World Cup 2022 in Qatar: is it the most controversial tournament ever?

Elizabeth Smith

Qatar 2022 has long been at the centre of controversies to the extent that it can already be considered one of the most controversial World Cups in the history of football.

Between more or less veiled shadows of corruption, lack of respect for human and civil rights, and the strong resistance of the press and public opinion. Most of which has only emerged in the last period. Let us look in detail at the main controversies that have marked the march towards the Qatar World Cup.

Qatar World Cup controversies: the shadows of corruption

One of the most controversial aspects concerned the awarding process by the FIFA Executive Committee. The vote in favour of Qatar by the 24 members of the Committee came as far back as 2010.

The assignment, according to the investigations, was part of a framework of not only sporting, but also geopolitical importance. Behind this process, in fact, there would be Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, current Emir of Qatar with a passion for football. Michel Platini, former Uefa president and glue behind this negotiation and finally the coordinator between the parties. Namely, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Sarkozy himself, according to the Paris Prosecutor’s Office, invited Platini for an informal lunch at the Elysée Palace on 23 November 2010. This is a week before the fateful vote. Surprisingly, however, Platini found an extra guest, seated at his own table: Emir Al Thani.

So the informal lunch turned into a negotiation to regulate relations between two countries. A French investigation later revealed the outcome of that meeting at the Elysée Palace. Sarkozy, through the power of Platini, allegedly ‘traded’ the 2022 World Cup to Qatar in exchange for the latter’s purchase of French arms.

Qatar World Cup controversies: white deaths at work

According to an investigation by the British newspaper The Guardian, more than 6,500 migrant workers died on construction sites. The deceased workers, mainly from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Kenya, worked in inhuman conditions.

This, trying to meet the deadlines of the road map that saw the construction of an unprecedented number of facilities in a geographical area that was completely lacking them.

In addition to the seven new stadiums and the renovation of four others, there are also roads, airports, public transport infrastructure, hotels. And in fact the creation of entire new cities, completely redesigned on top of the pre-existing urban centres. A gigantic national construction site that has cost the lives of so many workers deprived of rights.

The hellish conditions of so many workers have remained so over the last few years. Without anyone being able (or willing) to intervene, neither within FIFA nor internationally. Absurdly, however, the organising committee doesn’t recognise these figures. Which instead believes that only 37 deaths are attributable to the construction of the World Cup facilities. The numbers certainly do not add up.

The overturned calendar

More controversy erupted because of the calendar. Given the high temperatures that are usually reached in summer in Qatar, FIFA finally decided to move the tournament between November and December for the first time in history. The change of schedule has led to a genuine upheaval of the traditional football calendar.

Matches every three days have brought a very high number of muscular and non-muscular injuries. This, jeopardising the season for many players. Many have been forced to skip the World Cup. While just as many will fly to Qatar in precarious physical condition.

Then there is the factor of the high temperatures, practically twice as high as usual in November and December. Not to mention the unknown factor of the resumption of the championships.

The fake fans

The suspicion is that they were paid to hide the boycott of the real fans. In one of the first videos circulating on social media, a group of men apparently of Asian and African origin can be seen celebrating on the streets of Doha in the colours of Spain.

The apparent inconsistency between the ethnicity of the fans and that of the team has been highlighted by many users on the web. The insinuation concerns the dubious authenticity of the cheering. ‘It’s the stadium workers who lend themselves to the request to shoot these videos to round up,’ one reads in the comments. But the many jokes are mixed with real suspicions, and not just about this specific video. “Look at the fans of Portugal, Argentina and Germany. Notice how they all have the same equipment, the same flags and uniforms. They are paid people,’ writes another user.

A Swedish sports website recalls how Qatar offered around 1,600 people an invitation-only trip to the World Cup in exchange for asking them to ‘sing at the opening and spread positivity on social media’.

In 2019, during the World Athletics Championships in Doha, a similar case had also broken out. On that occasion, the organisers allegedly ordered a group of about 50 people to sit as close as possible to the BBC studio.

The violation of LGBT+ rights

Another issue discussed is that in Qatar, there continue to be human rights violations. In particular, according to Amnesty International, women and LGBTQ+ people ‘continue to suffer discrimination in law and practice’.

Homosexuality in this Persian Gulf state is considered a crime. But the organisers of the World Cup wanted to reassure all homosexual couples that they will not be prosecuted or find problems if they stay in Qatar. However, many were perplexed after the statements by Khalid Salman, Qatar’s ambassador for the 2022 World Cup, who in an interview defined homosexuality as ‘psychic damage’.

However, FIFA had also made it clear in recent weeks that rainbow flags, the symbol of the LGBT+ community, would be allowed in the vicinity of stadiums. The captains of several European teams themselves, will wear rainbow-coloured armbands as part of a campaign against gender discrimination.

Many artists refused to perform at the World Cup opening ceremony

In recent days, protests have also erupted from international artists. Starting with Dua Lipa, whose participation in the opening of the World Cup was practically taken for granted.

Rod Stewart, who reportedly turned down $1 million to attend the opening ceremony, is of the same opinion. ‘Fifteen months ago,’ the artist told the Sunday Times, ‘I was offered a really big pile of money, over $1 million, to perform there. But I turned it down. It’s not right to go’.

In short, the feeling is that even with the World Cup underway, there will be no shortage of controversy.

Read also: The 5 most transparent governments in the world

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