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Analysis | Why Qatar is a controversial venue for the 2022 World Cup

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Since winning the right to host the 2022 World Cup, Qatar has been a controversial choice. The torrid climate of the Persian Gulf country made it impossible to hold the competition during the usual summer period, so it was pushed back to November and December when the national competitions are in full swing. Deprived of their star players, domestic competitions are suspended for up to six weeks. Further research is underway into how Qatar, a small country of 3 million people with no football background, managed to win a secret ballot to become host. Human rights groups have criticized the treatment of foreign workers who built the stadiums and accommodation for visiting fans. The government says the event, which kicks off on Sunday, is a catalyst for improving labor laws.

1. Why was the bidding process controversial?

Since 2010, when the governing body FIFA awarded Russia and Qatar the rights to successive World Cups, there have been allegations of vote buying. Two members of FIFA’s 24-member executive committee that selects the hosts were suspended before the 2010 vote after being filmed offering their support for money. In 2020, an indictment was filed in the US accusing several officials of receiving payments to support Qatar’s bid. Their trial will begin in January in a New York federal court. Qatar denies paying anyone for the hosting rights. FIFA said holding the event in the country was in line with its goal of expanding football into new regions.

2. What will it bring to Qatar?

Qatar is betting the tournament will help modernize its image and make it a tourist and business destination on par with regional rival Dubai. The World Cup is the world’s most watched sporting event, with the last in Russia in 2018 attracting 3.6 billion television and online viewers. Bloomberg Intelligence estimated that Qatar was on track to complete $300 billion in infrastructure projects before the opening game. That may seem like a lot for a country smaller than Connecticut, but Qatar is one of the richest countries in the world thanks to huge reserves of natural gas. Organizers expect the event to add $17 billion to the economy, equivalent to about 10% of gross domestic product in 2021.

3. Why the outrage about migrant workers?

Media reports detailed cases of workers working on the new stadiums and other infrastructure being subjected to inhumane treatment and unsafe working conditions. Amnesty International accused the government of failing to properly investigate the deaths of many migrant workers. Preparations for the World Cup shed light on the Gulf region’s ‘kafala’ (sponsorship) system, whereby workers need their employer’s permission to change jobs, return home or even open a bank account. In 2019, the United Nations attacked Qatar for racial discrimination, saying an employee’s nationality played an “overwhelming role” in how they were treated.

4. What is the government saying?

Although the government denies allegations of ill-treatment of workers, it built some new living quarters and promised to improve security. It introduced new labor laws in 2020 designed to guarantee a minimum wage and make it easier to change jobs in an effort to dismantle the kafala system. Rules were introduced in 2021 to limit the number of hours workers can toil outside in the summer heat. At least on paper, the reforms made Qatar’s labor laws the most labor-friendly in the Gulf region. Rights groups acknowledge that labor conditions have improved in recent years, but continue to publish reports documenting unpaid wages, illegal recruitment costs and poor enforcement of labor rules.

5. Is Qatar a free country?

Qatar is ruled by its emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who controls the government and judiciary. Political parties are banned and most of the population is not citizens with few civil or political rights. In March 2021, Human Rights Watch published a report calling on Qatar to reform the male guardianship system, a set of practices and rules that make many women’s personal decisions contingent on the approval of a male relative. Homosexuality is officially illegal. The government has pledged to welcome visitors of all sexual orientations as long as they adhere to a general rule against displays of public affection that also applies to heterosexual couples. However, a FIFA presentation on the Qatar tournament included guidelines for security officials to practice “less intervention, more mediation” and “be lenient towards conduct that does not threaten physical integrity or property”.

6. Will there be boycotts?

Players and teams in Norway and fans in Denmark called for a boycott, but the football authorities in the participating countries ultimately rejected the idea. Amnesty and other groups said enforcement of labor reforms in Qatar has fallen short, but note that the changes are generally positive and are pushing back the idea of ​​staying away. Sportswear manufacturer Hummel said it changed the design for the Danish national team’s kits because the brand “does not want to be visible in a tournament that has cost thousands of lives”. The mayors of Paris and several other French cities have said they will not set up giant screens and zones for fans to watch the tournament. Several linked the decision to Qatar’s poor human rights record, while others cited financial reasons, energy costs and the winter climate.

7. What will it be like for fans?

The weather should be quite pleasant. The average maximum temperature in mid-November is 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius), and the heat tends to dissipate in December. Nevertheless, some of the tournament’s eight outdoor stadiums are equipped with air-conditioning systems, adding to FIFA’s pledge to make this World Cup climate neutral. The limited number of hotels in Qatar means that some fans are being encouraged to stay in other cities in the region and travel to matches by air. The head of Paris-based carbon management startup Greenly has said this World Cup will set a record for emissions.

8. How should fans behave in Qatar?

The country’s dress code reflects Islamic traditions. While there is flexibility in five-star hotels, women and men must cover their bodies from shoulders to knees in shopping malls and most public areas. Public displays of affection are not welcome; even holding hands is rare. Alcohol is usually restricted to restaurants attached to luxury hotels. World Cup organizers had said tourists would also be able to drink in designated fan zones within the perimeter of the eight stadiums, though they later backed down on those plans.

More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com

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