In her first column of the year, Amy Eustace questions the reasoning behind Fifa awarding Qatar the 2022 World Cup
Back in 2010, when Russia and Qatar were announced as locations for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups respectively, the choices sent ripples through the broader football community. The Qatar decision, in particular, arched eyebrows worldwide.
It prompted allegations of corruption, whispers of collusion and questions were understandably raised as to the suitability of the Arab nation for a summer event at which temperatures would register in the forties. The climate question would prove to be just the tip of the iceberg, or more appropriately, the tip of the sand dune.
It came as a surprise to approximately no one when Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini confessed that politics may have been a factor in awarding the bid. European leaders allegedly advised their country’s FIFA Executive Committee representatives to vote for Qatar, a practice explicitly prohibited by the body’s rules.
High level corruption is football’s worst kept secret. The investigation into malpractice in the selection process confirmed what everybody already suspected to be true. Football has never been less of a spectator’s sport.
The road to Russia and Qatar is a bumpy one. Vladimir Putin may be the Otto von Bismarck of the 21st century thanks to his strategic peacekeeping between Syria and the US, but at home his government wages a war against the LGBT community, which plays right into the hands of the right-wing majority of voters who keep him in power.
Anti-gay legislation passed into federal law earlier this year prohibits ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors,’ which means that there is no place for gay pride symbolism or public campaigning of any sort. Without definitions for ‘non-traditional sexual relations’ or ‘propaganda’, the scope of the law is indeterminably wide.
The legislation, although yet to be enforced, has been met with uproar. A long list of famous faces have come out in staunch support of Russia’s LGBT community. Cher rejected an invite to next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi in opposition to this affront to a large section of her fan base. Madonna, Lady Gaga and Elton John have also spoken out. Activist groups are calling for a boycott of next year’s winter sports tournament.
Putin and co. are understandably nonplussed. The laws are designed to cater to the whims of a largely conservative Russian electorate, not pop stars and liberals. Russia aren’t prone to bowing to international pressure, but if the new law weathers the storm of controversy it has whipped up, it will only come into sharper focus in 2018.
Even stricter anti-gay laws operate in Qatar, where homosexuality isn’t just ‘frowned-upon’, but completely illegal. Blatter went as far as to say that gay spectators should “refrain from sexual activity”, which is an only slightly nicer way of saying, “Just don’t be yourselves, yeah?”
This, combined with the unfathomable temperatures during the summer months make Qatar a comical choice, suggests that FIFA is less of an international regulatory body and more of a glorified crack den for the rich, powerful and clueless.
Three years later, the decision is becoming less of a comedy and more of a tragedy. Adherence to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not, apparently, a prerequisite for World Cup host countries. Last week the International Trade Union Confederation claimed that up to 4,000 Nepalese migrant workers could die before a ball is kicked at the 2022 event.
Startlingly high numbers of labourers have already died during construction; mostly due to accidents at work or heart failure. More human rights breaches are being uncovered in the Qatari preparations with each passing day.
Meanwhile, 13 football fans were detained last week for 30 hours with no food or water after violence at Spartak Moscow’s 3-0 win over CSKA Moscow and several instances of police brutality during the match were documented in YouTube videos. In Soviet Russia, law breaks you.
For the host countries, international sports tournaments are marketing opportunities. They consume budgets that eclipse the gross domestic product of a small nation because they draw tourists, investors and global attention, but they also come with close scrutiny. That interest could be a catalyst for social change and FIFA is at least expected to pressure both Russia and Qatar on their anti-LGBT laws.
Still, isn’t it counter-intuitive to award the bids and then lobby for policy change? Russia and Qatar already have what they want. They have nothing to lose by staying exactly the way they are.
Qatar’s participation has been thrown into uncertainty with FIFA having realised, suddenly, that the climate is unsuitable for summer football. The governing body is likely to agree on a move to a winter tournament, but a November/December event would completely upturn the schedules of most major European leagues.
The investigation into the ‘politics’ of the bid could have consequences for Qatar, as will indications of slave labour. Evidence is mounting in favour of taking the World Cup out of their hands, but all this should have been clear to the powers-that-be back in 2010.
Now, FIFA faces a dilemma. It could stand by its earlier decision and back Qatar to the hilt, revoke the hosting privilege entirely, or force a re-vote which Qatar would inevitably lose.
Whatever they do, this particular FIFA farce runs far too deep to escape with a shred of credibility. A do-over would come with significant cost and not just to their reputation. For once, it might have to do what’s best for the fans, not what’s best for its pockets. Imagine that.