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Qatar’s not-so-beautiful game

By Logan Jaspers, November 18 2022

As the Canadian men’s team qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1986, it’s fair to assume that this year more Canadian eyes will be on men’s soccer — spare me the cries of “football” — than ever before. 

As the host of the World Cup, Qatar will be receiving a tremendous amount of attention as well. Qatar has prepared an image of itself to show the world, an image of welcoming, luxurious hotels and restaurants and magnificent stadiums purpose-made for the World Cup. These grandiose displays are, of course, superficial and tell little about Qatar. Disposing of the state propaganda, what is Qatar really about?

With power concentrated in the Qatari monarchy and royal family, Qatar is an illiberal and despotic petrostate. Qatar jails poets for poetry, has no free press, and disenfranchised much of its population for largely symbolic elections — elections that were constantly delayed from the initially planned date in 2004. This contempt for free expression is extended to the foreign press as well, as media will be banned from recording from places like government offices or worker camps, making investigative reporting on potentially embarrassing topics impossible.

Even worse is Qatari foreign policy, which is defined by the financial and ideological backing of terror across the greater Middle East, including groups like Hamas, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Qatar’s state friends aren’t much better, as Qatar endorsed Turkey’s war of ethnic cleansing against Syrian Kurds and are increasingly cozy with Iran.

Given Qatari autocracy, their small size and population and their middling record as a soccer team, it’s ostensibly surprising that they received the privilege of hosting the World Cup. Indeed, the host selection process for the 2022 World Cup was shady if not blatantly corrupt. Former FIFA president and aspiring convict Sepp Blatter said in his memoirs that Qatar cheated to win the hosting rights, compounding tremendous evidence suggesting Qatar bribed key FIFA officials to vote for Qatar before the 2010 vote on the World Cup host.

Once they won hosting rights, then came the task of building stadiums. These stadiums have been constructed by migrant workers — workers largely from Southeast Asia and East Africa — who live under the Kafala sponsorship system, a system that allows employers to prevent their employees from leaving the country and opens the door for exploitation. There are numerous reports of pay being withheld from workers for up to seven months, meaning that the conditions of many workers have been tantamount to slavery. And under the blazing Qatari sun, at least 6,750 foreign workers died building these stadiums, though the real figure is likely higher

Though Qatar has passed multiple reforms, including increasing the minimum wage and easing movement restrictions for migrant workers, how enforced these regulations are and what impact they have had on migrant workers is uncertain. This reform, in good faith or otherwise, comes too late for those thousands of workers who have died and the thousands more who have toiled under exploitation.  

Given their domestic oppressiveness, their support for terrorism, their corruption, and their practice of modern slavery, it’s clear that Qatar should never have been hosting the World Cup to begin with. Yet starting on Nov. 20, they and billions worldwide, including millions of Canadians, will watch “the beautiful game.” Across much of the world, soccer is an institution that transcends mere sport and the World Cup is that institution’s pinnacle. When the World Cup means so much to so many, they will watch it regardless of who’s hosting it. So if one is going to watch, at least watch knowing that there is something far more sinister to Qatar than the Qatari government lets on.

This article is a part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.

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