With the World Cup now underway in Qatar, many are wondering how this moment arrived – that small Gulf nation with little footballing history ended up hosting the biggest event the sport has to offer.
Qatar had never before participated in a World Cup tournament – let alone hosted it – and became the first host nation to lose the opening game of the tournament with a 2-0 defeat by Ecuador on Sunday.
The country’s breakthrough to the World Cup finals took 12 years, during which time the status of host Qatar sparked controversy inside and outside the football community.
When Qatar was selected to host the 2022 World Cup back in 2010, it was picked ahead of bids from the United States, South Korea, Japan and Australia.
During the bidding process, several hurdles were encountered as FIFA, football’s governing body, cited concerns in technical reports. Among these problems is the lack of existing infrastructure and the sweltering heat of the region in the summer, when World Cup tournaments are traditionally held.
Indeed, the reports went so far as to describe Qatar’s bid as “high-stakes,” but the country nonetheless prevailed by 14 votes to eight for the United States in the final round of balloting.
At the time, Qatar promised to make the world “Middle East proud” as the first country from the region to host the tournament, while then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter welcomed the prospect of football’s great event moving to “new lands”.
“I am a happy president when we talk about the development of football,” he said.
Twelve years later, Blatter has become more important.
Earlier this month, he told the Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger: “Qatar made a mistake… the choice was bad.
“It’s a very small country. Football and the World Cup are too big for it.”
Blatter said FIFA had revised the criteria it used to select host countries in 2012 in light of concerns about working conditions on construction sites linked to tournaments in Qatar.
“Since then, social considerations and human rights have been taken into account,” he said.
With a population of three million, smaller than that of Connecticut, Qatar has invested billions in soccer infrastructure in preparation for the 2022 tournament.
But questions about how Qatar won the right to host the World Cup remain.
Most recently, in March 2020, the US Department of Justice alleged that bribes were accepted by senior officials as part of the voting process to elect Russia and Qatar as tournament hosts for the 2018 and 2022 events — allegations that Russian officials have denied and called “false” by Qatari officials in a statement to CNN.
The Justice Department has been investigating allegations of corruption in international football, including FIFA, for years. To date, there have been more than twenty convictions and some cases are ongoing.
A statement issued by FIFA in April 2020 said it “supports all investigations into alleged criminal acts in relation to domestic or international football competitions and will continue to provide full co-operation to law enforcement officials investigating such matters.”
FIFA is closely following these investigations and all related developments in the ongoing legal proceedings in the United States and other parts of the world.
“It is important to note that FIFA itself has been granted victim status in US criminal proceedings and that senior FIFA officials are in regular contact with the US Department of Justice.”
FIFA was granted victim status by US prosecutors because they held that the governing body of world soccer had been hijacked by a number of corrupt individuals.
Qatar’s human rights record has also been in the spotlight ahead of the World Cup, particularly with regard to the welfare of migrant workers.
Due to the minimal infrastructure Qatar had at the time it was awarded the rights to host the World Cup, seven new stadiums were constructed ahead of the tournament, as well as new hotels and expansions of the country’s airports, rail and highway networks.
This has led to reliance on Qatari migrant workers, who account for 90% of the total workforce, according to Amnesty International.
Since 2010, many migrant workers have successively faced delayed or unpaid wages, forced labor, long hours in hot weather, employer intimidation, and the inability to leave their jobs due to the country’s kafala system, human rights organizations have found.
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However, Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy said the health, safety and dignity of “all workers working on our projects remained consistent” with “significant improvements” made around workers’ rights.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino also told Amanda Davies of CNN Sport that he has seen a “significant development” in labor reforms in Qatar, and the ILO has noted reforms such as a non-discriminatory minimum wage that Qatar is the first country in the region to adopt.
Meanwhile, state-backed discrimination against LGBT people has also been criticized in the years leading up to the World Cup.
Sex between men is illegal and punishable by up to three years in prison in the country, and a report by Human Rights Watch published last month documented cases of Qatari security forces as recently as September detaining LGBTQ people and subjecting them to “ill-treatment.” “. – Treatment in custody.
A statement sent to CNN on behalf of the Supreme Committee said it was committed to an “inclusive and discrimination-free” World Cup, pointing to the fact that the country has, it said, hosted hundreds of international and regional sporting events since being awarded the 2010 World Cup.
“There was never a problem and every juvenile was delivered safely,” the statement read.
Everyone is welcome in Qatar, but we are a conservative country and any public display of affection, regardless of orientation, is reprehensible. We are simply asking people to respect our culture.”
Perhaps the most obvious sign that this World Cup is different from most is the decision to stage it in November and December, instead of June and July as is usual.
Sweltering heat during Qatar’s summer months called for a switch, although temperatures are still expected to rise above 30C (86F) later this week.
Other changes to the organization of the tournament were more at the last minute.
And FIFA announced Friday that no alcohol would be sold in stadiums, and then on Monday, the leaders of seven countries were warned they would receive yellow cards if they wore armbands promoting inclusion and opposing discrimination.
FIFA announced earlier Monday that it had introduced its “No Discrimination” campaign – which also has a custom badge – adding that “all 32 captains will have the opportunity to wear this badge” during the World Cup.
The FIFA Equipment Regulations state that “For the final FIFA competitions, the captain of each team must wear the captain’s armband provided by FIFA”.
Time will tell what the legacy of this World Cup will be, but if the last few days, months and years are to pass, it is likely to be complex and contentious.
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