We are less than one month away from the beginning of the latest edition of the FIFA World Cup. The hosts to follow the well debated Russian successful bid in 2018 is the wealthy Gulf state of Qatar. Thirty-two nations and over 1.5 million fans are set to descend on Qatar over the month of World Cup action. It should be a time where we celebrate football’s unique ability to bring us all together. However, scepticism over Qatar’s suitability for its role of World Cup host abounds.
Shoddy labour protection, deaths of migrant workers, the general disdain Qatar holds for the LGBTQIA+ community along with practical concerns such as those over accommodation and leisure have cumulated in unprecedented criticism for the Gulf state and FIFA.
Scandals of bribery have rocked FIFA over its 2010 decision to make Russia and Qatar consecutive World Cup hosts, with former FIFA President Sepp Blatter banned from football until 2027. Alas, Qatar remains the host. The nation state has fully committed to their unique opportunity to boost its “soft power and to add to its political influence” by spending over $200bn to act as host. Eight stadia have been refurbished or entirely constructed along with the creation of a new public transport system and international airport to meet the prerequisites for accommodating the tournament. Although Qatar’s oil reserves have made it a wealthy country, an outlay of $200 billion is immense for a country of only 3 million inhabitants.
Initial projections by the Qatari government of potential revenues generated by the World Cup amounted to $20bn. However, projections have already been revised downwards to approximately $17bn. Financial outlays by former World Cup hosts have not seen the economic returns that were projected, with many financial experts noting the limited economic benefit of hosting a football tournament. The costs simply outweigh the potential financial benefits. However, there is an interesting pattern emerging in the previous hosts of the World Cup since 2010. Qatar, like Russia, South Africa and Brazil beforehand, have all experienced weakened soft power and concerns over political stability. This World Cup acts as a potential public relations boon, and that is what Qatar seeks.
The image Qatar is trying to project, and the reality, appear very different indeed. According to the Guardian, 6500 migrant workers have died in the Gulf state since 2010. Amnesty International has joined mounting pressure to renumerate workers abused by the unlawful practices in the construction of stadia for the World Cup. Amnesty believes a figure of $440mn would be appropriate to compensate these individuals and their families. This, coupled with Qatar’s prohibition of many activities we have grown accustomed to, has exacerbated concern regarding Qatar’s suitability. These include the consumption of alcohol and tobacco, photography and reading non-Muslim religious texts.
This all culminates in a situation where Qatar’s bet on this World Cup represents a significant risk.
Backlash to the World Cup has been noteworthy with commercial sponsors ‘disliking’ the choice of Qatar as host. However, their dislike has not warranted much action as many continue to support the Qatari World Cup. One benefactor has emerged as an exception to this pattern. Danish football team sponsors Dankse Spil and Arbejdernes Landsbank have surrendered their sponsorship position on the Danish jerseys. They have replaced their brands with a series of human rights messages. The Danish Football Association and their sponsors believe they can draw attention to their reservations through powerful symbolism on the Danish football jerseys.
This stance has been widely lauded by fans across the globe. However, Ricardo Fort, a well-established marketing executive, believes many companies will remain silent about issues in Qatar unless it impacts their companies directly.
The projected soft power gains and increased tolerance of the Qatari regime will only succeed if we allow it to, by collectively ignoring the reality of those suffering at the hands of the Qatari state.
We must raise our concerns against a homophobic, abusive regime hosting a tournament that is meant to celebrate our collective differences. As Lewis Hamilton said, “Cash is King”. The sponsors of this tournament will follow our collective morals regarding this contest. This may seem bleak as sponsors merely follow the trends of the time; however, I think this gives ordinary people the power to influence change. As we watch our favourite footballers throughout the month of footballing mania, keep those who have suffered and those who continue to suffer under the Qatari regime in your mind.