International scrutiny toward Qatar hosting World Cup - editorial

The FIFA World Cup, hosted by Qatar, has been subject to international scrutiny and condemnations for a series of irregularities.

 FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Preview, Doha, Qatar - November 18, 2022 The FIFA World Cup logo is pictured on the Corniche Promenade ahead of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/FABRIZIO BENSCH)
FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Preview, Doha, Qatar - November 18, 2022 The FIFA World Cup logo is pictured on the Corniche Promenade ahead of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/FABRIZIO BENSCH)

The FIFA World Cup, which kicked off Sunday in Qatar, has been subject to international scrutiny and condemnations for a series of irregularities.

It began with questions concerning how the small desert kingdom won the bid to host the event to the need to move the quadrennial tournament from its established summer time slot to the cooler November-December period (due to the country’s scorching desert climate), even though it disrupts the European domestic football calendar.

Ever since The Guardian published reports of the tremendous loss of life among the foreign workers brought in by Qatar to build the stadiums – some 6,500 fatalities in what has been described as conditions of modern slavery – nobody can claim they did not know the circumstances in which the tournament is taking place. 

In addition, the prevalent anti-LGBTQ culture in the devout Muslim country has also upset players and spectators alike.

Singers Rod Stewart, Dua Lipa and previous World Cup favorite Shakira all reportedly turned down huge sums and declined to appear in the opening ceremony. 

 People walk past an illuminated soccer ball ahead of the FIFA 2022 World cup soccer tournament at Katara Cultural Village in Doha, Qatar November 15, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/FABRIZIO BENSCH) People walk past an illuminated soccer ball ahead of the FIFA 2022 World cup soccer tournament at Katara Cultural Village in Doha, Qatar November 15, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/FABRIZIO BENSCH)

Indeed, the controversy has been so pronounced that FIFA president Gianni Infantino felt compelled to address it in a cringe-worthy speech at a press conference over the weekend. 

Qatar, of course, is not the only problematic host country of the World Cup and other international major sporting events: The last World Cup, four years ago, was hosted by Russia, which hosted the Olympic Games four years prior to that. And China hosted the Olympics in February despite its appalling record on human rights and threats to Taiwan and the region.

What the games mean for Qatar

These games are as much about Qatar’s standing as an influential player in the Arab world and global affairs as they are about international football. Qatar has already put a great amount of money into foreign clubs and interests. Furthermore, the state-owned Al Jazeera has a tremendous impact on the Arab world and beyond. There are also questions regarding Al Jazeera’s role in Qatar winning the bid to host the tournament having reportedly offered FIFA vast sums of money ahead of the vote.

Al Jazeera’s broadcasts and stance are particularly pertinent in Israel’s case following the death of American-Palestinian reporter Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin in May, as Palestinian terrorists clashed with IDF forces. The FBI last week said it would begin its own probes into the incident even though thorough Israeli investigations had concluded that she was likely killed accidentally by an IDF soldier during the exchange of fire.

From Israel’s viewpoint there are also heightened sensitivities due to Qatar’s financial support of Hamas’s regime in Gaza (although Israel has permitted the influx of funds as humanitarian aid.) In addition, Qatar maintains cordial relations with Iran, whose support of terrorism and human rights abuses are evident.

The slogan of this year’s World Cup is “Now is all.” The mantra seems to be an attempt to focus on the moment and put the criticisms to one side.

We respectfully suggest going beyond the “here and now.” It would be wrong to ignore the human rights issues and Qatar’s double game when it comes to support for terrorists. 

Yet, the World Cup in Qatar could also be an opportunity for the small state to prove that this international mega-event was not simply “sportswashing.” It can significantly improve its treatment of migrant workers and gays, for example, without compromising its Muslim religious values.

Especially when it comes to the relationship with Israel, having hosted Israeli fans and media and permitted direct flights from Tel Aviv, Qatar could put its best foot forward and go a stage further.

Israel’s role in the Middle East has changed significantly since the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020. Israel has had quiet ties with Qatar and even established an economic interest office in Doha in 1996 but it was closed during the Second Intifada in 2000.

Moving beyond the “Now is all” to official ties between Qatar and Israel would be a win-win situation and a fitting step to take when the World Cup is over.