Qatar, Human Right, and the World Cup
Foreign Policy Brief #136 | By: Reilly Fitzgerald | May 16, 2022
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The intersection of sports and politics have largely focused on this winter’s Olympic Games in China, and also the banning of Russian athletes globally. However, one gargantuan sport competition is set to take place this fall, and the controversy surrounding it has been to a large degree overshadowed by other parts of the world. The FIFA Men’s World Cup is set to take place at the end of November and into December in Qatar, and the sport of football’s largest competition has been mired in controversy since it was selected in December of 2010.
The world of international sports has always been intertwined with politics. The Olympics have been and always will be more about political prestige and international reputation than it is about a single sport, or athlete. The World Cup is the largest football tournament in the world, and hosting it is a privilege bestowed upon a country every four years. It is an opportunity, like the Olympics, to showcase the best parts of your country. However, just like the Olympics, this can lead to oppressing people and violating their human rights if they are in the path of trying to showcase your culture and people.
Just like the Olympics there has been an increasingly concerning pathway of selecting countries with dismal records regarding human rights. Qatar is the most recent country that will host the World Cup; however, this is not the first time that a country with a questionable human rights record has hosted the World Cup; the likes of Russia and Brazil have hosted in recent years.
Qatar’s hosting of the FIFA World Cup came as a shock to much of the world as the Middle East has been a region impacted heavily by climate change, war, and human rights violations by many countries. Qatar has spent billions of dollars to build and prepare for the tournament and the media and tourism frenzy that accompanies it, according to Sky News. This process has, reportedly, been fraught with human rights abuses and scandals. According to The Guardian, as of February 2021, over 6,500 workers have died as a direct result of the preparations being made by the Qatari government for the World Cup. As of March 2022, Human Rights Watch reported that many workers in Qatar had been unpaid for the previous five months as well.
The controversy does not end there either. The Qatari government also has laws that strictly prohibits LGBTQ activities and relationships, according to Human Rights Watch. The government surveils and arrests LGBTQ citizens, and they censor media regarding the LGBTQ community. The government has made assurances that they will allow visitors to express themselves, but locals will continue to be unable to do so under the Qatari penal code.
The behavior of the Qatari government for their treatment of LGBTQ people has been criticized since they were selected to host the World Cup tournament. Concerns were raised early on as to whether or not LGBTQ athletes should participate in the tournament as a means of protesting the Qatari policies – currently, the only openly gay participant is Australia’s Josh Cavallo.
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Furthermore, the selection of Qatar is posing challenges for corporate sponsors of the event. Various companies are pulling their sponsorships of several national teams to make way for humanitarian messaging on gearto take place instead. Danske Spil, the Danish lottery, is planning to give away their sponsorship locations on the Danish National Team gear to make way for humanitarian messages – a direct affront to the Qatari government and their governance. ING Group is a sponsor for both the Dutch National Team and the Belgian National Team and is planning to not use any of their allocated sponsorship tickets for the tournament to protest the World Cup; it has has decided to focus its time and resources on the Women’s European Championship being played in England instead.
Finally, the Ukrainian National Team has been training in exile in Slovenia. They have played club teams in charity matches to prepare for their upcoming World Cup qualifying matches, which were postponed due to the Russian invasion, against Scotland. A win against Scotland would put Ukraine into Group B in the tournament with England, the United States, and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Meanwhile, Russia has already been banned from taking part in the tournament.
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Human Rights Watch – 10 Questions Journalists Should Ask FIFA and Qatari Officials About Rights Abuses ( https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/03/29/10-questions-journalists-should-ask-fifa-and-qatari-authorities-about-rights-abuses#Nine )