For one month in 2022 Qatar will captivate the world. It will be the first time the World Cup takes place in an Arab country. Though Qatar’s team ranks near the bottom internationally, bringing the quadrennial soccer tournament to Doha will boost national pride, as it would for any nation hosting a major international sporting event. FIFA’s selection of Qatar, however, has sparked controversies and calls to revoke the 2010 decision.
Qatar plans to erect modern stadiums, transportation and housing with sophisticated air conditioning so that players and spectators coming from around the world will be comfortable when temperatures reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The estimated $212 billion bill, making it the most expensive World Cup ever, is covered by the huge oil and gas reserves that make Qatar and its 300,000 citizens the wealthiest in the world.
Expenses have included millions of dollars in bribes, according to The Sunday Times of London, to convince the FIFA executive committee to favor Qatar over Australia, Japan, South Korea and the United States. A year-long FIFA internal investigation is expected to announce its findings next month, but even evidence of corruption (not new to the soccer federation) may not be enough to shift the 2022 World Cup to another country.
To support its bid to host, Qatar promised FIFA that “fans from around the world would experience the magic of traditional Arab hospitality and leave Qatar with a new understanding of the Middle East.” Sounds enchanting. But the world is learning now that Qatar excels in human rights abuse and in supporting international terrorism.
The 1.5 million migrant workers currently in Qatar are essential to the building boom there in recent years, and more may be imported for World Cup-related construction projects. Reality for these laborers is in stark contrast to the glitz and glamour of the Doha skyline, much of which they built.
Under Qatar’s notorious kafala system, migrant workers are trapped and exploited. They live in squalor in overcrowded housing far from the Qataris, and they are bused daily to and from construction sites. Employers, with government approval, have total discretion to pay the workers whatever they want and to hold their passports to prevent them from leaving.
“Qatar is a slave state in the 21st century,” Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, told ESPN’s Jeremy Schapp. “More than 4,000 workers will die in Qatar before a ball is kicked off in 2022.”
Schapp’s riveting documentary focused on workers from Nepal, 680 of whom have returned home in coffins over the past five years. Workers from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and other developing countries have endured the same horrendous, life-threatening conditions.
For this human rights abuse, Qatar should receive a yellow card.
FIFA, however, ignored this dismal reality when choosing Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup, and has since meekly challenged the government to change its treatment of migrant workers.
Qatar also is a prime sponsor of Hamas. Its patronage comes in the form of large quantities of money, which presumably Hamas has used to acquire more weapons and dig the network of tunnels that have been used against Israel. According to The Times of Israel, Qatar provided Hamas with advanced technology for the tunnels to detect the presence of Israeli soldiers and also to remotely fire missiles and rockets from Gaza into Israel.
Qatar’s support for Hamas makes the ruling al-Thani family accomplices in the latest Gaza war.
Qatar’s emir visited Hamas-ruled Gaza in 2012, and Doha is home to Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, as well as representatives of the Taliban and other jihadist groups.
For its support of Hamas, Qatar should receive a second yellow card.
Qatar’s approach to human rights and terrorism violate the ethos of FIFA and the game of soccer.
But don’t count on FIFA revoking its decision for Qatar to host. Governments, sporting associations and corporations that spend billions on advertising need to step up, express outrage and rigorously press FIFA for a change of venue.
Countries that designated Hamas a terrorist organization years ago, including the US, Australia, Canada, Japan and the 28-member European Union, should be leading the call for Qatar to sever all ties to Hamas or lose the right to host World Cup 2022.
World Cup sponsors Adidas, Coca-Cola, Sony and Visa already have raised concerns about the bribery allegations. They should also speak up on human rights and terrorism. Do they and other global corporations want their brands tarnished when logos are prominently displayed during matches in a country that promotes terrorism and exploits foreign workers? On the playing field, two yellow cards equal a red one and automatic ejection. Qatar simply doesn’t deserve to host a World Cup. In fact, the country’s rulers should be red-faced with shame.
The author is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.
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