Sunday, November 27, 2022

Boycotting the Qatar World Cup would be pointless now

Well, I've been watching the World Cup. There, I said it, out in the open. Should I have been watching the World Cup? That's an open question, and one that has already engendered much discussion and dispute. It is already being called the "most controversial World Cup in history".

This is the first time that Canada has qualified for the World Cup since 1986, when it exited rather ignominiously with no wins and not even a goal to show for its efforts. This time, Canada has a pretty good team, and has recently beaten the likes of USA, Mexico and Japan en route to the last 32 in what is the biggest sporting event in the world. So, yes, I really wanted to watch them.

Unfortunately, the World Cup 2022 is being hosted by Qatar, a tiny speck in the Arabian Desert that just happens to possess large quantities of oil and gas, making it one of the richest countries in the world. It is the first Muslim country to host the Cup, which is fine in principle. But, in practice, it is a hardline Muslim regime with an abysmal human rights record, which suppresses women's rights, denies freedom of expression and assembly, and considers homosexuality a mental aberration attracting fines, imprisonment and even execution in same cases.

Furthermore, its medieval labour practices are close to modern slavery and indenture (despite some last-minute changes due to vociferous international disapproval), and an estimated 6,500 migrant workers from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan are reported to have died in the ten years of construction of the infrastructure and stadiums needed for the event..

And, finally, Qatar is not even a great footballing nation. The only way it was able to swing the vote to host the World Cup was by throwing vast amounts of money at its bid, Qatar has reportedly spent an astonishing $229 billion on stadiums, hotels, transportation and other infrastructure for the World. By comparison, the most expensive bid before this was about $15 billion in Brazil in 2014, and $12 billion in Russia in 2018. Some estimates of Qatar's spending puts it closer to $300 billion or even $400 billion (the Qatari system is not exactly transparent), which would make it more expensive than ALL the other World Cups added together, plus all of the Summer and Winter Olympics too! It is a truly humungous sum of money.

Because of Qatar's inhospitable climate, the competition has been moved from its usual midsummer to the slightly cooler winter, and even then the stadiums need to be air-conditioned to make them bearable.  Despite extravagant claims by Qatar and FIFA, the Qatar World Cup is like to be an environmental catastrophe.

Whether large amounts of money changed hands in order for Qatar to secure the vote back in 2010 is unclear, but it is widely believed that FIFA, which has been reeling from a succession of corruption allegations for some time now, may well have preferred Qatar over Australia, Japan, South Korea and the USA for all the wrong reasons, and there is a reasonable amount of solid evidence pointing to "financial irregularities", shall we say.

All of this is to say that, no, Qatar should not ever have hosted the World Cup, and that, yes, FIFA needs a complete overhaul. But is stoically staring at a blank TV screen going to fix any of that? Unfortunately not. Most people watching on TV or live in those air-conditioned stadiums will not even have given these considerations a thought, so caught up are they in the spectacle and the pageantry. Which is sad, perhaps. But is it right to take it out on soccer players who have worked most of their lives towards this moment? Some players and some fans have engaged in some limited and rather ineffectual demonstrations, but nothing happening now is going to make any concrete changes to Qatar or to FIFA.

Much as I hate to agree with Piers Morgan on anything, the time for protests was 12 years ago when Qatar was given the go-ahead after a highly suspect FIFA vote, not now. If it makes you feel any better Qatar has spent $229 billion in an attempt to be take seriously on the world stage; all it has achieved is to go from a complete unknown to an international pariah. And who was it who claimed that any publicity is good publicity?

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