By Jonathan Diebold
With an abysmal record on human rights this year’s FIFA World cup yet again takes place under the shadow of controversy. it’s taking place in Qatar, a small yet extremely wealthy country and one of the world’s last remaining absolute monarchies. Qatar’s wealth comes from its vast reserves of oil and natural gas. it is one of the most unequal societies in the world, with an abysmal track record in terms of the rights of workers, women, LGBTQ+ people, and migrants, and democratic and human rights in general.
Migrant worker deaths
During construction for the World cup alone, it’s been reported that 6,500 workers have died. However, the Qatari regime is tight-lipped on the issue and the figure could be higher. like other states in the region, Qatar operates a system known as‘Kafala’ (‘sponsorship’), whereby migrant workers are brought into the country and are totally beholden to their employers under slave-like conditions for little, if any, pay. this has proven to be an extremely profitable system — the vast majority of people in Qatar at any given time are temporary workers brought in under this system — 2.2 million migrant workers in a country with only 313,000 citizens.
Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, under the threat of death. one LGBTQ Australian football player already has expressed concerns for his well-being should he travel there, and many fans also feel trepidation. many more are outraged that such an event would be held in a country which commits such atrocities at all. one Qatari World cup ambassador just this month described homosexuality as “damage of the mind” and “forbidden.”
the regime is also repressive in terms of women’s rights. One FIFA worker was forced to leave the country after being investigated for having sex outside of marriage. Punishments for such an offense include flagellation. Women in Qatar must obtain permission from male guardians for a variety of things, including leaving the country under the age of 25, working for the government (where the majority of Qatari women are employed), and so on. Domestic violence is not illegal.
Buying media whitewashes
The World Cup held in Qatar is a huge propaganda victory for the Qatari political establishment. it allows a hugely repressive regime to present itself as a modern country on the world stage. already think pieces are rolling out giving credit to the World cup for minor reforms of the Kafala system. this is no accident. the government has offered expensive junkets to press and fans alike in exchange for positive coverage in media or online — an effort which amounts to the whitewashing of repression and modern slavery.
FIFA’s woeful record
This is not the first World cup to be marred with controversy. most recently, the 2018’s World Cup took place in Russia — this in the context of the Russian occupation of Crimea, attacks on LGBTQ+ rights, violence against protestors, and more. the day the cup opened also marked a massive offensive on pension rights in Russia. in the games before that, in Brazil, again construction was marked with abuses of workers’ rights and frequent accidents and deaths on the construction site.
Profits before footballers and fans’
Why does FIFA choose to host games in countries such as Qatar? The answer is: money. this year’s games are the most expensive in history, with $220 billion being spent. millions were paid in bribes to officials by both Qatar, and Russia before them, to secure hosting rights. FIFA’s revenue for 2019-2022 is expected to exceed $6.5 billion in spite of the pandemic. football is being run not in the interests of fans, nor of players or of workers, but of pr