In case you don’t follow football, the 2022 World Cup is fast approaching. On the 20th of November, hosts Qatar face Ecuador in the first match of Group A. The Football World Cup is the largest international competition for any sport, where all the best players across the globe come together to showcase their talent to the billions that watch. To give you a rough idea of how popular this competition is, the International Federation of Association Football (or FIFA for short) announced that over 3 billion people had watched the 2018 World Cup Final between France and Croatia.
However, the decision to allow Qatar to host the world cup has proved to be very controversial for many reasons.
Firstly, the weather. Traditionally the tournament has been played in the summer, but this year sees the tournament held in winter for the very first time since the beginning of the World Cup in 1930. And as football fanatic myself, I was excited to find out that the World Cup Final will be held on my birthday- December the 18th– which I can only imagine is a once in a lifetime coincidence for me. But why is the World Cup being held in the winter anyway? Well, FIFA had pledged to hold a major international tournament in the middle-east before 2030. However, the incredibly high temperatures posed a real problem for the tournament going ahead in the summer. The winter climate is still pushing the boundaries of playable conditions, with temperatures ranging from 21 to 28 degrees Celsius but Qatar’s air-conditioned stadiums have mitigated that problem. All eight of Qatar’s world cup stadiums have been fitted with air conditioning systems which aim to keep the whole stadium at around 21 degrees. Even all the individual seats have adjustable air conditioning units which can be changed depending on whether you are sat in the sun or in the shade.
So whilst on balance the weather may not be a major issue, there are other repercussions of the tournament going ahead in Winter. For example, what does this mean for all the leagues world-wide that would be playing during the winter months, and does this mean the footballers will have to play far more football in a shorter amount of time? On the one hand, it is only the European leagues that play a strict August to May season, so the disruption will only be to a few big and powerful teams, and perhaps you think they should just stop whining. But a large amount of the players called up to their national teams are from European teams and UEFA is by far the most represented confederation at the tournament. For example 30 of the 49 players called up by Brazil in the last year, and 19 of the 23 in the last Argentina squad play for European teams. So how have the European league’s dealt with this issue? The Premier League, for example, started on the 6th of August this year and will run to the 28th of May. Last year the season started on the 13th of August and ended on the 22nd of May, meaning called-up Premier League players will have to play 13 days more Premier League football than they had the previous year, which you can imagine is tough on the body. This isn’t ideal for the major leagues and definitely calls the decision to hold the tournament in Qatar in to question.
The second controversial issue in relation to Qatar hosting the World cup is one of legacy. Qatar is a country which has very little football history and it is hardly a surprise that there is currently no real infrastructure that can cope with an event the size of the World Cup. It has cost in the region of $220 billion to build the stadiums, hotels and assorted other parts of infrastructure required. By way of comparison, it cost $3.5billion to prepare South Africa for the 2010 World Cup. For one tournament this seems like a lot of money which could have been spent on other things such as grassroots football. But failing that, Qatar could have perhaps used this money to fund large scale projects that could have long-term global benefits.
Beyond what seems to be a colossal waste of money, the third issue, and in my opinion the most important, has to be one of ethics, or more specifically – human rights. Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, which should really end the debate right here. In a civilised society, backward thinking attitudes such as this should not be tolerated, never mind enshrined in law.
FIFA, for reasons which only they know, seem to care very little for Qatar’s human rights record. The president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, was asked in an interview what homosexuals should do when visiting Qatar and he said ‘refrain from sexual activity’. In a sport where so few people feel they can be open about their sexuality, hosting the world cup in a country where being gay is illegal is hardly going to help move this into the 2020’s.
In addition, flogging is used in Qatar as a punishment for alcohol consumption or illicit sexual relations. Married men and women who commit adultery can be punished by death, although this is very rare. Blasphemy is punishable for up to 7 years in prison. Most western and modern countries would find punishment rules for issues such as this excessive and inappropriate. The UN committee against Torture found these practices in Qatar to be a breach of the obligations imposed by the UN convention against torture.
Finally, and still an ethics related issue, is it right that the World Cup in Qatar should be built on blood? Since Qatar won the World Cup bid, 6500 migrant workers have died in construction of the stadiums. The stories of how the migrant workers have been treated has been widely reported. Living conditions have been terrible, and largely the workers have been treated like slaves, working usually 7 days a week, with no holiday entitlement, poor health and safety supervision and paid very little money.
In conclusion, stories of bribery within FIFA have been rife. And whilst there has been very little proof, many people are left wondering how a country such as Qatar was awarded the world’s most prestigious and watched sports tournament. I wonder if it is because Qatar is the third richest country in the world, it has a GDP per capita of around $50,000, which is about 25% higher than the UK. Or perhaps it is because it is a major oil and gas exporter? Or, if I am being kind, maybe FIFA thought that allowing Qatar to host the World Cup would help highlight the country’s human rights records and perhaps lead to long-term change?
Let’s hope there will be more care and thought given to future world cup hosting countries, and human rights and ethics will be given a lot more consideration. 2026 will be interesting, as it will be held across the United States, Mexico and Canada over 16 cities. I should think there will be a lot more alcohol available!