Editor’s note: Roger Bennett He is the founder of the Men In Blazers media network and one of the authors of the book Gods of Soccer. Tommy Vitor Former spokesman for President Barack Obama, co-founder of Crooked Media and host of the foreign policy podcast Pod Save the World. They collaborated on a podcast series called World Corrupt and reviewed the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more on CNN.
This November, billions of people around the world will be attending the World Cup – one of the greatest sporting spectacles in human history. It’s the event that has brought wars to a standstill, canonized sporting saints and sinners, and united planet Earth in rejoicing at every exclamation mark goal, last tackle and elaborate knee dance celebrated. .
There’s just one problem: this year, it’s happening in Qatar.
In Qatar, journalists are jailed for investigating the conditions of migrant workers. LGBTQ+ people are treated as criminals. In many cases, women have to get permission from men to marry, travel and study abroad.
And Qatar’s labor practices have been compared to modern slavery – 6,500 South Asian migrant workers are reported to have died in Qatar since Qatar hosted the 2010 World Cup. Experts say that most of these deaths are probably related to the construction of buildings for this country. Competitions.
6500 deaths – minimum. The total death toll is almost certainly higher, as the figure does not include the many countries that send workers to Qatar, including the Philippines and African countries.
(Qatar argues that the death rate for its migrant worker community is within the expected range for the size and demographics of the population.)
According to Human Rights Watch, in recent years, Qatari authorities have presented “several promising labor reform plans.” But significant gaps remain, including “widespread wage abuse” and a failure to “investigate the causes of death of thousands of migrant workers,” the statement said.
Let’s not pretend that the Qataris won their cup competitions on merit alone. After all, Qatar—a peninsula smaller than Connecticut and so hot that playing soccer there during the summer months is a potential health hazard—is the last place that would make sense to host a giant international sports tournament.
So how was Qatar chosen? Well, as an endless stream of investigative journalism claims, it does won the bid through a process rigged from top to bottom. (Qatar strongly denies these accusations).
For example, shortly after the French support vote, Qatar Sports Investments bought the Paris Saint-Germain football club. At the same time, another Qatari company bought a piece of Veolia, a French energy and waste company.
Needless to say, a company linked to Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund hired the son of former UEFA president Michel Platini. Népotisme? Zoot Alvers!
But don’t take our word for it. Matt Miller, a former Justice Department official who traveled to Zurich with former Attorney General Eric Holder to witness the bidding process, told us: “It was the most corrupt thing I’ve ever seen in my career, and I I spent a few years working in New Jersey politics.”
All kidding aside, this all begs the question: why would Qatar even want to host the World Cup?
The answer is that the country is hoping for the 2008 Beijing Olympics – an opportunity to confront human rights abuses and shine on the world stage. By hosting the World Cup, Qatar wants to present a cosmopolitan image From Its neighbors in the United Arab Emirates show it is open for business, welcoming tourists and playing a role in world politics.
To ensure that this footage would happen, Qatar even announced that international TV crews would be prohibited from filming in locations without prior permission from Qatari authorities. As James Lynch, of the London-based human rights group FairSquare, told the Guardian, these “extraordinarily broad scopes” make it very difficult for the media to cover news that is not strictly related to the games.
(Qatar High Committee for Delivery and Legacy in a Statement on Twitter that filming permissions were in line with global practices).
When you think of Qatar, its leaders don’t want you to imagine migrant workers dying in the sweltering heat, or to think of Doha as less important than next-door neighbor Dubai. They want you to remember the incredible thrill of Lionel Messi running into goal, or the epic thrill of a physic toe-kick by Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson Becker.
And that’s what Qatar will get after this World Cup – unless we all try to tell a different story, one that draws the world’s attention to Qatar’s crimes and serves as a warning to other authoritarian regimes that are are watching We must send a clear signal that autocrats cannot amass soft power through the broken glow of sporting immortality.
That means making sure that by the end of the tournament, every single person expected to tune in — all 5 billion Of them – knows what is happening off-screen in Qatar.
Positive actions have been taken in this direction before. Denmark’s monochrome “protest shirts” are a powerful statement – and one which has angered the Qatari government. In the opening round of the World Cup qualifiers, the German and Norwegian teams wore shirts with the words “Human Rights” written on them.
Meanwhile, Louis van Gaal, the permanent manager of the Netherlands, called FIFA’s reason for hosting the tournament in Qatar “nonsense”. Fiction.
These steps should only be a starting point.
National teams – and, critically, their governments – can and should press Qatar to account. The most critical step behind Human Rights Watch’s pointless #PayUpFIFA campaign. It’s an effort that requires Qatar and FIFA to pay at least $440 million — an amount equal to the prize money awarded at the World Cup — to the families of migrant workers injured or killed in preparation for the tournament. Any club with a conscience should strongly support it.
Up to this point, US Soccer has quietly signed on to the #PayUpFIFA campaign, but hasn’t said anything publicly about it. As the wealthiest country in the world, with a major military base in Qatar, America has a special duty to defend these values—especially with the current administration’s stated commitment to holding Gulf autocrats accountable.
The English Football Association has also acted poorly in response to this issue. After European football federations vowed to challenge Qatar for more than “just wearing a T-shirt”, they finally settled for wearing rainbow armbands that are literally less than a T-shirt.
All national teams have to step up – and the players have a big part to play in that effort. We can only imagine the level of pressure these athletes are currently under to perform. They’ve probably dreamed about this moment since childhood – and they’ve fought so bloody hard and given so much to make it a reality.
They did not think that they should talk about human rights. But there is also a long tradition of sports activism, from Tommy Smith and John Carlos raising their fists in Mexico City to Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford fighting child hunger in Britain.
This does not mean that every player has to speak. But those who do need to be supported and encouraged – like the Socceroos, Australia’s national football team, who was called Reforming injured workers and decriminalizing all same-sex relationships in Qatar.
After all, this is more than the World Cup. It’s about whether people who believe in democracy and human rights will allow authoritarian regimes to get away with hijacking the sports we love.
Saudi Arabia is currently trying to clean up its image through LIV Golf and WWE. Russia and Bahrain have tried to do this through Formula One. But if we take a stand against Qatar on the world stage, maybe we can make the next generation of autocrats worry more about the humiliation of Qatar in 2022 than the thirst for a moment in Beijing in 2008.
Fans can help by using their social media platforms to draw attention to Qatar’s human rights abuses, and by pressuring football associations to publicly support the #PayUpFIFA campaign.
Our activism could also change FIFA’s calculus – which may be less willing to award the World Cup to countries like Qatar if they know that doing so will lead to years of boycotts, protests and damaging press.
this is important. Because as every soccer fan knows, the World Cup is more than just a tournament. This has been compared to a global eclipse that affects the entire planet for a month at a time.
This is a unique arena where countries can compete fiercely and then give up. It’s meant to show the best of us—our incredible diversity and our shared humanity.
It is not surprising that the authoritarian powers want to take over these events for themselves. And that’s exactly why we can’t let them.