The Fifa World Cup is an event that is looked forward to and cherished by people all around the world. The previous FIFA World Cup which took place in Russia in the summer of 2018 garnered roughly 3.5 billion viewers, around half of the human population. On top of that, FIFA generated more than $4.6 billion in revenue as per the organization's annual financial report. The next World Cup is around the corner and it will take place in Qatar. Despite the existing pandemic and its effect on football, fans would be eager to not only view but also attend the upcoming edition of the World Cup. At the same time, they should be aware of the existing socio-political and economic conditions in Qatar, how they got the opportunity to host the World Cup, whether there was any corruption related to their selection, how they have promised to make stadiums and hotels which did not even exist a couple of years ago, possible violations of the human rights of migrant workers and much more.
How Qatar was named the host of World Cup 2022
Let’s look at how Qatar got the opportunity to host the 2022 World Cup in the first place. On 2nd December 2010, Qatar was awarded the right to host the 2022 World Cup. This decision was finalized by 22 members of the FIFA Executive committee which included the previous FIFA president Sepp Blatter; it is important to note that Blatter is currently banned from all FIFA activities. Qatar beat the likes of the USA and Japan in the bidding process and ever since the announcement, the tournament has faced a plethora of allegations, from violation of human rights to corruption in the selection process of choosing the host. Let's examine where the accusations of the latter have arisen from and who are the real winners and losers of the 2022 World Cup.
The trouble began in October 2010 two months before the vote transpired when two members of the FIFA Executive Committee were banned for requesting payment in exchange for their vote. The Sunday Times revealed that they had undercover footage of Amos Amadu, FIFA Executive Committee member, requesting $800,000 to be paid directly to him for the construction of artificial pitches in his home nation. The British newspaper also had a videotape of Reynald Temarii soliciting $2.3 million to fund the construction of a football academy in the country of New Zealand. The two were suspended temporarily and were not able to participate in the vote in December, before which both were eventually banned from all football activity for three and one years respectively. They were also fined $15,000 between them. It can objectively be said that this was not a good beginning for the Executive Committee.
As time passed and the day of the vote was around the corner in November, FIFA’s technical report expressed Qatar as a high operational risk. As a host, Qatar was the only candidate to be assigned such an evaluation. Qatar’s bid also attracted severe disapproval from the media for its humid climate, poor track record of human rights, and the illegal status of homosexuality which is punishable by death.
In December 2010, the day of the vote arrived and the executive committee consisted of just 22 members out of 24. They took four rounds to decide upon the hosts eliminating the country with the fewest votes until they were able to formulate a majority. In the results of the voting which have since been made available to the public, Qatar received fewer votes in the second round, which possibly suggests the use of tactical voting. However, Qatar ultimately won the vote by a majority and the aftermath of this was an immediate backlash on the grounds that bids from the other countries were stronger than that of Qatar’s.
In May 2011, Lord David Triesman(Member of Parliament of the United Kingdom) alleged that 4 members of FIFA’s committee had sought bribes from the FA (Football Association) in return for a vote in favor of England hosting the 2018 World Cup which included Jack Warner of Trinidad demanding $4 million and Nicolas Leoz asking for a Knighthood.
That very same month a whistleblower who had been part of the
Qatar 2022 campaign team claimed that Issa Hayatou and Jacques Anouma (FIFA Executives) had each received one and a half million dollars in exchange for the promise that Qatar had their votes. Meanwhile, Mohammed Bin Hammam, president of the Asian Football Confederation and a key figure in Qatar's bid, was set to run for the post of president of FIFA. However, he withdrew from the race following allegations that he had bribed 25 officials to receive their votes, and was later banned from football for life.
In August 2012, Michael Garcia, a former New York Attorney and Judge, was appointed Chairman of the FIFA ethics committee to investigate the allegations of corruption. After two years, Garcia concluded his findings in the paper ‘The Garcia Report’ and delivered the 350-page document to FIFA, who chose not to release Garcia’s findings and instead decided to publish an edited summary, which conveniently showed no sign of any wrongdoing by any of the FIFA officials. This led Garcia to resign in protest.
The wheels truly began to come off for FIFA in its 2015 corruption scandal in which 11 of its top officials were found guilty of corruption and money
laundering by the FBI. Although the allegations were not directly linked to the staging in the World Cup, several of the reprimanded members were part of the committee that gave the World Cup to Qatar and were found to have a suspiciously close relationship with the country's government. Some of the other convictions included the transfer of $10 million directly from the head of the South African Football Association to a FIFA Executive the year that his nation hosted the World Cup in 2010.
While other committee members received bribes worth millions of dollars from the Brazilian Football Confederation in relation to the country being the host of the World Cup, four years later, the corruption case resulted in Blatter resigning. He later received a ban of six years after being found guilty of criminal mismanagement himself.
In 2017 the full Garcia report was eventually published by German tabloid Bild and revealed some of the underhanded behavior of FIFA's top officials, including $2 million being transferred directly into an account for an executive’s ten-year-old daughter and luxuries such as private jets paid for by national federations competing to host the World Cup. In addition, the minutes of FIFA meetings revealed that the extreme heat experienced during June and July in Qatar was not mentioned at any point by the Executive Committee.
When discussing potential hosts in 2019, another investigation by The Sunday
Times found that Qatar state-run broadcasting network al Jazeera had offered FIFA $400 million to secure the TV rights to the tournament, including an additional $100 million if Qatar were to win the bid.
Violation of Human Rights
Another glaring issue when Qatar was given the right to host the World Cup was their dodgy human rights record. Qatar has had to build roughly 8 stadiums in preparation for the World Cup along with other pieces of infrastructure such as hotels. As a consequence of the paucity of time and extremely labor-intensive construction, all migrant workers in the country have been severely oppressed with umpteen violations of their human rights. Such inhuman treatment in Qatar is primarily because of the ‘Kafala’ system they follow.
Kafala means “sponsorship” in Arabic, and is a system used in all Persian Gulf states, including the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, to control and manage their huge migrant populations who build these countries' infrastructure. Over 90 percent of Qatar's population are migrant workers, mainly from Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. This percentage is similar in all Gulf states. They work for low wages, in high heat, and often live in sprawling labor camps away from the big cities. Essentially, Kafala means that an employer is solely responsible for that worker's visa and well-being. The system is popular amongst the citizens of the Gulf, as it keeps tight control over the population even as they are in the minority.
However, this system has resulted in widespread abuse across the Middle East, ranging from movement restrictions and non-payment of wages to appalling accommodation, and from arrests, alleged torture and deportation for demanding better conditions, to suicide and even early sudden death from working long hours in unimaginable heat.
Human rights organizations have decried this system for years. Human Rights Watch has called Kafala a form of “indentured servitude.” Yet it was Qatar's winning World Cup bid – which it had hoped would put the country on the
map – that had a rather unintended effect. It also put Kafala on the map and exposed a system that had affected millions of workers. In many cases, the exploitation doesn't begin in the Middle East. It begins at home, as a long chain of governments, companies, and individuals exploit some of the poorest people in the world. So, how does Kafala work?
Take Bangladesh, one of the largest exporters of workers. In fact, remittances – wages sent home from abroad – make up as much as 10 percent of the country's GDP. In villages far outside of big cities like Dhaka, there are few opportunities for work outside of subsistence farming. Agents are sent out to the villages to find workers, often poor and illiterate, offering opportunities to make large sums of money in the Middle East.
The agents have already secured visas from Middle East countries, which have been raised and approved by companies and government departments back in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, or Qatar. The visa comes at a price, money that they do not have. So they will borrow money against the family's land to pay the agent. The going rate for a Qatari visa is around £3,500, a huge sum in Bangladesh where per capita income is just £1000. Bribes would usually have to be paid all along the line in Bangladesh, from getting a passport to sorting out the paperwork. Once they have arrived in the Middle East, a myriad of problems presents themselves. One of the biggest is low pay, often far lower than the contract they had signed back home. Some workers can be paid as little as £200 a month, making it virtually impossible to send any money home.
The worker is also trapped because if he or she returns home, they will have to repay the loan they took on their family's land. Without the money, the family is homeless, so the worker stays, unable to send much money home, and unable to leave to find a better solution.
Kafala means that workers cannot change jobs without their employer's permission. In the case of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, they cannot even leave the country without their employer's permission.
So, millions of workers toil for a pittance in extreme heat. They are exiled from living in the cities and herded into migrant labor camps with awful sanitary conditions, living with eight to sixteen people in a room. Even worse is the fact that wages and conditions are often judged by the migrant’s country of origin and how hard his embassy is willing to stand up for him. As remittances are so important to the Bangladeshi government, workers complain that they are paid the lowest wages and given the harshest treatment. Their embassy is unlikely to rock the boat. As Dr. Chowdhury Abar, director of the refugee and migratory movements research unit at the University of Dhaka explains, the Bangladeshi government “does not stand up for the migrants with as much strength and support as they should ... We are fearful as a country if we speak too much about rights and good treatment of migrant workers we would lose the labour market.”
No one is even sure how many workers have died, or how they have died. Few statistics on worker deaths in the UAE, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia exist. It is in this context that the 2022 World Cup infrastructure was being built. Initially, the plight of workers building stadiums and infrastructure in Qatar had received minimal coverage. But international reporting and persistent reports from human rights organizations brought the issue to the fore. Qatar made limited reforms to the system but FIFA came under withering criticism for allowing the exploitation to take place in the first place. In a 2016 report from Amnesty International Secretary-General, Salil Shetty wrote that: “The abuse of migrant workers is a stain on the conscience of world football. For players and fans, a World Cup stadium is a place of dreams. For some of the workers who spoke to us, it can feel like a living nightmare.” The bad publicity forced both FIFA and Qatar to start addressing the issue.
A “Workers Charter” was instituted as was a system of electronic wages to end late and underpayments. But changes had been promised before and not been implemented and at times it felt like true reform was being given lip service.
And then the cause of workers' rights in the Gulf got a boost from an unlikely source. A political and economic boycott between Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt against Qatar has prompted a new wave of worker reforms. Qatar announced that Kafala was to be effectively abolished including the need to ask one’s employer for an exit visa. Contracts would have to be lodged with a central committee so that workers will get the same wages they were promised back home. And, most significantly, a minimum wage would exist to end the practice of different wages for different countries even for the same jobs, which had been criticized for being racist. This would mark a significant shift and would see far better protection for workers than the United Arab Emirates, which has largely ignored calls to bring in genuine reform. However, there would still be restrictions on workers, so it is not quite the full repeal of Kafala that has been promised.
Irrespective of this, both the International Trade Union Confederation and the recent World Report by Human Rights Watch, two organizations that have been sharply critical of Qatar, hailed the move as a positive step. Millions of workers continue to pour into the Middle East, escaping grinding poverty and hoping for a better life.
It is only fair to treat this development with caution. Often, laws have been passed but there has been little implementation on the ground, making any legal changes largely irrelevant. Human Rights Watch wrote that “these measures would be pathbreaking for Gulf countries where migrants make up most of the labor force, but the announcement gives little detail on how laws will be amended, how the changes will be carried out, or the timeframe for their implementation.”
As Nicholas McGeehan, a human rights advocate who has been one of the most visible champions for better worker rights across the Gulf, tweeted after the announcement was made: “@ HRW take an optimistic view of the human rights situation in #Qatar in their World Report. It's ok to be optimistic, and I hope they're right. I'm skeptical and I hope I'm wrong.”
Amnesty International has a recent 2020 report regarding the implementation of these laws which tells us that even though the laws in Qatar are slowly shifting in support of the Migrant workers there is weak enforcement of some of these reforms which essentially defeats the purpose.
In conclusion, the reform process is far from complete. With only a year to go before, the 2022 World Cup and most stadiums and infrastructure already being built, these laws have failed to prioritize the basic rights of the migrant workers. This shows that all the reforms which Qatar has passed have only been to appease the public and maintain their reputation.
Effect of Torrid Conditions on the Footballing Calendar
The 2022 World Cup is scheduled to start on November 21, 2022, which has caused all sorts of problems in the Northern Hemisphere, interfering with the people’s daily calendars. While this decision has been made to counter the extreme torrid conditions of the country, it is also inconvenient for the average football fan who had been accustomed to enjoying and attending the world cup in the June-July period. This decision would also affect the European Football leagues which usually start in April and conclude in March.
The existing laws of Qatar deem homosexuality illegal with a punishment of up to 3 years in prison and a fine for consenting males. Additionally, it could lead to the death penalty for Muslims under the sharia law. In 1998, an American citizen visiting Qatar was sentenced to six months in prison and 90 lashes for homosexual activity. In 2016 Polish Instagram star King Luxy was arrested in Qatar for allegedly being homosexual. He spent 2 months in custody before he was released. The Polish embassy claimed he was arrested for extortion.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter initially said: "I would say they should refrain from any sexual activities"; he later added that: “we [FIFA] don't want any discrimination. What we want to do is open this game to everybody, and to open it to all cultures, and this is what we are doing in 2022.”
In 2013, the head of Qatar's World Cup bid team, Hassan al-Thawadi, said that everybody was welcome at the event, so long as they refrained from public displays of affection.
In January 2021, Qatar said that it will permit LGBTQ flags in the World Cup. However, this so-called ‘permit’ can be seen as an act of window dressing. According to Chris Paouros, a member of the English Football Association’s inclusion advisory board, “What it doesn’t do is help the LGBTQ+ Qatari community.” This is rightly said as there is no point in hoisting LGBTQ+ flags if the strict Qatari laws regarding this issue are not reformed.
Qatar does not give its citizens the right to freedom of expression, A life sentence was handed to the Qatari poet Mohammed al-Ajami, also known as Mohammed Ibn al-Dheeb, for criticism of the government during the 2012 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Qatar. Observers were not allowed to enter the court, and al-Ajami himself was not present at the sentencing. All the information available points to Mohammed al-Ajami being a prisoner of conscience who had been placed behind bars solely for his words. Al-Ajami was released from prison in March 2016 after a royal pardon commuted his sentence.
A cyber law passed in late September 2014 severely limited freedom of speech and freedom of expression rights, granting the government and authorities the ability to punish "content that may harm the country" with jail time of up to 3 years, and fines of around 500,000 QR ($138,000). The law states that the authority may in each individual case judge whether the content is suitable or not. No guidelines or references are currently available to say what type of content is allowed.
Recently Qatar has passed a new vaguely worded law that criminalizes a broad range of speech and publishing activities which stands to significantly restrict freedom of expression in Qatar. This goes against Qatar’s statement to guarantee the right to freedom of expression.
The law, issued by Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, amends the Penal Code by adding a new provision, Article 136 bis, which authorizes the imprisonment of “anyone who broadcasts, publishes, or republishes false or biased rumors, statements, or news, or inflammatory propaganda, domestically or abroad, with the intent to harm national interests, stir up public opinion, or infringe on the social system or the public system of the state”.
“This law effectively signals a worrying regression from commitments made two years ago to guarantee the right to freedom of expression. Qatar already has a host of repressive laws, but this new legislation deals another bitter blow to freedom of expression in the country and is a blatant breach of international human rights law,” said Lynn Maalouf, Research Director for the Middle East at Amnesty International.
The measures taken by Qatar to put themselves on the map with this World Cup have been extremely underhanded and exploitative. Migrant workers have died building stadiums and infrastructure, the measures taken by their government have been far from satisfactory. On top of that, they have come too late and are completely half-hearted which questions whether Qatar and FIFA cared about these issues in the first place. FIFA is also equally responsible for being susceptible to such extreme bribery and extortion. It is equally their fault that workers have died building a stadium in their name and has tarnished the image of a glorious World Cup. Fans are facing the dilemma of whether they should attend the world cup in the first place with unjust laws, corruption, and violation of human rights. The World Cup is about celebrating one of the most widely recognized sports, football. The environment in the stadiums is supposed to be magical and euphoric; such an ambiance is hard to enjoy when it has been built on the foundation of inhuman treatment, torture, and slavery.