The only time I’ve ever cared for football—soccer, for American readers—is when I binge-watched Ted Lasso. And while I didn’t learn a lot about the actual gameplay and rules of football, I’ve come to accept its popularity. With over 3.5 billion followers, Dani Rojas’s mission statement in Ted Lasso rings true: Football is life.
Football is big business, too. Just look at the FIFA World Cup for proof. Held every four years, the international football tournament is the most anticipated event in the history of the sport. Millions of fans travel from far and wide to watch live matches in the host country. This year, they’re going to Qatar.
An estimated 2.89 million tickets were sold ahead of the World Cup 2022 in late November, and Qatar is expecting around 1.2 million foreigners to visit. This is a humongous deal given that the Gulf state only has a population of about 2.93 million people. Overall, FIFA expects more than half of the world’s population to tune in this season.
While athletes and fans are already gearing up for the event, others are airing their criticisms. Entire nations called for a World Cup boycott because of the organizers. Team sponsors and teams also denounced the tournament they’re about to participate in—but why?
To answer that question, we have to examine how the FIFA World Cup in Qatar became possible.
Corruption in FIFA and Alleged Bribery by Qatar
The Federation Internationale de Football Association or FIFA has been accused of corruption plenty of times, with some top officials even getting arrested for different fraud charges. So when Qatar—a wealthy nation with no real history of football—won their bid to host the World Cup 2022 against the likes of Australia and Japan, many were quick to raise their eyebrows.
The majority of these allegations came from the US, one of the nations outbid by Qatar. Prosecutors accused several high-ranking officials from different federations of accepting millions of dollars in bribes to vote in favor of the Gulf state. Some also accused Qatar of using fake propaganda to tarnish the reputation of their competitors and bolster theirs. This includes falsifying economics reports about hosting a World Cup so taxpayers would withdraw their support from their nation’s bid.
That said, these were never proven to be true. It has been more than a decade since Qatar won the right to host the World Cup this year, and they have maintained that they didn’t resort to unethical or illegal means. But the history of FIFA and professional football is nonetheless tainted with corruption.
Viability of a World Cup in Qatar
Because Qatar and football are not exactly a match made in heaven, some questioned the viability of hosting a World Cup in the country at all.
Firstly, there is the issue of infrastructure. At the time of the bid, Qatar didn’t have the number of stadiums, mass transportation systems, and accommodations FIFA required for the event. These are crucial given the number of matches in one day, as well as the people that are expected to travel into and within the country.
What Qatar had was money—lots of it. They proposed a budget of $300 billion to build everything that could prepare the country for the World Cup. They now boast 8 stadiums with at least 40,000 in capacity, extensive metro and shuttle bus systems, hotels, and fan villages constructed specifically for the event. However, these fan villages are already painting a worrisome picture—the cheap option still costs around $311 a night and looks like Fyre Festival organizers designed it.
Another legitimate concern is the temperature in the host country. The World Cup is usually held in the months of June and July, which fall during summer in Qatar. Playing (or watching) football at the peak of the heat was not going to be feasible for anyone, so FIFA decided to move the event to the cooler months of November and December.
One thing to know about football events is that they operate like a well-oiled machine. Domestic and international leagues are scheduled so they don’t clash with each other. Athletes can represent their local clubs and national teams in events and enjoy an off-season before they resume training and competing.
The shift in the World Cup schedule might be ideal for fans but not for athletes who are already playing in their club leagues right now. European leagues are particularly affected and have to adjust schedules so their athletes can compete on the world stage.
Say, for instance, Cristiano Ronaldo gets an injury while playing in the English Premier League. He wouldn’t be able to showcase his best performance as a member of the Portugal squad in the World Cup because there isn’t enough time for recovery. The timing is clearly not favorable for football clubs all over the world and is another reason critics doubt there wasn’t bribery involved in Qatar’s World Cup bid.
Human Rights Concerns and Modern Slavery
If you’re a football fan and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, you need to skip this World Cup season. That’s because homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and your basic human rights are endangered just by being in the country.
There have already been reported cases of LGBTQ+ people being detained by the Qatari government because of their gender expression. They also illegally went through their belongings and forced them to participate in conversion therapy sessions, which are huge violations of their human rights.
FIFA selecting a host nation that is intolerant and openly abusive of the LGBTQ+ community is such a controversial decision. As influential and global as the World Cup tournaments are, FIFA has a responsibility to protect its community. Knowing Qatar’s stance on homosexuality and still granting them the right to host the World Cup is a testament to how much they actually care about football’s supporters, many of whom are members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Queer people aren’t the only ones whose rights are violated by Qatar. Workers, specifically migrant workers, have been inhumanely treated in preparation for the World Cup. Since Qatar didn’t have the necessary infrastructure to host such a massive event, they employed millions of workers from neighboring countries like Nepal, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.
Over the course of 12 years since Qatar broke ground on World Cup infrastructure, an estimated 6,500 workers have died due to poor working conditions, extreme temperatures, and other occupational hazards. Labor rights organizations have found that workers are exposed to intense heat for a quarter of a year, which contributes to respiratory and heart failure that many have died from.
Qatar’s royal family, who owns a construction company that built some of the stadiums, has been accused of covering up the poor working conditions. They reportedly avoided inspections, as well as prevented workers from filing reports with verbal and physical threats. Additionally, construction companies have been found to steal the wages of thousands of workers. Unsurprisingly, Qatar hasn’t addressed the issue of exploitation of workers—they’re more focused now on the kickoff of the World Cup.
Should You Still Watch the World Cup 2022?
Match tickets have been bought, flights and hotels booked, and plans are well underway—for about 12 years now. FIFA and Qatar will benefit from the World Cup one way or another, so calls for cancellation are too little too late at this point.
But Ted Lasso taught me that football can be a beautiful and tolerant sport. As someone whose only knowledge of football is from a comedy show, I urge real (more passionate) fans not to boycott matches of their favorite athletes but to shift the conversation to the underlying issues of the World Cup in Qatar. Talk about how the international tournament is made possible by millions of exploited migrant workers, how LGBTQ+ people are endangered by antiquated laws, and how there is the possibility of corruption involved to make the World Cup happen.
If it means being that person at a World Cup viewing party, so be it. Even football captains who are playing in the tournament are making their own statements in their own way. You can do your part, too.