The latest in the slew of controversies that have surrounded the FIFA World Cup is the blocking of Tod TV by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, disappointing millions of football fans in the country. Tod TV is the popular streaming service of the Qatari broadcaster BeIN and is the FIFA World Cup’s official streaming platform. While the reasons for this sudden action on behalf of the Saudi authorities are unclear, it is not helping Qatar’s case which is already neck-deep in controversies around the tournament. It is yet another addition to the many issues being raised with respect to Qatar’s suitability as a football World Cup host, the fairness of the entire bidding process, the problems created by the local climate, and the ever-emerging news on human rights violations happening in the country.
Bribing the FIFA officials to win the bid to host the World Cup
The most controversial issue surrounding the World Cup is the alleged corruption by the Qatari authorities in winning the bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Qatar was accused of providing more than $3 million to FIFA officials as bribes in exchange for the bid to host the 2022 edition. Though the allegations were later dismissed, this was not the first time such allegations of corruption were leveled against FIFA. Russia and Brazil too brought to the surface similar allegations against the working of FIFA.
The lack of infrastructural preparedness
The unsuitability of Qatar to host such a massive and significant football event has prompted another set of issues around the tournament. The lack of infrastructural preparedness is the biggest of these issues. Neither did they have world-class stadiums, nor enough hotels to accommodate the swarms of football fans that were likely to flood the country to watch the games. The primary reason perhaps is Qatar’s limited history in the sport itself. Given the lack of football culture in Qatari society, it makes little sense to bid for such a large event.
The adverse climate
The climate is the second big reason why Qatar is a terrible choice of place to host the event. The hot and humid climate of Qatar is a nightmare for any outdoor sporting event, turning it into a health hazard for not just the incoming fans but also the thousands of workers engaged in building the required sports infrastructure. Most of these workers were migrants coming from Southeast Asia and Africa, who over the last several months ended up being trapped in very abusive working conditions. The extensive construction in the run-up to the tournament, including the building of seven new stadiums and about a hundred hotels took a massive toll on not only the health but also on the lives of these workers.
The exploitation of the workers and the Kafala System
The manner of treatment meted out to the workers employed to complete various infrastructure projects in a speedy manner right before the tournament has prompted public outrage across the globe. The Kafala system practiced in the Middle-eastern countries has been a source of controversy for a prolonged period of time. It is primarily a system put in place to heavily monitor migrant laborers, putting the Gulf-based employers of these workers in-charge of their visa and legal status and giving them the reins to exploit these workers as they deem fit.
Interestingly, various global publications had not only predicted but also warned against the potential abuses and death that workers were likely to face in the build-up to this tournament. Unfortunately, most of these warnings were ignored by the world as we waited for them to turn true. In August 2022, the Qatari authorities arrested and deported over 60 migrant workers from Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Egypt, and the Philippines, who were protesting against the non-payment of wages by their employer, the Al Bandary International Group. Some of these demonstrators had not received their wages for months.
The death of the construction workers
The exact number of deaths of migrant workers is still unknown. Some estimates, including one by the Guardian, report that at least 6,500 migrant workers have died since 2010 when Qatar won the bid to host the World Cup. The Qatari officials, as expected, deny these figures. The official figures state that 37 people have died while working on projects related to the football tournament and eventually 34 of those deaths were deemed unrelated to the job. Since then, human rights groups across the globe have been demanding further investigations into these deaths facilitated by this systematic modern-day slavery regime in the Gulf.
The Religious Extremism
The religious extremism of the country is perhaps the icing on the cake, making it the most problematic location ever to host the event. Being the first Muslim country to host the event, it is bringing its own flavor to the event. Similar to other countries in the region, Qatar has guardianship laws that put several restrictions on the liberties of women, including their rights to make work-related decisions, seek education, and even certain aspects of healthcare being dependent on the permission given by the male family members.
In addition, homosexual relationships between consenting men are illegal in Qatar and can result in imprisonment of one year. Reports of harassment, abuse, and forced conversion therapies are not rare in Qatar. It, therefore, came as a surprise to everyone that FIFA, while being well aware of Qatar’s stand against homosexuality, still went on and approved its bid. It went as far as saying that LGBTQ fans can ‘refrain’ from sexual activities while in Qatar. Lastly, much to the disappointment of millions of fans, mere two days before the tournament, FIFA confirmed that no alcohol would be sold inside the stadiums, in line with the high amount of restrictions on the sale of alcohol in Qatar.
Perhaps Qatar had high hopes with respect to the FIFA World Cup hosting, hoping to elevate its status as the Middle East region’s sporting hub and help its case in becoming a regional power. While the tournament is still likely to infuse a lot of money into the Qatari economy, its credibility to host more such events in the future has taken a toll.