After Euro 2020 was postponed last summer, we can all agree that the return of serious international competition is hugely exciting for football fans around the globe. As we take another step towards COVID being a distant memory, we can all cast our minds back to a much happier time, the 2018 World Cup. Hard to believe it was three years ago that Waistcoat had us dreaming, as the sunshine cascaded over beer gardens and Dua Lipa’s 'One Kiss' seemed to blare in the distance wherever you were in the country.
As World Cup qualifiers again commence we can now tangibly dream of the much needed unity the England team can offer. In such a fractured nation, the immediate kinship of saying “it’s coming home” to complete strangers would certainly not go amiss. It can be attractive to use football as a form of escapism from social issues, but unfortunately FIFA’s decision to award next year's prestigious World Cup to Qatar makes that impossible.
Football ultimately belongs to the people but the worldwide interest and money in the game means that we need infrastructure to deliver it to the masses. Whether it's failing to tackle racism in the game, a lack of support for the women’s game, or Sepp Blatter’s reign of corruption, FIFA have consistently proven themselves to be incapable of undertaking this responsibility with any integrity. The decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar seemed at best odd, considering Qatar’s lack of footballing history. Add to that the extreme heat players would endure if the tournament were to take place during the summer – as is tradition – and the ruling seems even more bizarre. The most skeptical among us would point to the vast wealth of Qatar as the only explanation, which given FIFA’s history of corruption, seems even more likely.
Most troubling however is the recent report by the Guardian which estimates at least 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since the World Cup was awarded, as a result of unsafe working conditions imposed during Qatar’s mammoth construction effort to make themselves World Cup ready. In light of these troubling developments, we have five questions FIFA must answer about Qatar 2022.
1. How and why was the World Cup ever awarded to Qatar?
This is the obvious starting point. The decision making process needs to be made transparent for people to have any faith in it, particularly when the final decision appears to be so unjustified. We need to know on what basis Qatar was awarded the honour of hosting the World Cup. The last 10 years has seen a number of reports of alleged bribery and corruption from FIFA’s elected officers. Firms linked to Qatar’s bid reportedly transferred $2 million to disgraced official Jack Warner, Al-Jazeera allegedly offered to pay FIFA $100 million if Qatar won rights to the World Cup, and Michel Platini was arrested by French police in 2019 in the Qatar bid.
2. How can football make strides for LGBTQ+ equality if the world’s biggest competition is held in a country that criminalises homosexuality?
It is still illegal to be gay in Qatar. Europe’s top five male leagues have 0 openly gay footballers and with homophobic abuse on the rise on social media and at matches pre-lockdown, it’s no surprise that gay players would want to protect themselves. Clearly this shows the west has a long way to go in terms of LGBTQ+ rights and we have no right to get on our high horse – but for FIFA to allow the World Cup to be hosted in a country where homosexuality is a crime needs an explanation. How can the game call itself a welcoming place for the gay community when its flagship event is hosted in a country where their lifestyle choice could result in a three-year jail sentence?
3. Is FIFA doing all it can to ensure safety for Qatar 2022’s construction workers?
An average of 12 workers per week from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died since Qatar was awarded the World Cup in 2010. You might point to Qatar’s employment regulations but FIFA also have a responsibility to ensure the safety of people working to get a FIFA event off the ground. No one in football should tolerate a culture that pushes enforced labour, poor living conditions, delayed salary payments, or long working hours in torturous heat. In the last week, elite players have found their voice on this issue. The game’s governing body needs to, too.
4. How will FIFA compensate the families of the 6,500 workers who have died in construction?
When asked about the deaths, the committee organising the World Cup in Qatar said: “We deeply regret all of these tragedies and investigated each incident to ensure lessons were learned.” Regret does not bring back the dead. Empty platitudes about learning lessons will do little to ease the pain of the swathes of people affected. Compensation might. Clearly anyone crossing borders and enduring life threatening exploitation is desperate. It is reported that FIFA made revenue in excess of $4.8bn in 2018 largely due to the World Cup. In lieu of apologies that mean nothing, they should make clear what financial commitments they will make to atone for this tragedy.
5. Could players and fans boycott the World Cup in 2022?
Discussions about institutional racism are much more prominent now. We’re starting to understand how problematic it is to ignore slave labour just because “that’s what happens in South Asia”, which is why a lot of ethical consumers are veering away from fast fashion. If ethical consumers wouldn’t buy a product because the supply chain is exploitive, why should they watch a World Cup that thousands of people have died for? It’s unlikely we’ll see football’s players or fans turn their back on the game’s biggest tournament – but some will. And this isn’t something anyone should ever feel like they have to do. Football is everyone’s game, FIFA would do well to remember that.