On My Mind: Doha 2022

April 13, 2015 22:48
4 minute read.
An aerial view of Doha, Qatar's capital

An aerial view of Doha, Qatar's capital. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Qatar has scored another World Cup victory without so much as fielding its soccer team.

In a remarkable though unsurprising move to preserve the 2010 decision of FIFA, the international soccer federation, awarding Doha the privilege of hosting the 2022 tournament, the dates have been changed to spare players and spectators the ghastly high summer temperatures in the Gulf. And to further sweeten the prize, the championship game will be played on December 18, Qatar’s national holiday.

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The decision to hold the month-long tournament in November and December instead of the traditional June-July period caused a contretemps throughout the soccer world.

“The majority of the world’s major soccer leagues will now have to figure out how to reschedule the heart of their seasons to accommodate the first winter world cup,” wrote Kevin Baxter in The Los Angeles Times.

European leagues, outraged at the havoc the shift would create for their own schedules, threatened to seek compensation for any lost revenues.

Changing the venue was not a consideration, all the more so after Qatar, along with Russia, emerged unscathed from a FIFA investigation for alleged bribery and corruption surrounding the 2010 decisions to give Russia the 2018 World Cup and Qatar the contest four years later.

But the date change does not address the two most critical issues – human rights and terrorism – that should have been sufficient to disqualify Qatar from hosting any international sporting event. Like the weather issue, these matters were well known, and ignored, when FIFA made its decision five years ago.

Qatar’s longstanding abuse of migrant workers is of particular concern to human rights and labor organizations. Some 1.4 million from Bangladesh, Nepal and other countries “live in squalid conditions near the center of the capital of the one of wealthiest countries on earth,” stated a BBC report from Doha in February. “I’ve been here 14 years and nothing has changed,” one migrant worker told the BBC. He and thousands of other workers cannot leave because under Qatar’s notorious Kafala system, employers confiscated their passports.

The BBC report reconfirmed an ESPN story last summer, sadly revealing the unsavory status quo. “We see no change,” said Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, bemoaning the fact that Qatar has not followed up on earlier pledges to improve conditions for the migrant workers building the stadiums and other World Cup facilities.

Also of concern is the emirate’s support for Hamas and other terrorist organizations, an issue that led the Barcelona soccer team to announce in December that it may shed ties to Qatar and look for an alternate sponsor when the contract with Qatar ends in 2016.

FIFA’s announcement to move the 2022 World Cup to the winter months came, coincidentally, a day after Qatar’s emir made his first visit to the Oval Office. At the meeting with President Barack Obama there were the usual platitudes about the shared American-Qatari interest in fighting Islamic State (IS) and other terrorist groups.

But other Arab allies of the US were not pleased. Only days before the White House meeting, Egypt accused Qatar of supporting terrorist organizations in the Arab world, specifically mentioning its supplying IS in Libya. Saudi Arabia, too, has voiced concerns about Qatar’s support for groups in Syria and other countries that the other Gulf nations oppose. And these are on top of Qatar’s record of support for Hamas rule in Gaza.

Qatar is situated in one of the most dangerous spots in the world: wars engulf countries nearby, terrorist groups are prospering and expanding, and Iran, already meddling in the affairs of Arab countries, is poised to reach the threshold of nuclear-weapons capability.

The situation could become much worse over the next seven years, and security concerns might keep people away from Doha in 2022.

But in the end, the World Cup is, unfortunately, all about money and prestige. The Economist magazine, in a recent sobering editorial, concluded that the enormous costs of hosting the World Cup or the Olympics dictate that authoritarian countries are likely to be the host countries.

“The Winter Olympics of 2022 now has only two bidders: China and Kazakhstan. Last year’s winter games were held in Sochi, Russia, just as Vladimir Putin’s’ meddling in Ukraine boiled over into bloodshed. Invasions notwithstanding, in 2018 Mr. Putin is due to preside over the next World Cup,” the Economist stated.

In short, by their very presence and spending of money in Qatar, all who participate in World Cup 2022 will be, as the Economist points out, complicit in the outrages of the host government. Better to stay home.

The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.

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