World Cup 2022 doesn’t belong in Qatar

Qatar is a major sponsor of world terrorism, funding Hamas’s military wing in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Al Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.

Doha, Qatar (photo credit: NASEEM ZEITOON/REUTERS)
Doha, Qatar
More than a billion people globally watched the culmination of soccer’s World Cup, as France defeated Croatia in the final championship match in Moscow earlier this month. For the United States, this year’s World Cup had some disappointment, with the US team eliminated in the qualifying round, while British fans saw the English team surpass expectations and make it to the semifinals, only to lose to Croatia 2-1 in extra time. Nevertheless, fans everywhere cheered as the games went on.
The tournament was a relative success, with play in beautiful new stadiums and facilities across Russia, most World Cup logistics smooth, and the usual international media frenzy unabated. But there was one significant problem: The games never should have been held in Russia in the first place. The World Cup Finals were awarded to Russia – and to Qatar for 2022 – due primarily to rampant corruption throughout the FIFA soccer governing body and the willingness of Russia and Qatar to play along and compromise them even further.
Three years ago, scandal engulfed FIFA, leading its ethics committee to ban FIFA president Sepp Blatter for eight years (subsequently reduced to six years on appeal) from all soccer-related activities. A five-year FBI investigation led to the arrests and indictments of dozens of other soccer officials – almost the entire FIFA top echelon – on charges of corruption, including allegations of bribery and kickbacks.
A Swiss government investigation into money laundering involving the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids involved more than 80 cases at one point. A report by FIFA’s ethics chief Michael Garcia, now an associate judge on New York’s highest court, found numerous instances of bribery, impropriety and corruption, including that top FIFA officials “sought to obtain personal favors or benefits.”
There is evidence that Qatar 2022, the official bid team, “employed a strategy that at least contemplated directing Qatar’s Aspire Academy resources to countries associated with [FIFA] executive committee members or otherwise using Aspire resources to influence those members,” said the report. Aspire is a Qatari government-created organization tasked with identifying and training athletes.
Additionally, Qatar reportedly put millions of dollars into FIFA vice president Julio Grondona’s Swiss bank account and paid off a multi-million dollar Argentine Soccer Association debt from when Grondona was its president. And they used their belN Sports (formerly Al Jazeera Sports) and its grossly biased, state-owned Al Jazeera itself to reward their friends, punish their enemies, and intimidate nearly everyone.
WHEN FIFA released only a watered down summary of the report, Garcia resigned in protest.
In a sporting world all too often full of corruption, the awarding of these games to Russia and Qatar and many of the contracts that go along with them was yet another attack on sports integrity.
Now that the 2018 World Cup is over, fans and players are turning their attention down the road toward 2022 when Qatar is set to host. The very choice of the gas-rich Arabian Gulf emirate makes no sense. Without the corruption in FIFA, it’s extremely unlikely – more likely inconceivable – that Qatar, which a FIFA inspection team had ranked last among the nine countries vying to host, would have ever been selected on merit.
For one, it’s not a country with a big soccer culture. Purchasing an expensive French professional team, Paris Saint-Germain, and building four big, new stadiums doesn’t make for a soccer powerhouse. (Five more are promised.)
Additionally, holding the World Cup in Doha, where summer temperatures can reach 115 degrees Fahrenheit, defies logic, leading FIFA to move the games to November 21-December 18 and forcing soccer teams and leagues to adapt their own calendars. Doha and Qatar are also not anyone’s idea of tourist destinations.
Beyond that is the human-rights aspect. Qatar is a major sponsor of world terrorism, funding as they do, Hamas’s military wing in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Al Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria. Iran is a close ally.
Closer to home, Qatar’s poor treatment of migrant workers has been on full display as thousands have been hired to build its World Cup soccer facilities. Qatar has been accused of exposing workers, both Qatari nationals and immigrants, to dangerous and “inherently unsafe” working conditions. In March 2014, the International Trades Union Confederation, calling Qatar a “country without a conscience,” blasted Qatar’s migrant worker system, reporting that 1,200 stadium workers had died between 2010 and 2013. By contrast, five workers died preparing for the 2018 Russia World Cup.
In 2016, Amnesty International claimed that some workers would have their passports confiscated and wages withheld, violating human rights. The family of Zac Cox, a South African national killed in January 2017 during construction of the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, complains that the Qatari government has been largely absent and unhelpful in the investigation of his death.
As despicable as the unexplained deaths and treatment of migrant workers has been, Qatar never should have won the bid to host the World Cup. It won only because it literally bribed its way to the extraordinarily controversial decision. Then, having spent whatever it took to win – above or below board – Qatar has since slashed by almost half its initial $20 billion preparation budget.
But it’s not too late. FIFA should immediately rescind its decision and move the 2022 finals to a different location. One interesting and more-than-feasible solution is to take a leaf out of the European book and play it across a number of countries; England, France and Germany leap to mind with the final being played at Wembley Stadium.
The writer is a sports ethics campaigner, co-founder of the advocacy coalition New FIFA Now, chairman of the SKINS sportswear company and chairman of the new Foundation for Sports Integrity.