A couple of days before the start of the World Cup in Qatar, I read the outcry from some of the news outlets and ‘mostly’ Twitter, including that of pundits and journalists, ex-players and z list celebs, forced by their bosses and spurred by their huge salaries, to be on the plane to Doha, a little reluctant to stay quiet for their reasoning, after hearing complaints of humans rights issues, ancient beliefs that don’t sit well with the western world, death tolls made up to make us all partisan against the small middle Eastern nation, and of course bribery, ‘how can Qatar get the world cup? Surely, it’s not right for us in the west to have to compromise to such preposterous suggestions like a competition played in winter, or watching football without drinking beer?
From the outset, upon announcement, I was more angry that Russia got the World Cup in 2018, then I was with Qatar getting it in 2022 (as it impacted England’s unsuccessful bid), quite excited by a competition that had all 32 nations playing around one city, the plans for fabulous new air conditioned stadiums with first class transport infrastructure in a fast developing country, it excited me, and I believed that it would all be a huge success, as it usually is, and of course, just as Russia was in 2018, this has been a fabulous tournament of football so far.
Ahead of the competition, I wanted to do my own digging, my own fact-finding, to see what is really the reasoning behind all this hatred for Qatar getting to host such prestigious event, hatred by many who wouldn’t even be able to find the place on a map, by many who have never visited the country, by many who never will.
I actually wanted to go and see it all for myself, found tickets readily available, but was put off by the lack of accommodation, and the expense of what remained, the only blight on my copybook for Qatar as I felt the organisation pre-competition was poor, fans not able to get decent digs, certainly off putting for many, like me.
I looked into the facts around the migrant workers death toll, which was a figure quoted in the Guardian earlier this year as a whopping 6,500, but that figure was over a 12-year period on ‘all’ migrant deaths in the country, which has a population of 3m and is 85% made up of migrants, a total under 550 deaths per year, of people all ages, not necessarily construction or world cup related but instead of people dying since the world cup was announced, the official death toll for construction related deaths relating to the world cup was under fifty, although that certainly was also a concern in itself. Brazil had similar numbers back in 2014, there should be no construction deaths, although we can’t be totally blind to believe that incidents won’t happen.
I then looked into the human rights issues surrounding their workers. Immigrants living in poor facilitated concentration camps, bunk beds in small shared rooms, which was resolved, by this year most workers conditions were better and Qatar had put in place a national policy to improve working conditions. Although some of the accommodation was still very depressing, prison like and bland but at least modern, it was provided with working showers and canteens for food, this remember could possibly be an upgrade on living conditions to the workers, from their homes in India, Sri Lanka or the Philippines.
Remember accommodation would not be usually provided for workers in England, we don’t always know about the living conditions of foreign workers in our own country, often house sharing in rented accommodation, sometimes with eight or more people living in the same badly neglected squat. The difference in England and Qatar, they offer free living accommodation and food which in return allows workers, all be it on very low salaries, to return their spare cash to families back home, whilst in the UK, their rent & cost of living would potentially take up the majority of the money they earn. Which most likely leaves a scenario often not too different.
So if death tolls and human rights were miss-understood, what of the Muslim culture? Their laws on not drinking, and their strict policy on how to dress, and how to act in public?
The LGBTQ outcry was huge ahead of the tournament with many of the community not attending, stating they would feel unsafe in a country that doesn’t recognise their own beliefs, but there’s nothing to say you cannot be gay, just don’t practice your beliefs in public. Kissing or signs of affection are not allowed, that’s not to say you can’t get away with it, but sex on the beach will get you in a lot of trouble, two men having sex on the beach, and even more trouble… Keep it in the bedrooms, you’ll be fine.
That goes for drinking too, going out on the lash and embarrassing yourself in public will get you in hot water, having a drink at the hotel, and being able to control yourself in a pleasant manor, well that’s not necessarily a crime. And whilst punishment can be harsh, the laws are their to be guided, mostly as common sense, and if you stick to them, you’ll find yourself in a much safer place than in many other parts of the world. For example, nobody will steel from you, because they probably know they’ll get their fingers chopped off… Ancient laws yes, but in some ways laws that we would all like to see in place here, to improve how people conduct themselves in public.
So that all covered, the deaths aren’t as bad as they led you to believe, ditto the working conditions, and if you act sensibly, whether you’re gay, straight, slightly tipsy or tea total, you’ll be welcome, what about the bribery? Which is surely the only way Qatar got to host such competition in the first place?
I watched a FIFA documentary which unearthed huge corruption across the regime, which dated as far back as the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, and appeared for the tournament in South Africa, and I believe, was perhaps used to oust Sepp Blatter from his seat.
It was all very apparent a vote for Russia was a vote for FIFA, but by then, I am led to believe that many of those back benchers, most straight, some not so, would use the Qatar vote as an anti-Blatter, who actually told voters not to vote for Qatar and instead vote for USA.
This anti-establishment which we’ve seen in our own British Parliament in recent years, was used in the know, that by doing so, Blatter had to go, and a vote for Qatar, would be one that Blatter could not come back from.
The bid itself was very good, but in having two World Cup hosts announced in one big sitting in 2010, people inside FIFA HQ knew that Blatter was using this for one last big pay day, a double down on corruption, I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.
Rumours circled of brown paper bags, but this is nothing new, until there’s a new way to compete for hosting, they’ll always be someone trying to win your vote. Qatar simply done what was needed to do, like many have done in the past, to win over the public, and they should have in fact failed, but for Russia gaining an unlikely victory for 2018, this then set in the revolt, people changing their own votes to oust their leader who was clearly the only benefit along with Vladimir Putin, for announcing a shock to rock the footballing world.
But whether it was a rebellious vote for Qatar, or a vote based on gold watches, the ousting of Blatter from the proceedings was one that at least achieved a positive, and ever since the first game between the host nation and Ecuador, this competition has grown into a fine footballing fest, and one we’ve all enjoyed.
Fake fans and empty seats aside, the football has done the talking in Qatar, and with ten matches to go, the real stuff is about to get started, with history to be made by one of eight remaining nations, whether it be Messi or Neymar, Kane or Mbappe, Modric, Ziyech, van Dijk or Ronaldo, a superstar will be crowned in time for Christmas, by which time, we’ll all be sad to see the end of what has been the pinnacle of international football, played at its best.