the region as a whole. [5] Football is perhaps one of the few sports that has this uniting power over the Arab world, and unity certainly seems like a noble goal. Yet two questions remain: why was Qatar chosen to host and is there a clash between the progressive West and the conservative Middle East in such a decision?

Women

To the Western world gender equality has been an issue for centuries, but in the Muslim reality of Qatar, women only got the right to vote in 1999. [6] That is not even the whole story—women in Qatar are still required under Sharia law to ask for permission to go anywhere or to work from their male guardian, usually a father, brother, or husband. [7] Perhaps it is simply part of their culture, and the Western world ought to respect that. This should not be a problem for foreign women, who are allowed to watch the World Cup, but it might be a question of moral principles rather than respecting the host country. There is a thin line between the two that is mitigated by diplomacy. 

Why would this be even an issue for the majority of football fans, when law in Qatar does not even prohibit men and women to stay together in a hotel? In order to obtain a visa, foreign nationals must have a similar male guardian as much as Qatar claims that women’s access to the World Cup will not be restricted. [8] To that end, the Qatar World Cup CEO Nassar al Khater said that “In Qatar, we have no restrictions on women’s access to stadiums. They have been attending matches for a long time.” According to him, there were even three female referees moderating the games. [9] The most obvious conclusion is that a clash between cultures is unavoidable—the religious law that binds the Middle East might seem oppressive to the Western mind, but it is only through understanding from both sides that events like the World Cup are possible—and progress for that matter.

Homosexuality

At the same time, homosexuality is illegal in Qatar—and can even lead to a death sentence. [10] On that matter, a former Qatari football player Khalid Salman in an interview claimed that homosexuality is forbidden because “it is damage to the mind,” and the interview was stopped right after by an official representative. [11] Allegedly, no football fan would be discriminated against during the World Cup, but Labour MP Luke Pollard asked for an official apology on behalf of the Qatari government for oppressing the expression of homosexuality; [12] this came as a response to foreign secretary James Cleverly asking for mutual respect on both ends. [13] That is not to say that either side is correct, but this is a clear situation when football is most of all about making a point, political or otherwise. In a similar manner, the captains of prominent football teams stood up in order to make a point—the importance of diversity and inclusion:

“The captains of England, Wales, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland had intended to wear the OneLove rainbow armband to promote diversity and inclusion at the World Cup.” [14]

But this did not happen, right after FIFA announced that players who wear these bands would be penalised. [15] At this point, the issue revolves around human rights—whether it is about discrimination towards women before the law and practice or towards members of the LGBTQ+ community, who “can be arrested, imprisoned, and even sentenced to death if they take part in same-sex sexual activity.” [16] Football is about unity now more than ever and stands for values well-supported by leading diplomatic organisations and activists: respect for diversity, inclusion, and humanity. However, just like anything else, it is not as simple and as idealistic as that. 

Immigrant Workers

More than any other World Cup, the 2022 Qatar was about human rights or perhaps the violation thereof. Considering the high temperatures in the host country during summer, the World Cup had to be rescheduled to the winter months. This was particularly controversial since it interfered with top European club schedules and leagues. [17] This meant the massive infrastructure that had to be built was constructed entirely in summer during the extreme weather conditions of the predominantly desert nation—it led to significant health consequences for the immigrant workers that were hired for the construction of seven stadiums and hotels (highest FIFA standards). [18] Taken to the extreme, thousands of workers have died in the construction process due to poor living conditions, lack of sanitation, exhaustion, droughts, and work hazard. [19]

Human Rights Watch, for instance, highlighted abuses among South Asian workers in Qatar as the World Cup opened. The State Department, in its latest human rights report, cited ongoing illegal forced labor in Qatar and noted construction at “FIFA World Cup-related facilities continued despite crowded worksites and the high risk of COVID-19 transmission.” CNN has not independently confirmed previous reports that thousands of migrant workers have died in Qatar since it was awarded the World Cup in 2010.” [20]

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While Qatar wants to attract global attention to the region and gain from tourism in the future, basic human rights of the immigrant workers have not been met, and there is nothing FIFA can do about it despite its constant monitoring. The project cannot be finished without an enormous amount of work, and it is simply difficult to provide living conditions for so many workers; in FIFA’s perspective, there is also no way to move the World Cup to another country in time, and Qatar has already invested the money, so why bother? The immigrant workers have no other place to go and are required to stay under a contract until the construction is finished; [21] their salary oftentimes cannot even cover the rent they are required to pay for a place that is in no way suited for inhabitation—thus, many workers became indebted to Qatar. [22]

Why Qatar?

Perhaps Qatar was chosen to host the 2022 World Cup for no other reason other than the 220 billion dollars they promised to invest. [23] But Gianni Infantino, president of FIFA, in his speech after Qatar was chosen thanked everyone for believing in change. [24] Diversity might be good for the future of football, which continues to be Europe-centred—it is a sport for everyone after all regardless of their background. It is a sport of opportunities and political reform even if it is nothing more than a tangent to the diplomatic world. 

“For instance, Iranian players declined to sing their national anthem in their opening game against England on Monday, in a possible protest about the violent suppression of dissent rocking the Islamic Republic.” [25]

Or let’s think about political statements made otherwise by FIFA president Gianni Infantino about the hypocrisy of ex-colonialist European nations: “Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel a migrant worker.” [26]

The global scale of football, global interest and investment simply cannot make the sport impartial to politics and diplomacy—why haven’t Turkey and China been able to qualify for the World Cup in more than two decades even though they have certainly tried? [27]

Qatar is one such nation that has tried to break the norm, to enter the otherwise exclusive world of European football—it has tried to promote itself and the region in the process just to realise their goal through immoral means. 


REFERENCES

[1]  “Qatar Hosts More than 1.4 Million Visitors during FIFA World CupTM | Qatar 2022TM.” Qatar 2022, https://www.qatar2022.qa/en/news/qatar-hosts-more-than-one-million-visitors-during-fifa-world-cup#:~:text=More%20than%201.4%20million%20fans,FIFA%20World%20Cup%202022%E2%84%A2. Accessed 8 Jan. 2023.
[2]  Collinson, Stephen. “How Politics in the World Cup Explain the Modern World | CNN.” CNN, CNN, 23 Nov. 2022, https://edition.cnn.com/2022/11/23/world/world-cup-politics-modern-world-analysis/index.html.
[3] Collinson  
[4] “Qatar 2022: Controversy, Corruption, and the Cup | VideoLab | ABC News.” YouTube, YouTube, 28 Oct. 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N240i1DZwso.
[5] ABC News
[6] Howse, Imogen. “Qatar Human Rights: 2022 World Cup Host’s Record Explained – How Women, LGBTQ+ People and Migrants Are Treated.” National Wide, National Wide, 20 Nov. 2022, https://www.nationalworld.com/sport/football/world-cup/qatar-human-rights-record-explained-2022-world-cup-women-lgbtq-people-migrants-3924038.
[7] Howse
[8] Howse
[9] Howse
[10] Howse
[11] “Qatar World Cup Ambassador Says Homosexuality Is ‘damage in the Mind’ | Reuters.” Reuters, Reuters, 8 Nov. 2022, https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/qatar-world-cup-ambassador-says-homosexuality-is-damage-mind-2022-11-08/.
[12] Howse
[13] Howse
[14]  Knox, Olivier, and Caroline Anders. “At the World Cup, Politics Shares the Spotlight with the Matches – The Washington Post.” Washington Post, The Washington Post, 22 Nov. 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/11/22/world-cup-politics-shares-spotlight-with-matches/.
[15] Knox and Anders
[16] Howse
[17] Howse
[18] ABC News
[19] ABC News
[20] Collinson
[21]  Pattisson, Pete. “Migrant Workers in Qatar Left in Debt after Being Ordered Home before World Cup Starts | Qatar | The Guardian.” The Guardian, The Guardian, 22 Sept. 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2022/sep/22/migrant-workers-in-qatar-left-in-debt-after-being-ordered-home-before-world-cup-starts.
[22] Pattisson
[23] ABC News
[24] ABC News
[25] Collinson
[26] Collinson
[27]  FP Contributors. “The Geopolitics of the World Cup, Past and Present.” Foreign Policy, Foreign Policy, 20 Nov. 2022, https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/11/20/fifa-world-cup-2022-qatar-soccer-tournament-geopolitics/.

Author

Lilia Chatalbasheva

lilia.chatalbasheva@yale.edu