The Build-Up to the Beautiful Game's Biggest Tournament
Football’s biggest stage. After a four year wait, the wonderful spectacle that consumes fans across the globe has come around. On Sunday, the tournament where 32 of the best footballing countries in the world come together to play for the glory of the most coveted trophy in the sport, kicked off in Qatar. Anticipation and excitement was high for this year’s World Cup as for previous tournaments, however the road to Qatar has undoubtedly been rocky. There have been a myriad of deeply concerning issues, from bribery allegations to human rights abuses, which have plagued what is meant to be the most magical tournament in football.
Let’s go back to December 2010, when FIFA announced Qatar would be the 2022 hosts. Qatar clinched the World Cup after winning a ballot of FIFA’s 22 executive members, beating bids from the US, South Korea, Japan and Australia. Qatar has a hot desert climate and their intense summers do not provide a suitable climate for the tournament, so the only suitable option was a winter World Cup. World Cups have always been held in summer in the break between the footballing seasons across the globe. This is how it has always been; however, this year is the first time the tournament is being held in winter. As a result, domestic leagues worldwide, but especially in Europe, have had to stop midway through the season in order to accommodate the tournament. Football fans were frustrated with the decision of selecting such a less than ideal destination for such a spectacle. Qatar winning their bid to host the World Cup prompted allegations of corruption, vote swapping and links to possible trade deals at the highest level of governments. There was also no mention at the time that the tournament would be held in winter, and initially Qatar planned on installing air conditioning in their stadiums.
The footballing culture in Qatar is relatively minor compared to many other nations, understandable with a population of less than 300,000 people and with the men’s national team ranked 109th in the FIFA world rankings. There has been speculation World Cup organisers have employed ‘fake fans’ for each country in order to enhance the atmosphere. This accusation has been strongly denied by Qatar who have stated that “in different places around the world, fans have different traditions, different ways to celebrate, and while that may contrast with what people are used to in Europe or South America, it doesn’t mean the passion for football is any less authentic”.
Seven of the eight stadiums serving as venues for the tournament have been built from scratch, with the other being extensively enhanced, so there was a significant amount of building and infrastructure programmes. Staggeringly, there will be only one World Cup venue, the Khalifa International Stadium, not being partially or fully dismantled after the tournament. This huge and ambitious project means that migrant workers were needed in order to fulfil the plans set out by Qatar. An estimated 30,000 workers from countries such as India, Nepal, Bangladesh and the Philippines have been building facilities from the stadiums and hotels to roads and the city in which the final match will take place. Though the Qatari government rejected these claims, in February 2021 The Guardian reported that 6,500 workers had died in the country since they won the bid. Since stadium work began back in 2014, there have been numerous reports of human rights abuses and fatalities to workers. Although the Qatari authorities strongly deny any inhumanity, Amnesty International have stated migrant workers had “appalling living conditions” that could be described as “modern slavery”. Human rights activists claim that workers were misled about their wages, lied to about the number of expected working hours, and that general expectations presented by organisers were not met.
At the forefront of scrutiny for Qatar hosting the World Cup is the country’s stance on homosexuality and their oppressive laws against women. Same-sex sexual activity is illegal in the state of Qatar, with a punishment of up to seven years in prison. Qatar recognises Islam as the official state religion, and under Sharia law Muslim men can also be sentenced to death by stoning for homosexuality. A World Cup ambassador from Qatar also recently stated that members of the LGBTQ+ community have “damage in the mind”. Qatar security services are able to arbitrarily arrest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and subjected them to ill‑treatment, detaining them without any access to representation or trial. Women also have limited rights in Qatar and need a male guardian’s approval to drive or leave the country. Women in Qatar still need permission to marry and act as the primary guardian of their children, even if they are divorced and have legal custody.
Individual teams will be making their own protests to show solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community. England captain Harry Kane is wearing ‘OneLove’ armbands in his matches, disregarding FIFA’s rules on teams promoting political activism. The United States men’s team are also showing their support by way of a rainbow-themed logo at their training facility in Qatar. Denmark are wearing toned-down kits that pay tribute to the thousands of migrant workers that have been lost while building the stadiums and infrastructure for this World Cup. The Danish Football Association have also been donating money for every goal scored during this month to migrant workers, including the goals scored in domestic league and the World Cup.
Adidas, AB InBev, Coca-Cola and McDonalds, all multinational corporations, are vocalising their support for migrant workers whilst continuing to sponsor the tournament. In recent weeks, former England internationals Gary Neville and David Beckham have both come under scrutiny for working closely with Qatari officials. Gary Neville is commentating for a Qatari owned TV network, and Beckham signed a £10 million deal with Qatar’s state tourism agency to promote the country prior to the tournament’s start. Comedian Joe Lycett has been vocal in his disappointment of Beckham saying he would donate £10,000 to charities supporting gay people in football if Beckham pulled out of the deal, but he would shred the money if he remined in it. After winning the Euros this summer, England international Beth Mead is refusing to support the World Cup due to Qatar’s stance, alongside many influential figures in sport such as Gary Lineker who stated how the lack of “human rights, the deaths building the stadiums” and “the homophobia in their laws” does not sit right with him.
Surely football should be the focus of a World Cup? Qatar has been put into the global spotlight through hosting the tournament but the controversy surrounding the it has left many fans with a bad taste in their mouth. The question is can and should the world watch football in stadiums built by poorly-treated migrant workers, fully aware of the true cost of putting on this billion-dollar extravaganza?
The World Cup is meant to be a beautiful spectacle but there will certainly be a dark shadow over the competition as fans have been made to confront the reality of the state of the world and their sport.
Image: Wikimedia Commons