Qatar 2022: making a stand and the hypocrisy of doing so
By JAKUB FEGYVERES
Even as the 2022 FIFA World Cup gets underway, the excitement has failed to build-up. The characteristic pre-tournament buzz – with fans having been deprived of inter-continental competitive football for four years – seems less all-consuming than 2018. Google search data for the term ‘fifa world cup’ evidences these claims, as there seems to be significantly less search activity surrounding this term in the run-up to the 2022 World Cup than in connection to its Russian predecessor.
Aside from the unconventional time of year the tournament is taking place in, this statistic can be attributed to Qatar’s much-debated abuses of human rights (which include the death penalty as a possible punishment for homosexuality). Tragically, more than 15,000 migrant workers are thought to have died during the construction of the seven new stadiums, and the infrastructure surrounding them.
Consequently, ever since Qatar was awarded the World Cup in 2011, under suspicious circumstances later investigated by the FBI, calls for players to come out in protest have been intensifying almost daily. It is easy to see why. Footballers and football teams are perfectly poised to act as advocates for any cause – as demonstrated by the ongoing kneeling in support of the Black Lives Matter movement – due simply to the widespread impact they are able to have.
The World Cup is consistently one of the most watched sporting events worldwide, and 2 of the top 5 most followed Instagram accounts are those of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, both captaining Argentina and Portugal respectively in Qatar. Furthermore, the World Cup’s inherently international nature lends itself towards calls for unity as well as an end to any human rights abuses.
The opportunities outlined above have already been taken advantage of. The Danish national team will be playing in monochrome kits as Hummel, their kit manufacturer, has stated that it does not ‘’wish to be visible during a tournament that has cost thousands of people their lives’’. In France, six major cities (including Bordeaux, Lille and Paris) have announced that it will not be providing ‘’fan zones’’ for fans to watch the World Cup in, for similar reasons. In Germany, there have been widespread protests across the local Bundesliga calling for a boycott.
Some, including Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, have discouraged protest against the Qatari regime, using the idea of respecting the host nation’s ‘’culture’’ as a feeble justification for staying silent. It is difficult not to see this argument as a veiled attempt to silence fans and players, under the pretence of cultural sensitivity. It begs the question: at what point does consideration for culture become complicity in criminality? Cleverly has also urged fans to show ‘’a little bit of flex and compromise’’, an incredibly tone-deaf comment considering the severity of the issues within Qatar, which do not seem to be going anywhere. It’s a bit like asking fans at a football game to ignore the fact that the stadium they are sitting in contributed to thousands of deaths.
Oh, wait. That is exactly what it is.
To some extent, a more reasonable argument against the protest of specific players can be made: some have more of a right than others to make their voices heard. For instance, it would be somewhat hypocritical for one of the sixteen World Cup-bound Manchester City players to make a stand, considering they play for a club principally owned by Sheikh Mansour, Deputy Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, a country with almost identical laws to Qatar regarding homosexuality. Is it justifiable for these players to publicly oppose the very abuses they have indirectly but consistently helped perpetuate? Similar arguments can be made regarding players from the Saudi-owned Newcastle United, or the Chinese-owned Wolverhampton Wanderers, and that is just from the English Premier League.
The same point applies to us, the general public. 18 million passengers flew with Qatar Airways, which is 50% state-owned, in 2021, enabling the airline to rake in over $14 billion in revenue. The UAE-owned Etihad Airways, which sponsors Manchester City, reports even more staggering numbers.
This can be applied at the state level too. The European Union, which obviously includes the aforementioned Denmark, France and Germany, was responsible for 12.3% of trade conducted by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in 2020, which Qatar is a member of. The EU is the GCC’s second biggest trade partner, and its ‘number one import partner’, contributing roughly 40 billion Euros in imports alone.
The facts above should not act as a gagging order for the fans, players or countries they pertain to; but they should shape how we view protests, should they occur.
Protest is an essential part of a healthy international political system, and sports should play a role in shaping it. After all, football does not exist in a vacuum. In the words of Guardian columnist Kenan Malik: ‘’all athletic endeavour is grounded in social context’’. Accordingly, protest at the World Cup should be encouraged, not just tolerated; but the full context surrounding it must never be disregarded.
Image: Flickr/ Football Pictures