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Camouflaged protests: The Qatar World Cup

  • 25 October 2022
  The FIFA Men’s World Cup is being held in Qatar next month. Controversy about the games has never gone away. When they were awarded, there was bafflement that a country with no footballing tradition, a hostile environment, and little to no infrastructure for such a tournament, would qualify. Accusations of bribery and corruption behind winning the bid abounded.

Since the award, attention has shifted to the building enterprise behind one of the world’s largest tournaments. In 2021, the Guardian revealed that 6,500 workers had perished. There has also been a sharp focus on the environmental impact of the stadiums and domestic laws criminalising homosexuality.

The response from human rights groups has been relentless. Amnesty International has suggested that FIFA pool US$440 million to remedy human rights abuses suffered by migrant workers since 2010. Despite FIFA’s actual or constructive knowledge of such abuses in the country, charged Secretary General Agnès Callamard, ‘there was not a single mention of workers or human rights in its evaluation of the Qatari bid and no conditions were put in place on labour protections.’

Human Rights Watch has expressed a similar view. ‘Unless FIFA and Qatar act,’ urges the organisation’s deputy Middle East director Michael Page, ‘then the real “legacy” of this tournament will be how FIFA, Qatar and anyone profiting from this World Cup left families of thousands of migrant workers indebted after they died and left many migrant workers who had their wages stolen.’

Ahead of the tournament, a gaggle of French cities have promised to boycott the setting up of ‘fan zones’ and giant screens to broadcast the games. The Socialist mayor of Lille, Martine Aubry, called the tournament a ‘nonsense in terms of human rights, the environment and sport’, while Marseilles mayor Benoit Payan deemed Qatar 2022 ‘incompatible with the values which we expect in sport – and especially football – to promote.’

As impressive as these positions are, no sporting tournament would take place without its participants, and players current and former are showing a range of attitudes to the event. On the side of football pure and simple, shorn of its political and ethical dimensions, we have such figures as England’s high profile ex-footballer David Beckham, with his 10-year contract to be the gulf state’s culture and tourism ambassador worth £150 million.

'Officials in FIFA and Doha will not be overly troubled by the latest species of costume protest. The same teams will attend functions, turn