Qatari Concerns? The 2022 World Cup

Arie Knops, Contributing Sports Writer

On Dec. 2 2010, FIFA, the governing body for international soccer, shocked the global sports community by selecting Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup. Qatar beat out heavily favored bids from the United States, South Korea, Japan and Australia to become the first Middle Eastern country to ever host a World Cup. However, the decision was instantly met with scrutiny, which has only increased in the seven years since.

Of the nine countries bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups—which are decided at the same time—Qatar was the only country to receive a “high” operational risk rating from FIFA’s committee. In fact, the only other country to not receive a “low risk” rating from FIFA was the recipient of the 2018 World Cup—Russia—who received a “medium risk” rating.

One of the primary concerns when looking at a Qatar hosted World Cup is weather. World Cup’s have always been hosted in the summer, when the weather in Qatar can reach up to 122 degrees Fahrenheit, a dangerous level for crowd members, let alone athletes.

As a solution, Qatar’s official bid proposed air-conditioned stadiums that would lower temperatures inside to about 80 degrees. However, this technology remained a mystery for five years before FIFA decided to move the 2022 World Cup to winter, something unheard of in the world of soccer. While temperatures will now average about 85 degrees Fahrenheit, this decision disrupts every major soccer league in the world, which take their breaks over the summer to accommodate the international schedule.

Another concern is whether Qatar’s infrastructure can handle the sudden increase in tourism. The current population of Qatar is about 2.5 million, while an estimated 1 million tourists will attend the 2022 World Cup. It is yet to be seen if Qatar has the infrastructure to sustain a 40 percent increase in population for a month. For example, Lusail City will host the opening match of the World Cup, as well as the final. The only problem is the city is yet to be completed. Dubbed “the city of the future,” Qatar plans to complete the city by 2019.  Even then, the planned population for the city is 260,000, as opposed to 17 million in the 2018 final host of Moscow, 12 million in the 2014 final host of Rio de Janerio and 8.5 million in the 2010 final host of Johannesburg.

For soccer traditionalists, another worry is the actual quality of the host team. Despite a 3-1 defeat to Syria in 2018 World Cup qualifying, Qatar will be the first World Cup host to be making their tournament debut since Italy hosted the second ever World Cup in 1934. As the host nation, Qatar is guaranteed qualification in the 32-team tournament, despite being currently ranked by FIFA as the 85th best team in the world.

Some fans are concerned that Qatar will attempt the naturalization of players from around the world. When hosting the Qatar Handball Championships in 2015, only four of the 17 Qatari players were native to Qatar, while the rest had been brought into the country in the years leading up to the tournament for large sums of money. Fortunately, soccer has stricter rules for naturalization than Handball, but any youth player without a national team appearance could be targeted.

The 2022 World Cup also presents a variety of human rights issues. Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, and when then FIFA president Sepp Blatter was confronted on the issue, he said “I would say they should refrain from any sexual activities.”

Robbie Rogers, the only openly gay player in the MLS—America’s domestic soccer league—called the decision to host the World Cup in Qatar “absolutely insane.”

But the most prominent issue with the 2022 World Cup has been the treatment of workers brought in to build the infrastructure. An Amnesty International report interviewed 234 workers, all of whom complained about violations of basic human rights, such as being forced to pay large fees to the companies that hired them, living in uninhabitable conditions, having their wages withheld and having their passports seized so they could not return to their country of origin. The workers have been forced to work despite heat and humidity, which has led to an alarming death toll that is estimated to reach around 7,000 workers by the time the 2022 World Cup kicks off.

So what did FIFA see in a 120 degree, homophobic, human rights disaster that they themselves declared “high risk”? The answer appears to lie in the form of bribery. Since this World Cup was awarded, many key FIFA officials have been exposed as corrupt, including former President Sepp Blatter, and there are multiple allegations against those in the host nation selection committee. As 2022 rapidly approaches it is likely more allegations will surface. The selection of Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup exemplifies the corruption rampant throughout FIFA, and the prioritization of money at all costs in soccer’s ever-expanding global marketplace.