Why is Qatar Hosting World Cup? It’s Complicated.

Football is a sport that seems to always be mired in controversy. This time, the stakes off the pitch have never been more serious.
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The lead-up to any World Cup involves two elements: excitement and controversy. This year, the controversy isn’t just around teams or players, but surrounding the place that the tournament will take place. Qatar was named host of the World Cup in 2010, defeating alternate bids from Australia, Japan, South Korea and the USA. With the win, it became the first country from the Middle East to be awarded the honor. From the outset, there was some disquiet about the 2022 edition of the competition taking place in a tiny nation (11,610 km²) with little background in the world’s most popular sport. 

Those rumblings of discontent intensified when Qatar and Russia (which was named host of the  2018 World Cup at the same time) were accused of corruption to secure their bids. While a 2014 FIFA investigation cleared both hosts of any wrongdoing, the U.S. Department of Justice released an indictment in March 2020 claiming that three FIFA officials were given money to vote for Qatar to host the World Cup, allegations that the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the Qatari World Cup organizing body, has vehemently denied.

There are also worries about exclusion at this year’s World Cup. There are strict laws against homosexuality in Qatar, and there are some concerns about how LGBTQ+ fans could be treated should they travel in support of their teams. World Cup’s CEO Nasser Al-Khater in Qatar has stated that all fans “regardless of their background, religion or gender” are welcome, and that Qatar is a safe place. FIFA’s Chief Social Responsibility and Education Officer Joyce Cook has confirmed that “rainbow flags and t-shirts will be welcome in the stadium, that is a given.” Several national teams from Europe have elected to have their captains wear rainbow-themed armbands with One-Love designs to protest against discrimination, a gesture which has not been ratified by FIFA as of yet. 

While most players who will grace the World Cup are high-earning professionals, the same cannot be said for the two million migrant workers who have toiled in extreme conditions to create the infrastructure to make this World Cup happen. There have been reports of workers living in terrible conditions, not being paid for months and, tragically, a 2021 report of some 6,500 worker deaths since Qatar was named host.

Even the weather posed a unique challenge. The World Cup is normally held during the summer months, but average temperatures in Qatar at that time can range between 35 and 45 degrees Celsius (99 to 113 degrees Fahrenheit). Initially, organizers planned to create fully air-conditioned stadia to maintain the cadence of summer World Cups. However, cooler heads prevailed in 2015 when FIFA announced that the competition would take place for the first time during winter months, but temperatures could still range from 25-30 (77 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit) degrees during match time. The first game is scheduled for November 20 in Al Bayt Stadium, located in Al Khor, and the final will take place in the Lusail Stadium in Lusail on December 18. This decision alone has caused a disruption in many leagues around the world, with players leaving their clubs for over a month to represent their countries and some domestic competitions grinding to a halt. 

Qatar has secured some high profile stars like David Beckham to be an ambassador for the desert state, but the former England national team captain has received some criticism for taking on the role. While the World Cup is normally a festival of football where heroes emerge and legends are forged, the buildup to this winter’s edition of the quadrennial event has been a somewhat troubled one. Allegations of corruption, the troubling treatment of migrant workers and concern for LGBTQ+ fans who may travel leave many feeling ill at ease. In what kind of shape will “the beautiful game” emerge from this tournament? The world will be watching to find out.

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