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The most controversial World Cup of Football


The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Doha, Qatar, is probably the most controversial world cup in the history of modern sport, or of, at the very least, soccer history.

The tournament has drawn attention to the tiny Arab country which is about 25 times smaller than the Philippines. Qatar has a land area of about 11,486 square kilometers while the Philippines’ land area is about 300,000 square kilometers. Issues of corruption, culture, human and labor rights, the status of Qatar as a football power, weather, laws and political system have surrounded the award and the actual hosting of the tournament.

Controversy erupted as soon as FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association, the sole governing body of football) awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting rights to Moscow and Doha, respectively, particularly with respect to the Arab country.

The announcement was met with undisguised surprise since the other bidders for the 2022 world championship were Australia-New Zealand and the United States, among others. As early as December 2010, writers like Kevin Hough stated that the “choice seems bewildering on a number of levels.”

Critics of the choice of Qatar point out that the country had never qualified for a World Cup. They have never made it past the quarter finals of the Asian Cup.

In the summer months of July to August — the traditional months that the FIFA World Cup is held — temperatures in Qatar may hit 112° Fahrenheit or about 44° Celsius. The Qataris however promised that all World Cup venues would be air conditioned. We had a chance to go to the Aspire sports complex in Doha in 2019 and the spectators’ area at the outdoor track and field oval was air-conditioned. This, of course, does not solve the oppressive heat to which athletes are exposed. There are, however, so-called rules for hot days on a soccer field based on heat index: a heat index of 85°-89° calls for mandatory two-minute water breaks per half with running time. As a final solution, the World Cup was moved to the months of November to December, with the opening day scheduled for Nov. 21. The tournament ends on Dec. 18.

Hough also takes issue with Qatar’s small population, about 2.7 million. He says that with that small population, equal to Quezon City’s, he wonders how Qatar will be able to dedicate enough indigenous support to make an event like the World Cup as atmospheric as it should be. Hough says that “attendance would surely be at an all-time low and cast serious aspersions on the tournament as a whole.”

Laws and political beliefs also serve as a damper toward the full enjoyment by the crowd of the games, Hough points out. Qatar’s rules include restrictions on the sale of alcohol which means that “fans expecting the traditional party atmosphere at the 2022 World Cup are unlikely to be enamored.”

With about eight months to the opening of the biggest soccer festival in the world, what is the present situation in Doha and the soccer world?

To begin with, investigations were continuing as late as June 2021, into how a small country with no football pedigree, as pointed out by Simone Foxman, managed to win a secret vote to become host. To be fair however to Qatar, it is ranked 51 while, for purposes of comparison, the Philippines is at number 111, as of March 31.

Human rights groups continue to decry the treatment of foreign workers which include Filipinos, while Qatar insists that the event is a catalyst for learning best practices or for improving labor laws.

The issues on human rights abuses were detailed in a Guardian expose in 2013. These abuses were related to the extreme heat and workplace accidents that led to deaths.

The Guardian report revealed that 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh have died since the Persian Gulf country was awarded the World Cup and embarked on construction projects. The total death toll is significantly higher according to the Guardian Report, as these figures do not include deaths from a number of countries which send a large number of workers, including the Philippines and Kenya.

Deaths that occurred in the final months of 2020 are also not included.

In 2019, the United Nations assailed Qatar for racial discrimination, saying a worker’s nationality plays an “overwhelming role” in how he or she is treated.

Other controversies include policies on homosexuality and Qatar’s position on LGBTQ rights.

Since 2010, Qatar has launched an unprecedented building program, largely in preparation for the 2022 tournament. The Report states that in addition to seven new stadiums (which could create the unintended second-generation problem of congestion), dozens of major projects have been completed or are underway.

Going back to the investigations, Foxman, in her June 21, 2021 article, states that “ever since FIFA, soccer’s ruling body awarded in 2010 to Russia and Qatar the rights to each host a World Cup, allegations of vote-buying have swirled. (Two members of the 24-man FIFA executive committee cast votes for World Cup hosts were suspended before the 2010 ballot after being filmed offering votes for cash). While a FIFA probe into their bids cleared Russia and Qatar of wrongdoing, investigations continue in Switzerland and France, and a 2020 US indictment accused three FIFA executive members of receiving payments to back Qatar’s bid. Qatar denies allegations of vote buying. FIFA said awarding the event to the emirate was based on the organization’s strategy of “expanding soccer into new regions.”

What is driving Qatar to host the World Cup (and other sporting events)?

According to Foxman, Bloomberg Intelligence reports that Qatar is on course to complete $300 billion in infrastructure projects to support the world’s most-watched television event. Russia reportedly spent $11 billion on the 2018 tournament which attracted 3.6 billion television and online viewers. Qatar, on the other hand, expects the World Cup to add $20 billion to the economy, equivalent to about 11% of the country’s gross domestic product in 2019.

What about Qatar’s position on the Russian invasion of Ukraine? Qatar has publicly made the “obligatory call for a peaceful settlement” but in reality sees the conflict in business terms as the conflict means increasing gas sales for the oil rich emirate.

Philip Ella Juico’s areas of interest include the protection and promotion of democracy, free markets, sustainable development, social responsibility and sports as a tool for social development. He obtained his doctorate in business at De La Salle University. Dr. Juico served as secretary of Agrarian Reform during the Corazon C. Aquino administration.

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