The World Cup is considered to be the most esteemed and anticipated sporting event in the world. The reach of the tournament touches all continents in the world, with an approximated 3.6 billion viewers eagerly watching to see who will take home the coveted trophy.
This years World Cup has added significance as it is likely to be Argentinian forward Lionel Messi and Portugal forward Cristiano Ronaldo’s last chance to win the most sought after honour as their era of dominance is nearing its end. However, this has been overshadowed by controversy surrounding the hosts of the World Cup, Qatar, who may mar the greatest sporting event in history.
In 2010, Qatar made history as they would be the first Arab nation to host the pinnacle of sporting events, the World Cup. Impressively, they bested bids from Australia, Japan, South Korea and even the US. Despite this historic milestone, the controversy started here. Allegations of bribery were levelled at Qatar, and there were claims that they had paid FIFA officials an astounding £3 million pounds in order to secure votes for their proposal to host the World Cup. Similar accusations were levied at Russia in 2018 and akin to then, officials denied any foul play. This was only the start of a myriad of controversy that would follow.
An Unscheduled Change
The FIFA World Cup is usually hosted in the summer, with the major reasons being to avoid conflict during the regular football season and to allow global fans to travel and support their teams during the quintessential holiday period. However, this unwritten rule was changed in 2015 when governing bodies decided the World Cup would be shifted to the winter season due to Qatar’s torrid, unplayable weather conditions in the summer with its intense desert heat. This decision immediately shocked football fans worldwide with a major concern of player fitness being brought up. To avoid domestic leagues having conflicting schedules with the World Cup, many league’s schedules were shifted to around two weeks prior to its original date cutting down professional footballers’ resting period after a tiring summer following Nations League games. This prompted pundits and fans to claim footballing associations across the globe only desired money, placing it far above their concerns for their players’ well-being.
Constructing the road to the World Cup with too much blood, sweat and tears
With their bid for the World Cup, Qatar drew up a plan to build 5 new stadiums, new roads, hotels and surrounding infrastructure that would allow them to host the expected 1.5 million football fanatics flooding into the small nation, increasing their overall population by more than 50%. To provide for this sudden demand an estimated 30,000 workers migrated to Qatar from India, Bangladesh, Nepal and the Philippines. And 10 years later, Qatar had built 7 new stadiums, around 100 hotels, a series of new roads, a metro and even a new airport. This impressive feat however is marred: in February 2021, the Guardian claimed 6,500 workers had passed away in Qatar. The Qatar government, vehemently denied these accusations stating that these numbers were inflated and didn’t represent the true figure.
Human rights in question, yet again
Being an Islamic nation with around 65.5% of their population practicing Islam, Qatar have relatively conservative and strict rules and laws in compared to western nations. These rules include the illegality of homosexuality, no alcohol in public places, no swearing in public places, people must dress “modestly” (this includes no showing of shoulders and wearing skirts for women), and any intimacy in public is prohibited. These rules have come under heavy fire as of late and the statement by Qatar’s World Cup ambassador Khalid Salman in which he referred to homosexuality as a “damage to the mind” has understandably only added fuel to the flames.
Global superstar Dua Lipa quelled rumours of her performing at the World Cup in an Instagram story post stating that she “will be cheering England from afar” and that she “looks forward to visiting Qatar when has fulfilled all the human’s rights pledges it made when it won the right to host the World Cup”. Big names in football, such as the German Football director Oliver Bierhoff, have condemned Qatar’s treatment of the LGBTQIA+ community. After a thrilling 2-1 victory over Fulham last Sunday, Portugal and Manchester United midfielder, Bruno Fernandes, condemned the World Cup in a staunch statement, “We know the surroundings of the World Cup, what has been in the past few weeks, past few months, about the people that have died on the construction of the stadiums. We are not happy about that at all. We want football to be for everyone, everyone has to be included and involved in a World Cup because a World Cup is the world. It’s for everyone, it doesn’t matter who.” These sentiments represent a consistent idea of football as a whole: “It’s for everyone”.