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Qatar’s selection to host the FIFA World Cup this year has led to cheers going out to the streets of Doha in celebration of the first round of the tournament to be held in the Arab world.
But the choice, made in 2010, also drew immediate criticism — over the logistics of holding a sporting event in a country where summer temperatures exceed 100 degrees; About allegations of bribery and corruption among FIFA officials who voted for Qatar. and about concerns about human rights abuses that have persisted in the years since.
Now, with days approaching the World Cup finals, the Gulf country is expecting more than a million fans to arrive. Billions more will tune in to watch the tournament’s 64 matches. However, the quarrels did not subside.
Recently, even the former FIFA president called the choice of Qatar a mistake.
“It was a bad choice. I was responsible for that as president at the time,” said Sepp Blatter, whose term as FIFA director ended in 2015 amid a bribery scandal.
Lack of infrastructure and deaths of migrant workers
Qatar is the smallest country ever to host the World Cup, a complex international sporting event that attracts large numbers of visitors and requires the infrastructure to accommodate them.
At just 4,471 square miles, Qatar is about 20% smaller than Connecticut. Much of the country is arid, sandy plain, and most of its 2.8 million people live in the area around the capital, Doha.
When it won the nomination in 2010, Qatar lacked the many stadiums, hotels and highways needed to host the tournament. In order to build them, the country has turned to its massive population of migrant workers, who make up 90% or more of its workforce. (Only about 300,000 of Qatar’s population are Qatari citizens. Their number far exceeds the number of migrant workers whose visas are linked to their work, common system in the Middle East.)
The working and living conditions of these migrant workers were often exploitative and dangerous. A 2021 investigation by The Guardian found that more than 6,500 migrant workers from five countries in South Asia have died in Qatar since 2010 from various causes – workplace accidents, car accidents, suicides and deaths from other causes, including heat.
“Some of them included workers who collapsed on the stadium construction site and died after being taken off it. Others died in road traffic accidents on their way to work on the company bus. Many others died suddenly and inexplicably at work,” said Pete Pattison, a reporter at investigation, in an interview last year with National Public Radio “NPR”.
FIFA and Qatar question this figure. Qatar He says only three people have died as a direct result of working on World Cup construction sites, and he acknowledges the deaths of 37 workers who were “unrelated to work”.
Qatar also frames the World Cup as a “fantastic opportunity to boost welfare standards,” and officials say conditions for workers have improved since selection: in 2014, the country introduced a package of Workers’ welfare standards that have created new protections (although advocates say new regulations don’t always apply).
In May, a coalition of human rights groups called on FIFA and Qatar to create a compensation fund – a pool of money that could be used to compensate migrant workers, along with families of those who died, for abuses they suffered while building stadiums and more. Infrastructure needed for the World Cup.
As they say, the total fund must be at least $ 440 million – the same amount as the World Cup prize.
“We think players don’t want to play in stadiums that workers died building. We think fans don’t want to stay in hotels or use metros that workers died building,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives. At Human Rights Watch, one of the organizations advocating for the fund.
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Other human rights violations
Concerns about human rights abuses extend beyond the treatment of migrant workers. “In short, the human rights situation in Qatar is bad,” Worden told NPR.
This week, Human Rights Watch urged journalists to look beyond soccer by publishing a 42-page report summarizing what it called “the many human rights concerns surrounding Qatar’s preparations for the 2022 World Cup.”
Qatar’s penal code criminalizes sex outside of marriage, which has led to prosecutions of rape victims. Homosexuality is effectively criminalized: sex between men is punishable by up to seven years in prison, and men who “incite” or “entice” another man to commit “sodomy or indecency” can face between one and three years in prison.
In a recent interview with a German broadcaster, a Qatari ambassador to the World Cup called homosexuality “brain damage”.
“The most important thing is that everyone will accept that they come here. But they have to accept our rules,” said Ambassador Khalid Salman, a former Qatari national team player. Western officials, including the US State Department, widely condemned the remarks.
Advocates say LGBTQ people in Qatar are subjected to conversion therapy, harassment by the authorities, and imprisonment.
“The fear is very real,” said Dr. Nasser Mohammed, who grew up in a deeply conservative Qatari society and applied for asylum in the United States over fears of retaliation for his sexual orientation.
The Qatari embassy said in a statement to NPR that “the safety of all visitors is of paramount importance” to the host country and that Qatar is a “relatively conservative society.”
“Everyone will be welcome to Qatar for the World Cup,” the statement said. “We simply ask all visitors to appreciate and respect our culture, just as they would if they would travel to other places in the region and in other parts of the world.”
Allegations of bribery and corruption
Qatar’s selection to host the World Cup has long been dogged by allegations of bribery and corruption.
The selection was announced in 2010 after a series of votes by FIFA officials. Qatar won bids from the United States, South Korea, Japan and Australia.
Over the years, various officials, from FIFA and other organizations, have been accused of accepting or soliciting bribes to direct the World Cup to Qatar.
“There have been many allegations of corruption against Qatar’s bid – ongoing political intrigue, regarding government deals, gas deals between countries who will have a vote on who will host the World Cup,” said James Montague. Journalist who has written about Qatar and the World Cup, speaking in an interview with National Public Radio monolith.
Since then, around a dozen FIFA officials involved in the selection have either received bans from the organization – including its former president Blatter – or been charged over allegations of corruption. In 2019, French football superstar and former European football president Michel Platini was arrested during a $2 million investigation related to his efforts to bring the World Cup to Qatar. Both Blatter and Platini have denied any wrongdoing.
An investigation by FIFA in 2014 cleared the Qatari officials of any wrongdoing, allowing the tournament to go ahead.
The November schedule put a strain on many players
The World Cup finals are traditionally held in the summer. But the summer heat and humidity in Qatar made that unbearable, and instead the event was scheduled for November. (The games will also be held in air-conditioned stadiums.)
The timing caused major upheavals in professional football, especially in Europe, where most league schedules usually run from late summer through the following spring. Major professional leagues such as the English Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga have announced a two-month break to accommodate the World Cup.
This tight schedule has caused “unprecedented workloads” for players, according to a new report from FIFPRO, the federation that represents 65,000 players worldwide.
For a typical summer World Cup, Premier League players have historically had an average of 31 days to prepare and 37 days to recover, according to the report. This year, the preparation and recovery time is down to seven and eight days, the union says.
The report stated that “overlapping competitions, consecutive back-to-back matches, severe weather conditions, an intense preparation period, and insufficient recovery time all together pose an ominous risk to a player’s health and performance.”
Fifpro consultant and exercise scientist Darren Burgess said players involved in the Cup would face a “really high risk” of injury.
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