Qatar Unfit to Host Cup

Sarena Malsin, Sports Editor

Amidst massive contro­versy, Qatar is slated as the official host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy announced recently that construction has be­gun on the country’s flag­ship venue, Lusail Stadium, making it the sixth and fi­nal site to begin construc­tion. This announcement has caused a resurgence of discussions about the ca­pability and plausibility of Qatar as a location for one of the most significant in­ternational sports events in the world, with issues rang­ing from geographical to sociopolitical.

Semi-resigned FIFA Pres­ident Sepp Blatter appears to place the importance of cultural interaction in the World Cup above all else. “We don’t want … discrimi­nation,” Blatter said. “What we want to do is open this game to everybody and to open it to all cultures, and that is what we are doing in 2022.” However, this cannot overshadow the many logi­cal reasons for which Qa­tar seems unfit to host the tournament.

For one thing, the World Cup’s summer timing means athletes will be playing in ex­tremely competitive match­es in temperatures reach­ing over 122 degrees, which medical professionals have labeled as a serious health risk affecting recovery times and quality of play. FIFA ini­tiated investigations into holding the World Cup in the northern hemisphere’s win­ter, but this is anticipated to incur its own issues, includ­ing a clash with Christmas holidays and the schedul­ing of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations. Concerns have also been raised regarding the fans and general atmosphere of the competition, including the fact that the state bans alcohol and homosexuality. Chief Executive of Qatar’s 2022 bid Hassan Abdulla al-Thawadi promised that alcohol consumption and purchase would be permitted in specific fan zones while the event takes place, but no statements have been made as to the welcoming of LGBTQ fans, par­ticipants or staff.

While FIFA is more than happy to point to proof of its ability to act as an international unifier, the fact remains that Qatar may be unable to afford the event. In fact, the event is estimated to cost around $220 billion, more than the costs of either of the two prior World Cups. Qatar’s ability to sus­tain the burdens of this competi­tion are certainly in question. The deplorable labor conditions for migrant workers making up the labor force behind the stadium and infrastructure projects draw even more concern. Investiga­tions by organizations such as Amnesty International and the International Trade Union Confederation have revealed exploitative conditions, due in large part to the Kafala system that Qatar follows, a sponsor­ship system that requires all unskilled laborers to have an in-country sponsor respon­sible for their legal papers and status. Inevitably, this spon­sor often ends up being their employer, giving construction companies complete domina­tion over their workers’ fates and freedoms and creating near-hostage situations that force them to continue working in the country. Construction on World Cup structures presents a prime environment for this to take place, as the Kafala system is most often applied to con­struction workers.

Some optimists claim that this is an opportunity to shed critical light on these labor practices and criticize them on a global stage. The Human Rights Watch drew attention to the issue in light of Qatar’s bid win, equating it to “force labor” in 2013 and identifying it as yet another catalyst to encourage public discussion and scrutiny.

What is demanded of World Cup venues creates an incred­ible and expensive undertaking so unfeasible that these prac­tices will only be further ex­ploited to finish stadium proj­ects on time and cut costs as much as possible. With foreign workers comprising around 94 percent of Qatar’s labor force, this is a critical issue to be exac­erbated. As evidence of the true burden of these projects, Qatar has already requested that they cut the stadiums built from the usual 12 to eight or nine. In re­sponse, FIFA implored them to ask neighboring countries to build the remaining stadiums.

In addition to causing more of an impetus for exploitative labor practices, it’s not difficult to draw on examples where the demands of World Cup hosting permanently ruptured the lives of citizens of the host country. Brazil, the most recent host, which incited plenty of its own controversy over the socioeconomic costs of hosting the tournament, poses a prime example. According to a report by Terre des Hommes, an NGO found­ed in Switzerland, approximately 170,000 people lost their homes as a result of space-making and other tournament preparations. It also records the number of families forced to uproot and resettle as in the thousands.

It is true that hosting the tour­nament outside of the affluent western countries that comprise a significant portion of FIFA’s view­ing audience encourages cultural diversity, globalization and cultur­al education. Host countries do in fact bid for the opportunity to host the tournament. However, the so­cial and economic costs incurred for developing countries and their working classes are often far more severe than the event’s benefits.

FIFA shouldn’t exclude coun­tries such as Qatar from hosting, but they should do more to regu­late and, more importantly, aid in construction and costs of essen­tially full-country renovation. It’s impossible to ignore the caverns of instability the World Cup leaves in its wake in developing or already unstable countries. There has cer­tainly been much discussion about labor conditions in Qatar, but FIFA should at the very least be tak­ing measures to ensure that these conditions don’t continue in direct service to World Cup needs. With the tax exemptions and insane profits FIFA garners each World Cup, expending funds to meet these ends shouldn’t be too tall of an order.