By: Esha Banerjee
In just less than a week, on November 20, the highly anticipated 2022 FIFA World Cup will commence. After a four-year wait, 32 teams will take to the stage to battle it out for the coveted FIFA World Cup Trophy and the glory of their nation. The World Cup is the most widely known international football tournament, with FIFA reporting that a staggering 3.57 billion people watched the last World Cup in 2018.
Then, people across the world, from the stadiums themselves to pubs to their own homes, tuned in to experience France defeating Croatia in Moscow, Russia. Now, the World Cup is taking place in Qatar, where the nation is spending a shocking estimated $200 billion for this global event, giving it the title of the most expensive World Cup ever. Yet despite all the previous commotion surrounding this event and the astonishing amount of money Qatar is spending on it, the fanfare surrounding this year’s World Cup may be starkly different than in past years.
Qatar is a relatively small country in the Middle East situated next to Saudi Arabia, occupying part of the Arabian Peninsula. The country has a population of nearly 3 million, roughly the same as the number of spectators at the 2018 World Cup final in Russia. The country is slightly smaller than the US state of Connecticut, making Qatar the smallest nation to have ever hosted the World Cup. With limited accommodation and exorbitant ticket prices, the event will undoubtedly be costly, so the total number of fans attending is expected to be less than in previous World Cups.
In the face of this hindrance, Qatar has poured billions of dollars into building new highways, stadiums, and buildings, and adding transportation and security. Though this spending may seem extreme, Qatar sees it as necessary. The country hopes to boost its economic development and, most importantly, establish itself as a global power and gain publicity through the World Cup. According to the secretary general of Qatar’s World Cup organization, Hassan Al Thawadi, Qatar is “using this tournament as a vehicle for change.” However, it is this construction that could potentially dash Qatar’s hopes for these goals to be fully achieved.
It is no secret that Qatar does not have a good track record with human rights. Despite 95% of its labor force being migrant workers, the country has allowed for the continued exploitation and abuse of these workers. With the country being under increased attention due to the World Cup, this mistreatment has come under scrutiny. According to an independent investigation by The Guardian, more than 6,500 migrant workers had died since 2010, when Qatar was granted the opportunity to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. These laborers work under appalling conditions, dealing with unpaid wages, abysmal living conditions, and substandard safety measures. The extreme heat that the workers deal with is an example of the extent of the danger of their conditions- Qatar reaches very high temperatures, which is why the World Cup is being held in November in the first place instead of summer.
This atrocious mistreatment of workers is partially the cause of the “Boycott Qatar” campaign. The movement has garnered support from fans, supporters, and clubs and recently has received even more sympathy. For example, the Australian football team recently released a video calling out Qatar not only for its exploitation of migrant workers, but also for its criminalization of same-sex relationships. In Qatar, LGTBQ+ individuals face discrimination, systemic police brutality, the possibility of imprisonment, and even the death penalty. In response to this, the UK government has taken the precaution of warning LGBTQ+ fans of the risks of attending the World Cup.
The FIFA World Cup undoubtedly both unites and divides people. It brings people from countless countries, cultures, and communities across the globe through a mutual love of football. It also divides people by the tension it brings between teams and fans. This year’s tournament has even more potential to cause turmoil, what with the controversy surrounding it. Just as the world will wait to see who will be the champion of this year’s tournament, they will also see if the 2022 Qatar FIFA World Cup will bring unity, or more division.