Tomorrow, the Qatar men’s national team will kick off the 2022 FIFA World Cup against Ecuador, with thousands visiting the nation and millions more expected to support their national team at home. The World Cup is the world’s largest sporting event with half the world’s population tuning into the last Final in 2018. This event, however, has been shrouded in controversy for over a decade, ever since Qatar were granted the hosting rights in 2010.
In an interview with the BBC, England Captain and part of the reigning European Championship
winning-squad, Leah Williamson said she "hasn't got any interest" in watching this year's
World Cup in Qatar.
"It's a shame that we are heading into what should be the greatest show on earth with this huge
shadow over the top of it," Williamson told the BBC.
"And I don't know quite how we got here if I'm honest...”
So how did we?...
Back in 2010, Qatar were confirmed as the host nation, and immediately many were sceptical about the
legitimacy of this vote from FIFA’s board to grant them the status. An investigation into institutional
corruption at FIFA by the FBI ensued and two of FIFA's most senior officials of the time, Sepp Blatter
and Michel Platini were tried and later acquitted of the bribery charges against them. Qatar was also
accused of paying FIFA officials £3m in bribes to secure their backing for their World Cup bid but were
again cleared after a two-year investigation.
The acquittal, however, did not satisfy everyone, with many citing corruption within the legal processes
of the case itself, and even Blatter, who initially supported Qatar's bid has now said the decision was a mistake.
Aside from these allegations of bribery and corruption, Qatar's preparation for the tournament has entailed catastrophic breaches of human rights for those working on the projects.
Qatar had to build all 8 stadiums and accommodation for the tournament from scratch, with thousands of migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka employed for this mammoth task. Working and living conditions were awful, and a Guardian investigation in 2021 found that 6,500 migrant workers had died in Qatar since it won its bid. The Qatari state did not deny these figures, simply stating that the death total was ‘misleading’.
The abhorrent treatment of migrants is not only the human rights abuse Qatar has been accused of. Homosexuality is illegal and the treatment of LGBTQ+ people has concerned many human rights organisations.
Opinions have been divided on the peaceful protests that have been planned by some players at the World Cup. England's Harry Kane and nine other captains of European teams will wear 'One Love' armbands during the tournament, with critics, including FIFA themselves advising the absence of ‘political messages.’ Qatar's World Cup organisers have said that "everyone is welcome" to visit and that no one will be discriminated against, however, a Qatar World Cup ambassador came under fire for saying homosexuality was "damage in the mind". Qatar is an extremely conservative country where even simple displays of affection are frowned upon or entirely illegal because it is considered immoral under Islamic Sharia law.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said he and his frontbench will boycott the tournament over concerns for LGBT rights, the rights of women and for the workers who have lost their lives. However, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly says he will travel to Qatar and has told LGBTQ+ fans that “they should respect the laws of their host country.”
While it is important to be mindful of the cultures and laws of Qatar, the state themselves have an obligation to embrace and welcome the many foreign people and cultures that they are inviting to their country by wanting to host the World Cup in the first place. There is of course a simple solution, if LGBTQ+ Brits do not feel comfortable travelling to the World Cup, don’t go.
This is of course, by no means a solution to this problem, but discourse around the safety of foreign LGBTQ+ fans has meant a subsequent neglect of the abhorrent treatment of LGBTQ+ Qataris.
Dr Nasser Mohamed, a prominent Qatari doctor and gay rights campaigner, who lives in the US but retains contact with hundreds of gay Qataris told the Guardian:
“Gay Qataris have been promised safety from physical torture in exchange for helping the authorities to track down other LGBTQ+ people in the country.”
He went on to say: “You live in fear, you live in the shadows, you’re actively persecuted. You’re subjected to state-sponsored physical and mental abuse. It’s dangerous to be an LGBT person in Qatar.” Many LGBTQ+ Qataris do not know about each other, as it is safer this way by avoiding the risk of compromising the identities of those around them if they are caught and interrogated by authorities.
Last month, The Human Rights Watch reported that Qatari forces had arrested LGBTQ+ people and subjected them to ill-treatment in detention, documenting six cases of severe and repeated beatings and five cases of sexual harassment in police custody between 2019 and 2022.
Rasha Younes, a senior researcher with HRW, spoke of one awful case:
“There was one story of a transgender woman who was detained in solitary confinement for two months underground, lost her job because of being detained and was not able to give notice to her employer that she was gone. They shaved her 17-inch-long hair in detention, severely beat her until she bled, and denied her medical care.”
In line with other Islamic laws in the country, the sale of alcohol is strictly controlled in Qatar, and is only allowed within hotel bars and restaurants away from street view. Qatar initially relaxed its alcohol restrictions to allow FIFA sponsor Budweiser to sell its products outside match venues and fan zones. This begs the question of the integrity of the laws and values of the Qatari organisers, that these laws are in place due to their cultural beliefs, but there is room for them to be negotiated and softened in the case of a financial opportunity. However, 48 hours before the first match was due to begin, the rules were changed again.
The sale of alcohol was subsequently banned from both inside and outside of stadiums before and during matches, apart from within the corporate hospitality at stadiums, where these guests will still be allowed to drink alcohol. Tickets for corporate hospitality average at around £19,000 each, so again the question of the integrity of these laws is brought into question. Those who are visiting should of course be prepared to abide by laws and cultures such as this surrounding alcohol, but why then are there exceptions being made in the case of high-paying and corporate clientele? One can empathise with the idea of not wanting masses of drunk football fans at the stadiums in an alcohol-intolerant country, but why then is the ban not blanket? Do the Qatari organisers fear that a full-scale ban would compromise their financial opportunities with these rich clients? It becomes much harder to respect the culture and customs fans are being asked to adhere to if the organisers themselves are clearly making specific exceptions to their own rules.
In cultures where bans on things such as homosexuality are imposed, you can nearly always find abuses of authority and blatant hypocrisy. Banning homosexuality does not eradicate it, it only suppresses and demonises it. A fortnight ago, one gay man from the Philippines who worked in in Qatar as an office assistant, was lured to a hotel and brutally raped by a group of 6 men identifying themselves as Qatari police.
The man received a message on a gay dating app from a man claiming to be a Turkish worker. He was offered a substantial sum of money to come to the Turkish man’s hotel room, but when he arrived, he was confronted by the six men. The police officers then proceeded to brutally attack him as the Turkish man watched on. The police officers then searched his bag, accusing him of being a prostitute, before another gay man arrived after also being lured to a hotel. The duo were taken to a police station where they were fined 300 Qatari Rial, around £74. They were then kept in jail that night, before the police took them to a deportation centre and cancelled their visas.
The brutality shown by these police officers is by no means an isolated incident, and while our own Foreign Secretary is asking for respect to be shown to Qatar, it is clear Qatar pays no respect to many who live there.
It is important to note that sports corruption, and the granting of host rights to countries with abhorrent human rights records is sadly, nothing new. The last World Cup in 2018 took place in Russia, where similar concerns were raised about the treatment of both event workers and LGBTQ+ people, yet no meaningful progress was made because of people speaking out.
The difference here, however, is Qatar has been reliant upon its foreign investors and sponsors to fund a World Cup that has already gone massively over budget, with a current expenditure of $220bn as of the start of November. With this figure expected to only rise by the time the tournament comes to an end on December 19th, time will tell about the financial implications this will have on Qatar’s economy.
The important action to take then is for those with a platform, and those who have a professional or personal investment in the tournament to speak out. Leah Williamson additionally said in her BBC interview:
"I want to use my voice... "I think there are times when it will be appropriate to make sure that this doesn't happen again and be a force for change... "I'll support the boys, but I haven't got any interest in it as a fan really this year, which is sad."
Everton midfielder Izzy Christiansen has already withdrawn from her World Cup media duties out of
protest of Qatar’s human rights record, and Comedian Joe Lycett recently called upon David Beckham
to do the same.
Beckham, a globally recognised celebrity of the sport, signed a $150m deal with Qatar to figurehead their
international publicity for the event. Attitude Magazine, for whom he appeared on the cover in 2002, accused
him of ‘performative allyship’ saying he, “continues to keep his money just about as far as possible from
where his mouth is when it comes to the LGBTQ community.”
Attitude recalled Beckham’s response to Jake Daniels coming out (the first British male professional
footballer to do so in over 30 years):
“Beckham asks why gay people in sport should be any different to anyone else [in response to Daniels' situation].
One reason that David might consider is that in many places around the world queer people are not only
marginalised and oppressed but also persecuted. One such place is Qatar, a country that he is about to
become the face of. It’s time to demand more from our so-called allies.”
Comedian, Lycett, also publicly called for Beckham to end his deal with Qatar, pledging a donation to
LGBTQ+ charities if he did. So far, the only comment made by Beckham’s team has made regarding
LGBTQ+ conditions in Qatar was: “We are satisfied that changes have been made in the Gulf state.”
Although of course, the cases we have discussed make it abundantly clear that such changes are yet to occur.
It is of course naive to think, especially this close to the start of the tournament, that Beckham would rescind such a partnership, additionally, the silence from most leading voices in football and British politics is extremely underwhelming, but sadly not unexpected. It is important for us however to understand the depth of the situation so that we can hold both those responsible and those whose silence is compliance, to full account.
in doha, qatar
Published Online: 19/11/2022