Article written by: Lourenço Pereira
Translated by: Matilde São José
The starting whistle for the World Cup hasn’t even been blown yet, but Qatar is already handing out red cards.
The FIFA World Cup will be held this year, extraordinarily, between November 20 and December 18. The timing for this tournament is due to the high temperatures that the country experiences during the summer, often exceeding 40ºC. The tournament is traditionally held between the months of June and July, by which time the national championships and club tournaments in Europe have already ended, giving a greater opportunity to organize the training season.
And why Europe? It is evident that all over the world, club dynamics are being broken down, but in the old continent, football is the king sport in many countries, with the biggest championships and club tournaments in the world. In this way, it is obvious that the major clubs want to bet on top squads, hiring the best in the world. These players, due to their skills, also play for their national teams, thus having to travel to their home countries to prepare for the World Cup.
The dates of the competition force a pause in many championships and changes in the calendar of major competitions such as the UEFA Champions League. This break translates into a month where no games can be played, meaning the tournaments’ organizations must tighten the dates between them, putting the players under more physical and mental pressure.
However, and putting our eurocentrism aside, the dates of the World Cup, which have already been very contested, are one of the minor problems of this tournament, which started right away with the choice of the country to host the event.
Qatar has won the right to host the next World Cup in 2010. After applying to host the event, Qatar won the FIFA Congress vote, being ahead of Japan, Australia, South Korea, and the United States of America. The choice of this country, with no great football tradition, has raised some controversies since then.
According to an FBI investigation, both Qatar and Russia (the last country to host the tournament in 2018) monetarily induced several FIFA members to host the World Cup. This investigation became the basis for a formal accusation by the US justice system against several leaders of the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA).
In its turn, The Sunday Times, which in 2014 had also launched an investigation about bribery by Qatar, claims in 2018 that this country invested in a campaign aimed at denigrating other applicants to host the tournament, namely Australia and the US. Like the bribery accusations, the country has denied them again.
Another aspect under discussion is the stadiums, or rather their construction. The 64 matches of this World Cup will be played in eight stadiums with a modern architecture and at the same time matching the cultural identity of Qatar. Seven of the infrastructures were built from scratch over the last decade for the purpose of hosting the event. At the end of the competition, the stadiums will either be remodeled or dismantled, with many of the components, such as the seats, being donated to other countries.
However, there is a dark reality beyond the spotlight and this apparent post-World Cup “charity”. More than 30,000 workers were hired to build these stadiums, many of them coming from Pakistan, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. With stadiums finished and already tested, more than 6700 deaths are being mourned today – a large part of them being unjustified – due to the harsh conditions to which these workers were subjected.
The Qatari government does not appear surprised by the numbers, but other organizations such as the Council of Europe, Amnesty International, and FIFA itself are concerned about the high death toll. In the case of FIFA, the organization intends to create a fund to support the families of those who have died by making this project a reality. Still, the organization also considered that the number is not that high compared to other large undertakings.
Other concerns associated with this country relate to more vulnerable groups. In fact, women see their rights being denied on a daily basis in this country. Qatar is a very conservative state, and quite backward when it comes to many individual freedoms. Women are forced into a submissive role towards men, needing the permission of their male “guardian” to exercise rights that we Europeans don’t even contest, such as getting married. When it comes to divorce, the law does not make it any easier, preventing custody of the children when it happens.
Another matter of greater controversy, and one that has recently gained even more relevance, is the rights (or lack of rights) of the LGBT+ community. For some time now, the presence of LGBT+ fans in Qatar has been questioned from a safety point of view since homosexuality is forbidden in the country and can lead to up to seven years of prison.
Josh Cavallo, a homosexual and Australian soccer player, revealed a few months ago that he did not feel safe defending his flag colors in Qatar, since same-sex relationships are not tolerated. The player ended up not being called up, but he got the message out to the whole world.
Qatar had previously stated that everyone would be welcomed, however, displays of affection in public, regardless of the fans’ sexual orientation, would not be well regarded. More recently, Khalid Salman, the World Cup 2022 ambassador has called homosexuality a “mental illness”. This makes one wonder: is everyone really welcomed?
Qatar has been getting pressure from various organizations, directly or indirectly, to phase out these human rights violations, but nothing seems to change. As for the World Cup period, we do not know what to expect, only that traditions and religion will continue as one of the main pillars of the country. However, with so many issues raised, it will be difficult for Qatar to hide its flaws with the luxury that the country shows off.
Regarding the economy, Qatar’s spending on the event is around 220 billion US dollars. The country believes the event should return 20 billion dollars to the country’s economy, mainly in the tourism and construction sectors. However, Qatar hopes that all the investment made over the last few years will bring a return over the next twenty years. Another of the country’s goals with this major undertaking is to attract the attention of large companies. For now, and at a time when several companies and institutions are more and more concerned with social issues, Qatar’s strategy does not seem to be having any effect. This is the case of Hummel, sponsor of the Danish team, which presented one of the team’s equipment in shades of black, a symbol of homage to those who died in the construction of the Qatari dream.
It is certain that this World Cup is not, and will not be, just another football tournament. By organizing this World Cup, Qatar wanted to open itself to the world, show its identity, but it couldn’t overshadow the latent problems in the country. The world is aware of the restrictions on individual freedoms, the alleged cases of corruption, and the high number of people who lost their lives to make Qatar 2022 a reality. Facing these contradictions, it remains to be known whether the relevant organizations will take a stand and act or mitigate the relevance of these issues once the ball starts rolling. The kickoff of the tournament has been scheduled for November 20, with Qatar vs. Ecuador at around 16:00 (Lisbon time).