In Defense Of Pt. 3 : Watching the 2022 World Cup in Qatar
Updated: May 15, 2022
Whether or not you are a soccer fan, it is probably safe to assume that you have heard of the World Cup. As the most popular tournament in the world, it is difficult to avoid it entirely, even in America, where soccer (or football as it is referred to in most of the rest of the world) is not as popular as it is in most other countries. Although the U.S. failed to qualify, there was an average of over 1 million U.S. viewers per World Cup game in 2018 (which was still a significant decrease from 2014). With the USMNT qualifying once again for the 2022 World Cup, as well as the sport’s increasing traction in America, those numbers are bound to increase for the upcoming tournament.
Despite its stature, the World Cup (and Fifa, the body that organizes it,) has always been plagued by scandal. While virtually every World Cup ever contested has been alleged to have some myriad of shady dealings, the last two World Cups, and this one in particular, have attracted more skepticism than ever. It also raised questions about the ethics of setting the World Cup in Qatar and the consequences of that decision. So I will catch you up on what has been going on at FIFA to lead up to this, what exactly the repercussions of it are, and why despite that I believe we should still be able to watch the competition, if with a wary eye.
This whole story starts in 2010, when FIFA selected Russia and Qatar as the respective hosts for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. This came as a surprise to many given that they beat out what seemed to be better bids at hosting from other nations, and also because of the controversy surrounding both of the countries chosen. An investigation conducted by the U.S. charged many members of FIFA with a slew of crimes related to this event, including the issue that votes for both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups had been bought out. Despite these revelations, no changes were made to the hosts of either event, and in 2018 Russia saw out what ended up being a triumph for the French national team.
There were many reasons these decisions, particularly the choice for Qatar, raised suspicion. One of the smaller reasons that the selection was met with so much criticism was because Qatar has had no history of prominence in the sport. Their national team (which is given an automatic spot in the tournament as hosts) has never been to the World Cup before, and are currently ranked 51st overall, the 2nd-lowest ranked of the already qualified teams (only Ghana is lower at 60th). Given that the hosts are typically nations that have performed well in the past and/or have a large soccer culture, this has ruffled some feathers. However, it should be noted that it is not totally unprecedented for non-elite countries to host the tournament, and the opinion that only the best counties should be allowed to host the World Cup is not universal.
Another one of the issues raised has been that the World Cup has been pushed back to November in order to accommodate the summer heat that would make competing in the summer (when temperatures can average 113 degrees Fahrenheit) nearly unbearable. While the issue of Qatar’s desert climate may prove to be an obstacle, the delayed timing as well as breaks in the middle of halves—a first for a World Cup, should make playing possible. Where the true problems lie are in issues that, while they have always been present, the World Cup has brought to light in Qatar and in some ways amplified those problems.
The first one of these is Qatar’s troublesome record with LGBTQ and Women’s Rights, which the focus of the World Cup has brought to light more now than ever. There has long been criticism of Qatar’s anti-LGBT laws, as homosexuality is outlawed and could be punished by death (although there have been no recent reports of that actually occuring in the judicial system). Furthermore, in Qatar there has been censorship regarding LGBTQ rights and discussion of that topic, and despite the fact that it had previously been promised that rainbow flags and other pro-LGBT symbols would be allowed in stadiums recently, some officials have warned that they may be confiscated from fans at games. The reason given for that decision was to protect the safety of those who would display those symbols, and though the safety of LGBTIQ+ attendants has been of concern, the Qatari authorities have been accused of using this as a way to silence activism.
Additionally, FIFA has taken much criticism for the state of migrant workers in Qatar. Through what is known as the kafala system, workers from predominantly southeast Asian countries come to Qatar to work for high promised salaries. However, because the kafala system binds the worker to their employer, workers could often end up being taken advantage of with no way to get out. The most troubling aspect of this is the dangerous conditions that arise from this combination of neglected workers and the extreme heat in Qatar. A report by The Guardian found that over 6,500 migrant workers had died in Qatar since being awarded the World Cup, and while those numbers are for all of Qatar, it is extremely likely that some of those deaths have come from projects related to the World Cup, as there were planned to be 12 new facilities constructed for the upcoming event.
Common arguments against this are that by the World Cup coming to Qatar it has forced these issues under more scrutiny and prompted change in the government, particularly with the situation for migrant workers. However, it does not seem to be doing as much to help it as one might hope for. While there have been reforms, such as increasing the minimum wage, they still fall short in many ways. Similarly with LGBT rights, there is no change that is likely to last after the World Cup is over.
With all of this, it is fair to ask if it should be acceptable to watch this World Cup, and while I would not fault anyone who avoided watching the World Cup based on that, I think it should not be impossible to enjoy for everyone. This is partially because of how important the World Cup is, not just to determine which team is the best in the world, but because of the significant global experience that comes with watching and bonding over the sport. It is the one tournament that everyone who plays soccer hopes to be in one day; it is the biggest stage in the whole world and it can bring together and inspire people like few other things can. Personally, I watched the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the U.S.’s unfortunate exit, Mario Götze’s goal in extra time to win it all for Germany, and that is when I first became truly hooked on soccer.
It is truly the pinnacle of a sport that is played around the world and is so popular for the reason that it can be played by almost anyone with almost anything. The sport should not be ruined for everyone that genuinely loves and is passionate about the beautiful game because of a few cash hungry officials that do not represent the sport they unfortunately have a great deal of control over. So as long as we can keep in mind what is going on behind the scenes of this World Cup and watch with a wary eye, we should still be able to appreciate the 64 games that will make up the 2022 tournament.