Although Qatar is not known for being a sporting country, it has managed attract the world of sport thanks to the organization of the World Cup. In fact, it is expected that sport -along with the sightseeing– be a key part of the Qatar’s economic future given its finite oil and gas reserves.
However, Qatar’s status as host of the World Cup has been highly controversial. Why has it happened? And how have FIFA and Qatar managed to deflect criticism?
It was difficult to understand how Qatar, with average daytime temperatures of over 40℃ in summer, was an ideal environment for this tournament.
A few years later, in a unprecedented decisionFIFA allowed Qatar to move the event to its winter, despite the fact that this would disrupt the calendars of competitions in the northern hemisphere.
Thus, despite the fact that some critics asked that the organization of the World Cup be Qatar withdrawalthis tiny country in the Gulf, with an economy exceptionally rich from oil and gas, retained the support of FIFA.
However, FIFA’s support for Qatar soon came under further pressure, for two main reasons.
First, critics reaffirmed their dismay that the host country is hostile to homosexuality. In 2010, FIFA was aware of the Atar position that homosexuality is an affront to Islam, and agreed that Qatar would not deviate from its cultural norms.
In response, then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter awkwardly joked that LGBTQI+ soccer fans could “to refrain” to carry out amorous activities during their stay in Qatar.
Second, Qatar had allowed the exploitation of [trabajadores extranjeros] vulnerable –who were essential for the construction of the World Cup infrastructure–, with employment and living conditions close to slavery.
Although it is hard to get precise numbersan investigation carried out in February 2021 by The Guardian estimated that there had been around 6,500 workplace deaths in the decade after the World Cup host was awarded to Qatar. Although not all of them specifically worked at the tournament facility, the experts affirm that most were employed in the infrastructure works that support the event.
FIFA was well aware that the construction of stadiums would depend on the importation of foreign labor within the framework of the well-known “kafala system”, which allows wealthy businessmen press to impoverished workers.
The reluctance of the West to have Qatar chosen as the host of the World Cup has undoubtedly provoked an awakening of what has been described as “FIFA’s sensitivity towards human rights”. Two facts stand out:
First, in the face of concerted pressure on human rightsthe FIFA statutes were amended in 2013 to state that discrimination based on “sexual orientation” is “strictly prohibited and is punishable by suspension or expulsion” from the competition.
Nevertheless, the hosts of the World Cup Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022) already had contracts at that time to organize the event according to their own laws and customsWhat are they hostile to homosexuality.
FIFA, by choosing not to press the issue of sexual freedom with either of the two intended hosts, was effectively delaying the application of the anti-discrimination measures included in its amended statute of 2013.
Second, under concerted pressure from workers’ rights organizations, FIFA undertook to respect the conventions of the International Labor Organization. Therefore, the FIFA Human Rights policy in 2017 was in line with the UN Guiding Principles) on business and Human Rights. However, once again, it was a position for the future: the agreements with the candidacies of Russia and Qatar were already signed.
FIFA could, if it wished, threaten to withdraw any of the two agreements already signed with the two venues. But he had no interest in the logistical consequences or the possible legal repercussions. In contrast, in the case of Qatar, FIFA was consoled advocating for reforms of working conditions for foreign workers.
Also, Qatar has fiercely rejected the claims of human rights organizations –together with FIFA– that it should compensate the families of the foreign workers killed in the construction of the World Cup infrastructure.
Qatar has made an extraordinary effort to organize the World Cup, with an estimated cost of 100,000 million dollars in infrastructure. Daytime temperatures in winter can often reach 30℃, so all eight stadiums (seven of them new) will be air-conditioned at a minimum of 24℃.
Eleven luxury hotels opened just before the World Cup, and the room volume across Qatar has tripled in the last decade. However, this will be insufficient to house the almost three million fans who were scheduled to travel to Doha.
Qatar affirms that the World Cup will be carbon neutral thanks to the renewable energy and to the carbon offsetsand the multiplication by ten of the green areas around Doha, including over a million new trees.
Some weather experts have questioned the soundness of such claims.
But the use of recycled shipping containers in the construction of stadiums, as well as the planned reusable seat donation in various stadiums, speak of the growing commitment to sustainability from Qatar.
Temporarily adjust local rules
Qatar, despite organizing a global event, does so from a local perspective. It is the first Muslim country to host the World Cup and thus brings its own vision of the world to the FIFA competition.
Two issues are likely to test both hosts and football fans.
Firstly, the World Cup has long been associated with the consumption of large amounts of alcohol. Although alcohol is readily available in Qatar, drinking in public is against the law.
This position has been modified for the World Cup: alcohol will be sold in the stadium enclosures, but not during the matches. Fans will have to quench their thirst within three hours before the start of the match and one hour after the match.
However, the fan zone (fan zone) of Qatar, with capacity for 40,000 people, allows the sale of alcohol from 18:30 to 1:00, so it is possible to watch the night games on the big screen while drinking a beer. However, those who drink too much risk being temporarily housed in “sobriety tents”.
Secondly, Qatar has tried to assure football fans of any sexual orientation that they will be safe and welcomealthough with the caveat that public displays of affection – of any kind – are “frowned upon” locally.
As with alcohol, it now appears that Qatar will temporarily accommodate different rules. According to a report from a Dutch news site, who said he saw documents shared between the tournament organizers and the Qatari police, people from the LGBTQI+ community who “show affection in public will not be reprimanded, detained or prosecuted. They may carry rainbow flags. Same-sex couples may share a hotel room.
The world has come to Qatar and, at least for a while, the country is adjusting its local rules. A more lasting legacy of the World Cup has been the introduction of gradual reforms in the treatment of foreign workers, although the lack of compensation for the families of the deceased workers continues to imply a bloody red card for Qatar.