Soccer fans look forward to the World Cup every four years, but human rights violations in Qatar, the 2022 host country, threaten to steal the spotlight this year.
According to the Human Rights Watch, these violations included those on “women’s rights, freedom of expression, statelessness, sexual orientation and morality laws, and climate change policy and actions.”
USC professors and students alike said they are concerned for the safety of both athletes and visitors during the World Cup event. They are blaming the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), soccer’s governing body, for ignoring those concerns when selecting a host country.
“There is nothing that is more driven by the ability to pull in money than FIFA,” said Daniel T. Durbin, the director of the Institute of Sports, Media and Society at USC Annenberg. “There have been questions about the ethics and values of people for decades so there are deep concerns about FIFA separate from Qatar.”
FIFA also faces scrutiny, due to allegations of bribery. Qatar won the bid for the ‘22 World Cup back in 2010, making it the first Arab nation to host the event. However, immediately after receiving the bid, Qatar was investigated for allegedly paying $3.7 million to secure their ability to host. After two years, the investigation concluded and the charges were dropped.
Aside from the controversial selection process, the country’s arid desert environment and lack of accommodations have led people to question whether it was the right choice. Former FIFA Chairman Sepp Blatter who supported Qatar’s bid when he held the role has since publicly come out to say it was a “mistake.”
The World Cup, which typically takes place throughout June and July, is scheduled to begin later this month and will be played through December. The rescheduling is a result of temperatures that frequently exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit and rarely fall below the 90s in summer months.
The treatment against the LGBTQ+ community is another big concern for visitors. Under Qatari law, same-sex relationships can be punishable by seven years in prison and the country has advised soccer fans not to bring rainbow flags to the event for their own safety.
Some observers worry that visitors of different backgrounds unknowingly risk punishments and imprisonment.
Many of the competing teams have taken a stance against these governmental principles. Australian footballers released a video urging the abolition of such laws while captains of 10 European teams agreed to wear “One Love” armbands during their matches.
It’s unclear at the moment if players will face retaliation from the Qatari government, but it begs the question of what constitutes an ostentatious display of homosexuality. Will players be able to jump into one another’s arms as is typical after scoring a goal? Should openly gay athletes be concerned about being allowed into the country?
Although disheartening, discrimination in host nations is not a new phenomenon. In 2018, Russia faced similar backlash for winning the bid. Critics of the decision suggested the nation’s intense history of racial and LGBTQ+ discrimination made it unfit to host.
Evidence of unfair treatment towards infrastructure workers in Qatar ranges from unpaid wages to unexplained deaths. The government has refused to comment on these issues. Qatar’s kafala system, which sponsors foreign workers while controlling their employment and immigration status, makes it nearly impossible for workers to leave jobs.
According to Amnesty International, over 90% of the workforce was made up of the nearly 1.7 million migrant workers that reside in Qatar. While 3,200 predominantly migrant workers have been constructing the stadium everyday, over 230 men have died building the Khalifa Stadium and Aspire Zone as a result of abuse and exploitation.
Workers who paid up to $4,300 to recruitment agencies to get their jobs in Qatar are now burdened with financial insecurity as a result of delayed and inadequate salaries. Those making $300 a month are being paid less than $15 a day to labor in the desert.
“My family is now homeless and two of my younger children have been taken out of school,” Prem, a metal worker, told Amnesty International. “Everyday I am in tension; I cannot sleep at night. This is a torture for me.”
Workers who do complain about the brutal working conditions or squalid living quarters are often met with fierce retribution and threats. Those who want to leave don’t have the option because contractors refuse to issue or renew residence permits and have taken workers’ passports.
The practices of debt bondage and confiscation of identification documents are commonly employed when using forced labor on plantations, fishing boats or construction sites.
“I remember my first day in Qatar,” Shamim, a gardener at the Aspire Zone, told Amnesty. “Almost the very first thing [an agent] working for my company did was take my passport. I haven’t seen it since.”
Rohan Bhavee, a sophomore studying biochemistry and an avid soccer fan, believes FIFA’s past decisions are also controversial.
“Many countries that have hosted the World Cup in the past haven’t had an amazing human rights record either,” Bhavee said. “Regardless, the motivating factor for FIFA has always been financial gain, as proven by the many corruption scandals.”
Fans like Bhavee know about FIFA’s history of controversies. Some of FIFA’s notable scandals include: allegations of financial mismanagement in 2002-2003, a FIFA member’s attempt to receive British knighthood for a vote, numerous referee miscalls and long shifts and low pay for workers during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
In 2013, the United States Internal Revenue Service and Federal Bureau of Investigation indicted 14 individuals in connection with wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering. The indictment purported that upwards of $100 million in bribes influenced everything from clothing sponsorships, the 2011 FIFA presidential election and the 2010 World Cup selection process.
In 2015, eight of the defendants including marketing heads, media directors and FIFA executive committee members pleaded guilty and agreed to relinquish more than $40 million.
“It’s not a positive brand for the World Cup,” Durbin said. “The World Cup and FIFA, if I’m allowed to say this, has been a corrupt organization for decades.”
FIFA has mainly been criticized for prioritizing profit and ignoring moral issues. The human rights violations in Qatar have sparked a global discussion over fear to visit and disapproval of residents.
In response, cities are boycotting screenings. In the UK, London has decided to not host any “fan-zones” while in Paris and other French cities, fans will also boycott public viewings in places such as pubs.
For those interested in learning more about FIFA’s scandals, Netflix will release a documentary series “FIFA Uncovered” on November 9, just days before the World Cup begins on November 20.