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  • Luc van der Linden

Don’t Make it a Party: The Ethical Dilemmas of the 2022 Qatar World Cup

The official FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 ball in front of the skyline of Doha, Qatar.

Photographer: David Ramos/Getty Images

Just as it were, four years have passed and the time has come for another edition of the FIFA World Cup. The tournament brings about the best national men’s football teams across the globe to compete in the world’s greatest sporting event. To many, the excitement is tangible. Will France win again? Shall football come home? Could the Dutch finally not flame out? Can the USA’s men’s team actually near the incredible level and success reached by their female counterparts? How great would it be to entertain such questions with no strings attached. However, this year, said is not the case. For one conspicuous shadow is cast over this tournament: it is hosted by the state of Qatar.

For those unaware, the tiny country of Qatar lies on the east coast of the Arabian desert and is a petrostate pur sang, with the state’s oil-driven finances and policies being overseen by the Islamist monarchy of Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Than. There, the fundamentalist ideals of the Emirate continue to enforce extreme Islamic jurisprudence. In Qatar, one can be flogged for drinking alcohol, imprisoned for conducting blasphemy and receive the death penalty for being part of the LGBTQ+ community. The labor rights in Qatar are notoriously awful as well, attracting cheap migrant labor and subsequently trapping them in an exploitative system of what certain experts deem “modern slavery.” Indeed, 6500 migrant workers had already died building Qatar’s World Cup stadiums in January 2021.

How, then, could the organization of FIFA allow the World Cup to be held in a state with such disregard for basic human rights? The answer is simple: endemic corruption. In brief, FIFA works as if it were the UN General Assembly, but with the added feature of widespread institutional bribery. To decide who gets to host the World Cup, every FIFA member gets one, singular, equally-weighted vote. Thus, the votes of political and footballing powerhouses such as Brazil or Germany weigh as much as those of Andorra or Tahiti. Some undisclosed bribery and fraudulent vote-buying later, and the World Cup is held in a desert.

Keep in mind, FIFA has been an appalling organization throughout its history. The 2018 World Cup was held in Putin’s Russia, the 1978 tournament in dictatorial Argentina. Hell, the 1938 World Cup was held in Italy. Yes, Fascist Italy. An authoritarian regime’s wish to organize such a tournament concerns the effort of sportswashing, the act of cleaning up a nation’s image globally by highlighting its respective greatness through sport. States are willing to put a lot of effort into sportswashing, for they see it as an easy way to advance national interest and combat negative press. Qatar has already paid 220 billion dollars to organize the tournament. The dividends expected from said investment would come in the form of international prestige and mass tourism. Meanwhile, FIFA could bank on a successful World Cup enhancing its reputation along with it. Both efforts, however, may have faltered already. For journalists and human rights groups have exposed what Qatar 2022 truly is: another chapter in FIFA's institutional history of corruption, injustice, and immorality.

So, the question then arises, why should we go along with this? The ethical dilemmas are clear: should we even support a fraudulent tournament built on the graves of thousands? Indeed, activists have called for certain countries to boycott the tournament, mainly in Western Europe. Yet, I believe one cannot judge the teams for going to play at the World Cup. They are doing the bidding of their respective footballing associations, answering the call to represent their nation at the biggest stage, a lifelong dream for many. Should you, the fan, then feel guilty? Maybe. If one is aware of Qatar’s issues and still wishes to ignore them, definitely. Yet, us football fans did not get a choice in this matter. It hurts to see the beautiful game be so utterly disgraced. But it remains difficult to leave behind that which you love. In the end, the whole world will still watch, hopefully, collectively, feeling unease, wishing to do better next time.

Rather, I believe that one should judge those politicians who still choose to lend legitimacy to this horrid tournament. To them, attending a World Cup is nothing short of just another opportunity to conduct diplomacy. National flags fly, bombastic anthems play and kings, presidents and prime ministers gather to celebrate up in the nosebleeds. Such matters all have to do with soft power and informal diplomacy, the act of advancing national interest through non-military persuasion and unofficial dealings. Although seemingly not important, it is that which oils the gears of international relations. Still, one’s presence there indirectly lends legitimacy to the hosts. It is precisely this issue that has sparked the discussion of whether state representatives should attend or boycott the tournament. For instance, in my home country of the Netherlands, the Dutch cabinet and King have chosen to attend, still stating that “it would not be a party.” Nevertheless, putting the long debates about human rights and calls to boycott aside, in the end, my prime minister just stated that “We need Qatar, as much for Afghanistan, as for our energy suppliers.”

It seems then that ethics will just be thrown out the window for the upcoming weeks. One might even argue that the only way for football fans to remain ethical here is to not even watch the tournament. However, that is far easier said than done. Rather, I believe one should follow the advice of the Dutch minister of sport: don’t make it a party. Many Western European nations' captain’s armbands feature the “One-Love” initiative, making a statement against any form of discrimination. Similarly, the Danish national team will play in protest kits, wearing muted colors and hiding their badge. Simple efforts like that might seem unremarkable, but they get the point across: any form of human rights abuse will not be forgotten. So go ahead, celebrate every goal and enjoy your team’s success. But do remember: this World Cup is not a party, but a disgrace, and anyone who profits from it should be held accountable, from the first kick-off pass to long after the cup-clinching goal. Hup Holland Hup…


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