After facing various controversies surrounding the World Cup in Qatar, FIFA President Gianni Infantino aimed to empathise with the discrimination of migrant workers and the LGBTQ+ community by recalling back to his childhood and facing the same judgement… for having red and freckles (Reuters, 2022). This statement itself sets the tone for the World Cup so far. The list of concerns and anxieties encompassing the event increases on the daily, and as we uncover the steep yet expected decline of the sporting tournament of the decade, for some there is still a glimmer of hope; Is there still a chance that Qatar can right their wrongs and deliver a successful event within this sandstorm of chaos?
Bans and bribes
Since the beginning, Qatar’s winning bid for the 2022 World Cup has left many scratching their heads. To the majority, it was questionable how a country with a team that has never qualified for a World Cup had overpowered major countries such as the US, UK and Australia; but these accusations acted as a catalyst for the truth to be exposed, leading to the ban of 3 FIFA officials. In 2014, the British publication Sunday Times exposed the corrupt wrongdoings of FIFA officials who offered to sell their votes, alongside numerous leaked emails and documents signifying Qatari official and FIFA Executive Committee member Mohammed Bin Hammam had paid millions of dollars worth of bribes to FIFA officials. Although Bin Hammam had received a lifetime ban from FIFA at this point, additional investigations had discovered there was abundant irregulates but no definitive confirmation that Qatari officials had manipulated or influenced the votes through bribes (The Guardian, 2014; Vox, 2022).
In 2015, the accusations continued to heighten, with nine FIFA officials facing accusations of racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering, while Switzerland proclaimed that corruption was apparent in the 2018 World Cup in Russia alongside the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Although Qatar have continued to deny any collaboration with officials, the Justice Department had uncovered evidence that three FIFA officials had accepted bribes from unknown Qatari agents regarding the 2022 World Cup Bid (The Guardian, 2014; Vox, 2022).
Imposing traditional culture on a melting pot of people
While critics argue Qatar’s strict values is merely a culture shock to the Western world, it’s difficult to justify homophobia under the guise of Qatar values. In Qatar’s ‘Reflect Your Respect’ campaign, citizens urged foreign visitors to follow a myriad of rules, from refraining from the use of profanity and immodesty, to playing loud music and homosexuality in order to avoid disrespecting the country’s religious ideals and principles. Although this campaign was not created or released by the Qatari government, the country’s law calls for a one to three year prison sentence for consensual gay or lesbian sex. Despite these harsh sentences, Qatari officials remain assured that LGBTQ+ couples are welcomed for the World Cup (AP News, 2022).
Various teams such as England, Wales and Germany have voiced their disapproval and apprehension against these laws, with the launch of the OneLove armband (The Scotsman, 2022). Aimed to promote the diversity, inclusion and support of the LGBTQ+ community, the OneLove armband contains rainbow colours that is strongly synonymous with the Pride flag and was to be worn on the pitch. Although these statements are receiving tremendous support, FIFA has taken a tough stance on this political attire, threatening sanctions and penalising players such as England Captain Harry Kane, should they choose to openly protest these discriminating laws (The Guardian, 2022).
These restrictions have also trickled into the fanbase, with LGBTQ+ allies being stopped by security for wearing rainbow attire. Regarding these constraints, FIFA has addressed the criticism and has now rescinded the decision to ban rainbow attire (Sports Brief, 2022). Although this is a step in the right direction for FIFA to address one of many concerns during this World Cup, it is vital to address that this U-turn of the rainbow ban is purely to save face and is not a genuine consideration regarding the discrimination of the LGBTQ+ community.
Following on from the ‘Reflect your Respect’ campaign, there was also concerns regarding alcohol, a sensitive topic for citizens due to the religious values of the country and the substantial restrictions that have been enforced for decades. Despite FIFA officials partnering with leading beer company Budweiser in an estimated deal of over £63 million, it appears that cultural values conquer business; the ban was a result of the Qatari Royal Family openly expressing their distaste with the mass-selling of alcohol, which can lead to public disorder and misbehaviour (GQ India, 2022).
Regardless of the major contract breach and alcohol ban two days before the tournament started, compromises have been made; Budweiser’s non-alcoholic drink Bud Zero is still permitted to be sold in stadiums, and it has been revealed that the assigned stock will be awarded to the winning country, alongside the £35 million prize money (The Guardian, 2022).
Not only have the LGBTQ+ community faced boundaries, but this has also extended towards Jewish communities. Regardless of the continuous promises of Qatari officials claiming ‘all are welcome’, Kosher food and public prayer has been banned, although an estimated 10,000 fans from Israel will be attending the tournament (Middle East Eye, 2022). Robert Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress has expressed his anger towards Qatari officials, stating ‘The World Cup should serve as a unifying event for all sports fans, regardless of religious affiliation, who come together because of their love of sports’. Ironically, these prejudiced actions from Qatar collide with their self-established ‘Reflect Your Respect’ campaign as they instruct all to respect places of worship.
Although Qatar is considered a utopia of modern architecture, there has been questionable statistics that have arose surrounding the £183.9 billion development of several World Cup stadiums, a new airport, metro systems and around 100 new hotels. Since the announcement of the World Cup in Qatar, 30,000 foreign labourers have been hired to aid the development of the construction sites, most arriving from India, Bangladesh, Nepal and the Philippines. These numbers have increased the number of foreign migrants, reaching a total of 1.7 million, over 90% of the workforce (Amnesty International, 2022).
Qatar has faced various accusations regarding their workforce; it has been revealed that migrants are residing in cramped and unhygienic living conditions, are underpaid or receive delayed wages, are not able to leave the country due to their passports being confiscated and are threatened to be deported if they do not meet strenuous deadlines (Amnesty International, 2022). As these defenceless migrants are not safe guarded by their employers, there has been an increase in worker deaths, with approximately 6,500 workers dying in the past decade (BBC, 2022; The Guardian, 2021).
Although Qatar has argued that less than 1% are work-related deaths, they have failed to address the poor living conditions that can lead to several health issues and early death. This is supported by figures from hospitals and ambulance services in Qatar, where 50 labourers died in 2021 alone, alongside 500 serious injuries and over 37,000 mild to moderate injuries (BBC, 2022).
Final thoughts on FIFA’s foul play
At this point, trying to subdue the laughing stock of the current World Cup is the equivalency of growing a third arm, and it appears that with each day that passes, fans, officials, and the world watching have no choice but to let the ship sink. Although it is rational and sensible to enforce and expect respect towards various cultures and religious values, it is difficult to have confidence in a country that has faced a slew of arrests, indictments, homophobia and contract breaches. It appears that the bribes were not worth it.