Political and human rights criticism grows louder as World Cup nears in Qatar


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Western outrage was already palpable in 2010, after football’s governing body FIFA selected Qatar’s bid to host the World Cup in 2022. German tabloid Bild responded to the decision by printing the headline “Qatarstrophe”, saying that only petro-wealth and corruption could have influenced the selection of the Persian Gulf kingdom. “The only explanation for this decision is that FIFA sold the World Cup to the sheikhs of the mini-state in the desert,” Bild noted. “There is no other explanation.”

There was also an element of disbelief and condescension. “How can such a small country without a sporting tradition organize such an important event? then noted the left-wing French daily Liberation. “On several points, demographic, economic, environmental, sporting and touristic, the choice raises questions.”

Twelve years later, much of that feeling lives on. Pop star Dua Lipa refuse she was performing at the opening ceremony, saying she looked forward to visiting Qatar when it fulfills its human rights commitments. Philipp Lahm, who lifted the World Cup trophy as Germany’s triumphant captain in 2014, cited human rights concerns as the reason he would not be in Doha. Even if the World Cup is a few days away from the start, talk of a boycott only intensifies.

Football fans showed their displeasure over the weekend, particularly in Germany, where tens of thousands of supporters held up banners against the tournament at local club league matches in Hamburg, Berlin, the Valley of the Ruhr and elsewhere. These listed a long list of complaints about the host country’s autocratic monarchy, including its alleged human rights abuses, crackdown on dissent, persecution of LGBTQ people and mistreatment of migrant workers.

“5,000 deaths for 5,760 minutes of football. Shame on you!” read a message repeated across Germany, a reference to varying estimates of worker deaths during Qatar’s ambitious construction projects since winning the tournament 12 years ago.

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Even the executive who presided over Qatar’s victory now says it was a “mistake”. Qatar “is too small a country,” former FIFA president Sepp Blatter told Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger recently. “Football and the World Cup are too big for that.”

Admittedly, Blatter’s remarks carry a strong note of sour grapes. He quit his job in 2015 amid a spiraling corruption scandal that also implicated some of his colleagues. In previous years, he has vigorously defended hosting the tournament in Qatar, whose vast natural gas reserves would fund the first-ever World Cup in the Middle East, regardless of the country’s lack of participation in previous tournaments.

While Blatter is still embroiled in legal wrangling over fraud charges, Qatari officials resent the charges against them. In a speech last month, the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, said his country was the target of “unprecedented” external attacks that “include fabrications and double standards so fierce that they have unfortunately made many people wonder about the real reasons”. and campaign motives.

There is no clear chain of evidence linking the Qatari authorities to any act of impropriety or corruption that secured their World Cup bid. Indeed, far from the smoky back rooms of Zurich, where FIFA is based, Qatar has splashed its sovereign wealth into the open since winning the bid, expanding its influence through the purchase of French club Paris. Saint Germain. The PSG team are now veritable Harlem Globetrotters of the world game, with some of their most famous superstars being Brazilian Neymar, Argentinian Lionel Messi and French talisman Kylian Mbappe.

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Critics call PSG’s ownership of exercise ‘sportswashing’ to burnish a problematic regime’s image. They would extend that argument to the World Cup itself, which saw Qatar shell out some $220 billion to build from scratch the vast infrastructure needed to host a tournament of this scale. This includes new roads, a metro system, dozens of hotels and seven new stadiums.

This gigantic construction project has invariably drawn attention to the country’s record on labor rights. Eighty-five percent of Qatar’s 3 million people are foreign workers, and a sizable portion of that cohort are migrant workers from impoverished communities in East Africa, South Asia and the United States. ‘South East Asia. Long before Qatar won the World Cup bid, rights groups documented the abuses and harsh conditions meted out to these migrants, who are a permanent underclass in Gulf monarchies like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Last year, the Guardian revealed that around 6,500 South Asian workers had died since Qatar won the World Cup. But these deaths represented an aggregate figure for all workers and were not linked to World Cup plans. Qatari authorities have suggested the death toll for specific construction site workers was around 38 – although Amnesty International has denounced Qatar’s failure to investigate the underlying cause of death for most of the workers. workers.

An outside review revealed a range of problems in the labor sector, ranging from problems with housing conditions to heat-related illnesses, missed wages and other abuses by employers. Since winning the World Cup, Qatar has revised its labor laws, introduced a higher minimum wage than most countries in the region and claimed to abolish the notorious “kafala” system, a policy of de facto enslavement that governs the rights of migrants. workers in some Arab countries.

In a report this month, the UN’s International Labor Organization said Qatar had carried out “significant” reforms that were “improving the working and living conditions of hundreds of thousands of workers”, but it acknowledged that “more needs to be done to fully implement and enforce labor reforms.

A recent report by Eqidem, a human rights organization, documented numerous abuses against workers involved in FIFA-related projects over the past two years. The prevalence of these alleged abuses “on yards so heavily regulated by Qatar, Fifa and their partners,” the group noted, “suggests that the reforms undertaken over the past five years have served as cover for powerful corporations that seek to exploit migrant workers with impunity.”

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Qatari and FIFA officials are urging the more than one million fans expected to arrive in the country to tone down their political criticism and respect the tournament for its historic uniqueness.. For many Qataris, the posturing of fans, celebrities and politicians for that matter stings hypocrisy. In 2018, when Russia hosted the tournament, there was arguably not that level of condemnation from other sporting authorities and fans. Nor did scrutiny of Russia’s broader human rights record seem as intense as Qatar’s current glare – even as President Vladimir Putin’s regime fueled a separatist war in Ukraine and committed war crimes in Syria at the time.

In response to Germany’s criticism, Qatar’s foreign minister questioned the agendas. “On the one hand, the German population is misinformed by government politicians; on the other hand, the government has no problem with us when it comes to energy partnerships or investments,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper in an interview this month.

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