World Cup Qatar Will Be Great Football But an Ugly Game


When the World Cup kicks off next weekend, Western sense of fairness will be outraged by the fact that a country with no culture in the game has won the right to host the tournament with financial muscle. Insult was added to injury – due to Qatar’s high temperatures, the World Cup was held in November instead of the usual summer break, disrupting six weeks of domestic football in the northern hemisphere. The fans and the players need to be pumped.

The next few weeks will be a reminder of how the clash between the liberal West and rich Arab nations can play out on the international stage in a way that will not satisfy everyone.

First of all, Qatar’s human rights record is not easy. A democracy in name only, the country is ruled by the autocratic Al-Tani dynasty, which imprisons LGBTQ people who have consensual sex. Indefatigable British human rights activist Peter Tatchell was deported last week after staging a one-man protest outside the Qatar National Museum. On German television last week, Qatar’s official World Cup ambassador, Khaled Salam, took the time to call homosexuality a “mental injury.”

Then there is the loss of humanity. Some 6,500 migrant workers died building the tournament’s glittering, purpose-built infrastructure in Qatar, including a superhighway, hotels and eight demonstration stadiums (one designed as a Bedouin tent, another made from 974 recycled shipping containers). The authorities have since cleared the labor practice.

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Even the former president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, now They describe their decision to award the World Cup to Qatar in 2010 as a “bad choice”. Blatter recently told the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger: “The country is too small. And for that, football and the World Cup are huge.

The decision was fraught with controversy and allegations of corruption. Blatter himself was acquitted of fraud in a Swiss court in July. The US Department of Justice believes FIFA members were bribed, despite Qatar’s repeated denials.

However, when you consider Qatar’s perspective, things don’t look any better. Qatar competes with the United Arab Emirates for commercial supremacy in the Gulf, so winning the right to host the World Cup is a major propaganda coup. The Al Thanis have billions, and the West wants their money and liquefied natural gas. Qatar already owns several major European league football clubs. Why doesn’t the kingdom get their reward?

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Power-hungry Western bureaucrats who run international sporting events like the World Cup and Olympics are happy to oblige. As long as the games don’t go on schedule, these activities don’t care about politics. It’s just business.

The World Cup in Mussolini’s Italy in 1934, Argentina’s military regime in 1978, Vladimir Putin’s Russia in 2018, why did you choose poor little rich Qatar that wants to be friends with everyone and bails out its 300,000 citizens? A very comfortable life as long as they keep their heads up?

Furthermore, the competition bureaucrats know autocracies deliver. Their massive construction projects avoid all the compromises and excruciating delays that plague democratic planning. Think how long it would take to build a single railway line in England or Germany. And regardless of Qatar’s historic support for the Muslim Brotherhood, normal Islamic restrictions in Qatar can be relaxed (slightly) for tourists during the tournament by the ruler’s strong gold pen.

Western greed and hypocrisy go hand in hand. Many celebrities, models and sports figures are happy to take Qatar’s money to promote the World Cup to be photographed at gay pride events and support freedom causes at home. For Al Tanis, everything and everyone in the West must appear to be for sale.

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In any case, if the West wants to influence the Arab monarchs, it must be involved. As Lord Charles Powell acknowledged many British Prime Ministers diplomatically, “The days when the Gulf was reserved for America and, to some extent, for England, are over.” China and Russia are important trade and security competitors in the region. In the East and in the West, Iran and Israel move for advantage. We cannot ignore these relationships. Yet one minute Washington is calling out friendly governments for their human rights record, the next it’s pleading with them to help maintain a cap on oil prices.

Of course, I will be cheering for the England team next week with my countrymen. But without a doubt, even if what you are watching is good football, winning the World Cup is an ugly game.

This column does not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Martin Evens is editor of the Times Literary Supplement. He was previously editor and chief political commentator of the Sunday Times of London.

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