The Great Qatar 2022 Swindle

It bothered me when the initial announcement was made, and has continued to bother me since. Ever since Qatar was given the honour of hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2022, I have kept asking myself “why?”

– The place is roasting hot in summer, making life difficult for all concerned, and any move away of the summer months would disrupt the schedules elsewhere.

– It is an undemocratic Sheikhdom sat on a foundation stone built using slave labour; how this can fit in neatly with FIFA’s purported commitment to egalitarian principles is more than a little strange.

– Given that it has nothing to offer but desert and overpriced shopping malls full of tacky designer brands, one has to wonder how visitors on a realistic budget will spend their time in between matches. I can’t wait to see the official brochures advertising the country’s “cultural delights”.

Now we have this latest campaign from the Qatari authorities, targeted specifically at visitors and tourists.

A picture of a campaign poster in Doha (@elmaha_alkuwari)
A picture of a campaign poster in Doha (@elmaha_alkuwari)

Right, so we all know that Qatar is little more than a mediaeval fiefdom with a deceptively shiny veneer provided by oil money. We are also well aware aware of the fact that they have a different set of social and cultural mores.

When in Rome and all that, but there’s something here that is very wrong. It just doesn’t compute, and it should be evident to the most casual observer that Qatar is not exactly the most suitable host for a popular global event of such magnitude.

Of course, we then have the fact that the Qatari team have never even qualified for a World Cup final tournament before, and yet will be automatically given a place as hosts at the expense of a more deserving nation. But then, even football itself has never been of primary importance to football administrators interested in some other agenda or lining their own pockets.

FIFA supremo Sepp Blatter has since suggested that awarding the tournament to the Middle Eastern fiefdom was a “mistake”, which strikes me as even more incredulous than the initial decision. A “mistake” is taking a wrong turn on a busy road, tapping the wrong key on a keyboard or pouring sugar from an unmarked shaker onto your chips. It is not making a decision by committee on the back of advice from a panel of so-called experts.

Far from being a “mistake”, the decision to award the World Cup to Qatar – as opposed to far more suitable candidates such as Australia and the United States – was little more than an exercise in avarice gone wrong. It is clear that agreements were made behind the scenes and palms were greased, but one still has to wonder who the hell voted that way, and why.

In fairness to Blatter, he himself didn’t cast his personal vote for Qatar, whose biggest voicebox was former French international and now UEFA President Michel Platini. Now don’t get me wrong – Platini was a great player, but as an official he has left plenty to be desired. While the rest of us are left wondering what is going to happen come 2022, the political battle between Blatter and Platini is brewing. Eric Cantona has described the two bureaucrats as “plague and cholera”, and I have to agree that he isn’t far wrong.

Tweedledum and Tweedledee: Blatter and Platini
Tweedledum and Tweedledee: Blatter and Platini

Blatter has conceded that one of the “mistakes” was not considering the weather. If we are talking about a tourist visiting the Sahara desert only to have his trip ruined on account of a freak snowstorm we could perhaps let it go, but to not even consider the climatic conditions in planning a month-long football tournament is patently ridiculous. I have no doubt that FIFA employed some overpaid hack to conduct the usual “preliminary research”, but the fact remains that any idiot could have provided relevant information in the form of a Wikipedia link. For free.

Of course, there are the other issues apart from the weather.

The issue of slave labour in Qatar has only recently appeared as a blip on FIFA’s radar, but to many observers this has been a long-running phenomenon in the Middle East. From Nepalese and Bangladeshi labourers having their passports taken away and being forced to work sixteen hours a day in the searing heat on scaffolding through to Filipino maids being doused in boiling water by some veiled old hag, the horror stories are all there should you wish to look for them.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing is that you don’t have to look that hard.

Labour gangs in Qatar
Labour gangs in Qatar

FIFA are now apparently on the case and the Qatari authorities are offering their cooperation – make of this what you wish and what it actually means – but with well over a million foreign labourers already in the country and a number of stadiums and other facilities to build, the number of casualties will no doubt continue to rise. For those journalists who wrote about the deaths of stadium construction workers in Brazil, the figures from Qatar will be certain to make you keel over.

In addition to the aforementioned lack of cultural sights, part of the enjoyment of being a football fan at such a big international event is meeting supporters from other countries in an open, friendly environment. For some, this includes having a drink. In a country with a ban on alcohol this is always going to be a problem.

I have never been a fan of Budweiser as the official beer of the tournament – I’d prefer something more palatable like Franziskaner Weissbier – but I do have to wonder what the marketing hacks from Annheuser-Busch are going to do come 2022. They wouldn’t be able to even advertise their product, let alone sell it.

Then there’s the dress code issue. After Brazil this summer and Russia in 2018, Qatar 2022 is going to be a real let-down. I can only imagine that women will have to show their allegiance to their teams by wearing colour-coded niqabs, while male supporters won’t even be able to wear the same kit as the players given that shorts are a no-no. That said, one has to wonder what sort of temporary accommodation will have to be made for the players themselves; all of the teams apart from the hosts would technically be “tourists”, and in wearing shorts on the pitch would be breaking the rules.

Not to be seen in Qatar...
Not to be seen in Qatar…

Recent tournaments since Germany 2006 have seen the introduction of fan zones, places where supporters from all countries can mingle freely. Can one see such a thing happening in Qatar, even if those involved dare to risk being burnt to a crisp by the burning desert sun? All I can see are people shuffling around morosely, patrolled by uniformed religious police prepared to whip people on the shoulders when they see a little exposed skin.

It sounds a little like hell.

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