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A World Cup Like No Other: Why the Qatar World Cup has been plagued with criticism

Updated: Mar 5

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Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The World Cup kicks off on November 20th, but it hasn’t received the usual fanfare and celebration as tournaments have in the past. It marks the first time the World Cup has been held in the Middle East, making it a unique experience. Yet, the world’s attention is drawn to Qatar for a different reason. An event that should be a cause for celebration has instead been mired in controversy and condemnation from all corners of the globe.

The reasons for criticism are varied. The issue which has been prevalent in global news has been that of Qatar’s Sharia Law. More specifically, the illegality of homosexuality in the country. Male homosexuality is punishable with up to 3 years in prison, and the possibility of the death penalty for Muslims. LGBT campaigning is banned, and the government refuses to recognise same-sex marriages.

This issue is front-and-centre, mostly because of the statements made by Khalid Salman, a Qatar World Cup ambassador, who encouraged gay people attending the event to “accept our rules” regarding homosexuality. The comments were made in an interview for a documentary with ZDF, a German broadcaster. Salman added that homosexuality is “a damage in the mind”, and not accepted in Qatar. The comments were met with disapproval from Germany’s Interior Minister, Nancy Faeser, who suggested that it would be “better that tournaments are not awarded to such states”, upon hearing Mr Salman’s interview.

Faeser did appear to U-Turn, however, and acknowledged that Qatar had “very good laws” in addressing human rights a few weeks later. Nonetheless, the issue of homophobia and persecution in Qatar has raised concerns among participating nations. James Cleverly, Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, urged British fans who were attending to adhere to Qatari laws, and to “show a little bit of flex and compromise”. These comments were met with outrage from LGBT groups and opposition politicians alike, but they do highlight prevailing concerns.

Another key issue has been the mistreatment of migrant labourers in Qatar. Upon the announcement in 2010 that Qatar would host the 2022 World Cup, plans were set in motion to make Qatar one of the most expensive and lavish world cups ever hosted. Qatari officials have been expecting 1.5 million visitors, and estimates suggest that the host country has doshed out an astounding $220 billion on their preparations.

In the build-up to the tournament, Qatar has built seven new stadiums, a brand-new airport, a metro system, a complex network of roads and over 100 new hotels. But such extravagance must come at a cost.

Over 30,000 migrant workers have been brought in from Nepal, Bangladesh, India, and the Philippines predominantly. Yet, the continued reports of mistreatment towards the workers have outraged international observers. A 2021 Guardian investigation reported that 6,500 workers had died since Qatar won its bid for the World Cup in 2010. Other estimates put the number over 10,000 and suggest that Qatari officials are not being wholly accurate with these statistics. A report from Human Rights Watch said that foreign workers in the host country were suffering from “months of unpaid wages for long hours of gruelling work”.

FIFA’s executive committee has been under intense scrutiny for the decision to host the World Cup in Qatar, and as countries around the globe look out for the welfare of their fans, these condemnations aren’t going anywhere. How the World Cup will play out is to be seen, but some hope that the diversity of such an enormous global tournament, along with the spotlight on Qatar’s controversial laws, could push the Qatari government to embrace positive changes moving forward.


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