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Qatar 2022: The World Cup Plagued with Controversy

Staff Writer Edward Ducker on the myriad of controversies surrounding the upcoming Football World Cup in Qatar

With domestic league football having kicked off in mid-July, it will come to a temporary and unconventional halt in November for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Despite fans worldwide tuning in to support their nations as they traditionally would, this is no ordinary World Cup. A wide array of ethical, political and socio-economic issues produced in the build-up to the event have generated a whirlwind of negative press, and it seems that no matter the outcome on the pitch- it cannot fully conceal the abhorrent incidents occurring behind the scenes.

Unethical Working Conditions

The destination of this year’s tournament was announced to no lack of controversy in December 2010, with personnel such as US President Barack Obama publicly labelling it “The wrong decision.”. The fact that such a world-renowned competition would be held in the Middle East for the first time in its 92-year history naturally raised a few eyebrows and divided opinions across the footballing world. There have been many complaints regarding how the competition will take place in the winter, having previously always been a Summer event, with it causing major disruption to the European domestic leagues. However, the location is but a minor concern when regarding the full scope of the preparations. Over the course of the last 10 years, there have been a plethora of reported human rights violations, poor working conditions and dehumanizing wage payments in association with Qatar 2022.

In September 2013, the Guardian reported that certain companies which handled the construction for stadium infrastructure forced employees to continue working by denying them promised salaries and not providing necessary permits – essentially deeming them illegal ‘aliens.’ The report also stated that there was sufficient evidence suggesting that the same workers were also facing exploitation and abuse (upon referring to the International Labour Organization (ILO)). In 2016, Amnesty International accused Qatari companies of using forced labour. Such financial conditions were never properly eased for the workers. This was demonstrated in August 2022, when 60 labourers assembled outside the headquarters of the Al Bandary International Group in Doha, complaining about unpaid wages. Some workers expressed that they hadn’t been paid for seven weeks.

It is no secret that the Qatari government aren’t particularly comfortable with the world knowing of the working conditions they provide. In 2015 four journalists from the BBC were respectfully invited to visit Qatar by the prime minister’s office to view a new flagship accommodation for low-paid migrant workers. However, when they attempted to search unsupervised and report on the immorality of such conditions, all four were arrested and held as prisoners for two days.

The Qatari Government released a statement regarding the treatment of the journalists by claiming, “The BBC crew decided to do their own site visits and interviews in the days leading up to the planned tour. In doing so, they trespassed on private property, which is against the law in Qatar just as it is in most countries.” Mustafa Qadri, Amnesty International’s Gulf migrant rights researcher, later explained that the detentions of journalists and activists are likely to be attempts “to intimidate those who seek to expose labour abuse in Qatar”- a very chilling phrase.

Despite these incidents and accusations setting a poor precedent for this year’s tournament, the primary disincentive for both fans and corporations to offer their full support to the competition is the staggering number of worker deaths, crucially migrant deaths, that have been recorded. The Guardian reported that 6,500 migrant workers had died in the country between 2010 and 2020. To put such a figure into context, the preparations for the London 2012 Olympics saw the death of only one worker. For the 2014 Brazil World Cup, despite the South American nation being a much less socio-economically developed country than the United Kingdom, still only caused the death of ten labourers in its preparations.

Additionally, between 2012 and 2013, a report commissioned by the Qatari government deduced that 964 migrant workers from India, Nepal and Bangladesh died in preparation for Qatar 2022. Moreover, the report didn’t include deaths from the Philippines and Sri Lanka, which have a smaller but still significant number of migrant workers in the country. Recently, the ILO released a report stating that in 2021 alone, 50 foreign labourers died, and more than 500 others were seriously injured, with a further 37,600 suffering mild to moderate injuries.

LGBTQ+ Rights

The surrounding controversy is not only subject to employee conditions however, as certain fans who attend the matches live in Qatar are also socially prohibited. A key example is Qatar’s view on homosexuality and LGBTQ+ support in general, as homosexuality is seen as a crime in Qatar. Article 296 of Qatar’s criminal code places a ban on “leading, instigating or seducing a male in any way to commit sodomy” and carries a punishment of one to three years in prison for such acts. Qatari officials have said they would be open to fans of all sexual orientations but expect them to respect norms that frown upon public expressions of affection, essentially lawfully restricting any public homosexual affection.

Upon hearing the announcement of Qatar 2022 in 2010, Ed Connell, a spokesperson for the Gay Football Supporters Network expressed his frustration with the country of choice. He stated, “It’s obviously very disappointing to see FIFA giving their backing to a country where homosexuality is illegal and where people can get imprisoned… You wonder how people are meant to interpret FIFA’s commitment to tackling homophobia when they endorse a country in this way.” In an industry where it has proven difficult in the past for players to speak openly about their sexuality, you feel FIFA and other footballing bodies should be sparing no effort in demonstrating that the beautiful game is for everyone to enjoy.

On 27 October, 2021, Adelaide United player, Josh Carvalho became the first active football player to publicly reveal his sexuality as gay. The general reaction was varied but overall positive. Carvalho has since inspired and encouraged others to do the same. Blackpool’s Jake Daniels followed suit in May 2022, becoming the UK’s first active male professional footballer to come out publicly as gay. These two stories are fantastic for the sport, showcasing how progressive it has become and how accepting the world of football can be, notwithstanding the fact that there is still a long way to go. FIFA’s decision to hold the biggest tournament in Football in a nation which condemns homosexuality proves their actions to be largely counter-intuitive in achieving a footballing world where all demographics are openly welcomed to support or play.

Rebellious Methods

Domestic footballing association bodies are taking a stance against such policies, however. In September 2022 it was announced that ten major participant countries, including England, would employ a rainbow armband for the captains to wear during games in support of LGBTQ+ rights. Even though permission has yet to be granted by FIFA, the English FA are adamant that England captain, Harry Kane, should wear the armband – even if it risks potential impunity. Denmark have further demonstrated their support for the rights of Qatari workers through the design of their new kit. Each of their three kits – a red home strip, white away strip and black third kit all have a ‘toned-down’ aesthetic designed to reduce the visibility of the shirts. Danish kit-manufacturer Hummel stated that they, “don’t wish to be visible during a tournament that has cost thousands of people their lives.”

In response to such indirect and peaceful political protests, Qatar 2022 CEO Nasser Al Khater urged those attending the event to be respectful of the local culture.  He stated, “From what I understand, there are discussions taking place about the different political messages that are going to be. This is a sporting tournament that people want to come and enjoy. Turning it into a platform of political statements is not right for the sport.” Despite there being some rationality in what Al Khater suggested, certain policies, incidents and the sickening treatment of employees in Qatar cannot be so nonchalantly overlooked this deep into the 21st century.

Much like its predecessors, Qatar 2022 will not fall short in footballing drama, and the perception remains that the most watched international sporting event will deliver enthralling action yet again. The bookmakers anticipate the likes of Brazil and France to go the deepest and reach the final on 18 December with England and Argentina narrowly missing out on what is likely be the most viewed event of the year. However, Argentina is currently on a 35-game unbeaten streak, and with this to potentially be Lionel Messi’s last World Cup, it would be extremely fitting if he was to lift the trophy in December. Irrespective of the events on the pitch however, many fans, players and supporters will all consider the tragedies that have allowed this year’s World Cup to go ahead.

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