If you’ve turned on the TV or simply opened up social media in the past week, you would know that a) the World Cup is on and b) things aren’t going smoothly. Fingers are pointed at both FIFA and the Qatar government, and it isn’t for no reason. From unfinished guest accommodation to human rights abuses, let’s get into it and explain the many, many controversies surrounding the Qatar World Cup.
Qatar Winning the Bid to Host was Already Controversial
FIFA have never really been a trustworthy organisation, so when people started to claim that Qatar had bribed FIFA to vote for their country to host, it wasn’t hard to believe. Why? FIFA have been swamped in numerous revelations of corruption marked with several investigations.
There’s a whole Netflix documentary about FIFA and their corruption so we could spend all day talking about this, so instead, we will focus our efforts from the decision in 2010 to let Russia and Qatar host the World Cup. It all starts from a simple question; how did a small, obscure, desert nation whose football team has never qualified for the World Cup legitimately beat sporting dynamos like the U.S and Australia?
Just a few months before the announcement of the hosts for 2018 and 2022, FIFA suspended two members of their 24-person committee due to allegations of the pair offering to sell their votes. Both of them were given temporary suspensions from FIFA. Not a great start.
In 2014, the U.K outlet, the Sunday Times, reported several leaked emails and documents suggesting that prominent Qatari football official and former FIFA executive committee member, Mohammed bin Hammam, allegedly paid millions of dollars in bribes to FIFA officials. Bin Hammam had already been banned for life after separate corruption charges in 2011. Once again, this doesn’t look good, but nothing has been definitively proved.
There was yet another investigation into FIFA corruption but this time it came from FIFA’s own chief ethics investigator, and former U.S. attorney, Michael J. Garcia. He discovered that there were serious irregularities in the bidding process surrounding the hosts of 2018 and 2022, but there was no conclusive evidence that Qatari officials actually bribed FIFA officials.
While all these investigations and revelations were going on, FIFA’s long-time president, Sepp Blatter, abruptly resigned. That’s odd, but what’s even odder is that his resignation appeared just a few days after he won his re-election for a fifth term. As it was later discovered, Blatter was charged with criminal fraud in Switzerland, but was acquitted in July 2022.
In April 2020, the U.S. Justice Department released evidence that suggested that at least three FIFA officials accepted bribes from unnamed intermediaries to vote for Qatar. Despite all of this, there isn’t any hard evidence that actually proves that Qatar had bribed FIFA. There was wrongdoing, no doubt, but nothing that tied directly to Qatar.
If you’re curious about what Qatar had to say about this, you may not be surprised that they have vehemently denied all allegations of bribery.
LGBT+ Inclusion is… Awkward
In 2013, FIFA had amened a few of their statutes to declare that any discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation” is “strictly prohibited and punishable by suspension or expulsion” from football. That’s what was said. However, the reality was more complicated.
Both Russia and Qatar had already held contracts to stage the World Cup before these statutes were put into place. Their contracts stated that they could host in accordance with their own laws and customs, which aren’t exactly kind to homosexuality.
In Qatar, male homosexuality is illegal and comes with a punishment of up to three years in prison and a fine. There is no legal recognition of same-sex marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships.
Sepp Blatter, before he resigned, said that LGBT fans visiting Qatar should “refrain” from amorous activities. You can imagine that went down like a lead balloon.
However, it is here that we see Qatar extending an olive branch. According to a Dutch news site, documents had been shared between organisers and Qatari police which read that any in the LGBT community who “show affection in public will not be reprimanded, detained, or prosecuted. They may carry rainbow flags. Same-sex couples can share a hotel room.”
Now, whether this is enough, or if this is basic human decency is up to you, but as reported by the BBC, LGBT support group, Villa and Proud, surveyed its members to gauge how fans felt leading up to the World Cup. Boss Steve Lovell said, “We asked our members, ‘if we were to give you a free ticket to Qatar, accommodation, flights, everything, would you go?’ And 88% of the responses said no, they wouldn’t.”
“It’s a real conflict,” he added. “I don’t know whether to support them [England], whether to watch or not watch it, it’s difficult.”
Seemingly to make Lovell’s decision easier, during the USA vs Wales match, U.S. soccer journalist, Grant Wahl, was detained by security staff for wearing a rainbow shirt as a show of solidarity with the LGBT+ community. Wahl said that a security guard told him his shirt was not allowed, and “forcibly ripped” his phone from his hands as he was tweeting about the incident. He was then detained for 20 minutes while security asked him to remove his shirt because it was “political.”
Wahl wrote in his column, “Then a security commander approached me. He said they were letting me through and apologized. We shook hands. One of the security guards told me they were just trying to protect me from fans inside who could harm me for wearing the shirt… a FIFA rep later apologized to me as well.
“But the entire episode left me wondering: What’s is like for ordinary Qataris who might wear a rainbow shirt when the world isn’t watching here? What’s that like?”
Wahl was eventually allowed to wear the shirt in the stadium.
FIFA has told the teams to “focus on football,” not politics. John Paul Kesseler, from Birmingham Blaze, said that “Football doesn’t exist in a vacuum. To say politics shouldn’t be a part of football, is to misunderstand the way the world works.”
As the tournament got underway, players from six countries, including Australia and England, planned to wear rainbow “OneLove” armbands to highlight Qatar’s human rights record. FIFA responded by threatening to hand the captains of the teams with a yellow card before they walked on the field. This is a problem because once a player is handed two yellow cards, it will result in a one-match ban. The English team, becoming aware of this, took a knee during the pre-match.
Australian player, Josh Cavallo, who came out as gay last year, lashed out at FIFA saying, “FIFA you have lost my respect. All the work we’re doing to make football more inclusive [and] you have shown that football isn’t a place for everyone.”
What’s a “Human Right”?
It’s no secret that many Gulf nations, including Qatar, use and exploit foreign labour from Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. Only 10% of Qatar’s labour force are Qatari citizens. Several human rights groups have pointed out the terrible conditions workers experience and building all the infrastructure for the World Cup. It’s come at a huge cost both financial and human.
Qatar has spent $9.7 billion AUD on stadium construction and an additional $53.5 billion on a driverless metro system. Overall, the nation has spent $340 billion total on infrastructure. In contrast, Russia and Brazil spent less than $20 billion each, making the Qatar World Cup the most expensive in history.
The Guardian’s investigation in 2021estimated that at least 6,500 workers have died since Qatar was awarded the host position in 2010. Often, these workers were young and in good health, but died within a year of arriving in Qatar. The investigation claims that Qatar has mostly failed to investigate the causes of these deaths with the death certificates simply stating things like “cardiac arrest,” “respiratory failure,” or “natural causes.” Qatar have disputed this and said that only 37 workers have died and it was “non-work-related.”
Pete Pattison, one of the investigators, told NPR, that, “Some of them include workers who collapsed on the stadium construction site and died after they were taken off it. Others died in road traffic accidents on their way to work in a company bus. And many others died suddenly in an unexplained way in their labor camps.”
FIFA committed to upholding the conventions of the International Labour Organisation with their own 2017 Human Rights Policy, as accorded with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. This will certainly sound hypocritical considering both recent World Cup hosts have dubious human rights records, but once again, the contracts with Russia and Qatar were already signed before this commitment.
Aware of the hypocrisy, FIFA instead opted to advocate reforms to Qatar’s “kafala” system, which requires all migrant workers to have an in-country sponsor (typically their employer), who is responsible for their visa and legal status. Several human rights organisations have criticised the system for creating easy opportunities for exploitation as many workers have their passports taken by their employers and suffer abuse with little to no chance of legal repercussions. Part of the reforms introduced was to remove the legal requirement to receive a sponsor’s approval before leaving the country. In 2018, Qatar introduced reforms that would ban work in summer and limiting work when the temperature rises above 32ºC. However, it seems that none of this has been put into practice.
According to a report by Equidem, the exploitation of workers has continued and suggests that the reforms have not been well implemented. Workers told Amnesty International, that they experienced wage theft, excessive working hours, dangerous working and living conditions, and physical and sexual abuse.
Human rights bodies and FIFA have urged Qatar to compensate the families of the over 6,000 workers who died working on World Cup infrastructure. Qatar has outright refused claiming that only 37 workers had died in workplace related incidents.
Despite all the work that many died to build, some of the infrastructure, including the fan villages, are unfinished.
The fan villages have severely disappointed many international visitors. Their state has been less than ideal and seemingly unsuitable for the desert conditions. They aren’t cheap to book either costing $300 AUD per night.
As visitors arrived, they were greeted with large piles of rubble and rubbish and abandoned forklifts and diggers. There was the promise of a tennis court, cinema, and a fitness centre. The fitness centre is there but it’s just a few pieces of outdoor equipment. The tennis court and the cinema haven’t materialised at all.
Two anonymous contractors spoke to The Times and revealed that the cabins themselves will be very uncomfortable for fans.
As one explained, “It has been hell. The aircon in the cabin barely works and sounds like a [fighter jet] is taking off. Even if you have it on all the time during the day, it is still 27ºC. You can’t have it on at night because it is so noisy.”
The other said, “[The beds] are rock hard so you might as well sleep on the floor. I have never been somewhere so uncomfortable. We have been here for 10 days and it is a nightmare. It might be okay if you want to rough it for a night or two, but any longer would be dreadful.”
In addition, a large hole has been spotted on the walkway just metres from the 80,000-seat stadium. However, this happens often at other sites around the world, so it isn’t anything ground-breaking.
Needless to say, some commentators have compared the World Cup this year to the infamous Fyre Festival. It might be dramatic and inaccurate description, but it does reveal the general sentiment towards the event.
The Last Minute Beer Ban
Qatar is the first Muslim country to host the World Cup, and as such, there were always going to be complications with the sale of alcohol. Alcohol isn’t illegal in Qatar, but it is illegal to drink it in public and is only served in licensed hotel restaurants and bars. There was a compromise made where alcohol would be sold in stadium compounds but not during the games and anyone visibly drunk would be placed in “sobering tents”. This isn’t the case anymore.
As FIFA explained, “Following discussion between host country authorities and FIFA, a decision has been made to focus the sale of alcoholic beverages on the FIFA Fan Festival, other fan destinations and licenses venues, removing sales points of beer from Qatar’s FIFA World Cup stadium perimeters.”
This was just two days before the tournament was to start. Budweiser’s Twitter account tweeted after the backflip, “Well, this is awkward.”
Elaina Bailes, a committee member of the London Solicitors Litigation Association, told Reuters that she believes this last-minute change will likely lead to a legal dispute.
“Budweiser now has a costly logistical problem of what to do with distributed stock it can no longer sell, and there could be knock on effects for contracts in their supply chain,” she said, adding that the loss of brand visibility during the matches could also play a part.
Additionally, Ed Weeks, head of commercial dispute resolution at Cripps, told the publication that the big issue is whether the FIFA-Budweiser contracted anticipated the possibility of the change. As Weeks explains, “If they did, and they put in a clause putting the risk on Budweiser, then they’re going to be very smug right now. If they didn’t, then FIFA and its lawyers are going to have a really bad weekend.”
There has been no official word on what’s going to happen as a result of the ban, legally speaking. There are only rumours and theories.
Allegations of Match-Fixing and Fake Fans
These allegations appear like people looking for things to be wrong with the World Cup despite there being plenty to be genuinely upset about. But for the first match of the event, Qatar vs Ecuador, already rumours were alleging that Qatar had bribed some Ecuadorian players to lose. However, given the 2-0 loss for Qatar, this seems to have just been a rumour.
However, as the crowds rolled in, international fans accused Qatar of paying locals to appear so that there would be large crowds. Again, we don’t know if this is true, but it did lead to FIFA boss, Gianni Infantino, to go on a rambling tirade.
“I am reading that these people don’t look English so they can’t cheer for England, they look like Indians,” he began. “What is that? Can someone who looks Indian not cheer for England, Spain, or Germany? You know what it is? This is racism, pure racism. Everyone in the world has the right to cheer for who they want. I think for what Europeans have been doing the last 3,000 years we should be apologising for the next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons to people.”
Maybe he would have had a point, but Infantino continued to ramble and grabbed headlines with his statement, “Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arabic. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel [like] a migrant worker. Of course, I am not Qatari, I am not Arab, I am not African, I am not gay, I am not disabled. But I feel like it, because I know what it means to be discriminated, to be bullied, as a foreigner in a foreign country. As a child I was bullied – because I had red hair and freckles, plus I was Italian so imagine.
“What do you do then? You try to engage, make friends. Don’t start accusing, fighting, insulting, you start engaging. And this is what we should be doing.”
The only thing he forgot to add was “I love football.”