The 2022 Qatar World Cup Is Peak Sportswashing
The 2022 World Cup in Qatar is a dumpster fire. It's a flaming bag of crap left on the doorsteps of soccer fans all over the world.
An estimated 1 million fans will travel to the tiny country in the Middle East that's the size of Connecticut to see the games in person, and more than half of the world's 8 billion population will watch the tournament on television. Not even that can keep it from being a failure of such epic proportions we can only guess exactly how far it has set back the world's most popular sport.
Is it 10 years, 20 years, 30 years? Everything's on the table.
How and why the World Cup in Qatar became a case study in everything that's wrong with soccer is a complicated story of corruption, bribes, bigotry and exploitation that ended with the deaths of thousands of migrant workers brought in to do the heavy lifting as Qatar spent a record $220 billion to play host.
It was a price tag more expensive than any sporting event in world history, even outspending the Olympics. How did it get to this?
How the Hell Did the World Cup End Up in Qatar?
In short, they paid off the right people.
For all intents and purposes, a country like Qatar, with approximately 2 million people, should have no business hosting a sporting event like the World Cup.
But when you have money like Qatar, all bets are off. Qatar routinely ranks among the top 10 richest countries in the world thanks to having the world's third-largest reserve of natural gas and being the second-largest exporter of said natural gas in the world.
In the 12 years since Qatar was awarded the World Cup bid in 2010, the trail of corrupt FIFA officials who allegedly took bribes for the World Cup to end up in Qatar is truly something to behold. It seemed at no time were the votes of the 22 FIFA board members not up for sale, from the moment the bidding process began.
Two members were suspended for taking cash from Qatar officials. Three more members agreed to take cash bribes from undercover reporters posing as Qatari officials. In a U.S. indictment over soccer corruption, three more South American FIFA officials were singled out for taking bribes from Qatar.
"Publicly, Qatar spent more money than anyone ever did to get a World Cup," New York Times Sports Business Reporter Tariq Panja told The Daily podcast. "Behind the scenes, it was smoke-filled rooms, expensive meals and private conversations asking … what can we do for you?"
What Is Sportswashing?
Sportswashing is when a country, individual, group, corporation or government uses sports — in this case a sporting event — to cover up past misdeeds. While sportswashing has never occurred on as large of a scale as what's happening with the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, they are hardly the first country to attempt to use sports as a form of reputation laundering. They just might be the best at it.
Here are some other notable examples of sportswashing:
- The 1936 Winter and Summer Olympics are widely regarded as the first attempt at sportswashing, with Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany hoping to use the event to show their dominance to the world. Thank goodness for Jesse Owens.
- The 1974 heavyweight fight between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali held in Kinshasha, Zaire — The Rumble in the Jungle — was done working hand-in-hand with Zaire President Mobutu Sese Seko, one of the most corrupt African rulers of all time, and Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi.
- Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokorov, a close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was allowed to purchase the Brooklyn Nets in 2009 and sold them to Chinese businessman Joe Tsai in 2017, allegedly at the behest of Putin.
Have Other World Cups Been Equally as Wack?
The Olympics have the gold medal, so to speak, when it comes to sportswashing. Since Germany hosted in 1936, at least eight more Olympics have been held under controversial circumstances.
But the World Cup is not far behind.
- The 1934 World Cup was held in Italy under the leadership of dictator Benito Mussolini.
- The 1978 World Cup was held in Argentina under a military dictatorship.
- The 2018 World Cup in Russia under President Vladimir Putin also faced serious accusations of sportswashing because of the country's poor human rights record.
So while Qatar might be the worst example of sportswashing at the World Cup, it's hardly the first time it's happened.
Illegal in Qatar: Being Gay
Perhaps the most obvious reason the World Cup should have never even sniffed at Qatar as a possible destination is the country's abject failure when it comes to basic human rights.
In Qatar, homosexual acts are illegal and punishable by death. This was true when Qatar was awarded the World Cup in 2010, and it's still true today.
Lots of football fans are gay. It's impossible to think of anyone from the LGBTQ community feeling welcome at the World Cup, and countries with teams traveling to the World Cup have already issued warnings about traveling to Qatar.
While calls to boycott the tournament have been going on since it was announced, little action has been taken, and the first week of World Cup play featured several incidents in which the issue came back to the forefront.
Women’s Rights in Qatar Are Almost Nonexistent
Women's rights in Qatar are almost nonexistent and are restricted by the country's male guardianship law.
Women in Qatar are only allowed to marry with the permission of a male guardian, and in order to receive treatment for sexual health and prenatal and postnatal care, women must provide a marriage certificate.
Consider this, in Qatar, the penalties for rape and for having sex outside of marriage carry the same penalties of up to seven years in prison. There is very little a woman can do in Qatar to improve her life without the permission of a man.
Not that it needs to be spelled out, but the United Nations and the European Convention on Human Rights have stated that anywhere women's rights are being compromised goes against international human rights laws. In this case, that's Qatar.
The World Cup of Dead Migrant Workers
Qatar is surrounded on all sides by countries living in abject, hand-to-mouth poverty, so when the call went out for workers to come help rebuild the country from the ground up, migrants from South Asia and West Africa began showing up by the tens of thousands.
In the 12 years since Qatar received its bid for the 2022 World Cup, the country's population has doubled with migrant workers from South Asia and West Africa. Many of them were conscripted to work there on deals between their country's own corrupt leadership and Qatari officials. Meaning they couldn't leave if they wanted to. Workers who were being paid under $10 per day to work six days per week, 8-10 hours per day, in the worst conditions, and doing the most dangerous jobs imaginable.
The result? The Guardian newspaper reported in 2019 that an estimated 6,500 migrant workers died working to get Qatar ready for the World Cup, which required seven world-class stadiums to be built in that time.
This is Qatar's true World Cup legacy. The death of thousands of migrant workers.
Does Watching the World Cup Make Me a Bad Person?
Absolutely not. Our sports hypocrisy can only run so deep.
In America, we routinely cheer on sexual predators, domestic abusers and worse every Sunday when the most popular sports league in our country, the NFL, rolls out its product. And we've been doing so for decades with all four of our major pro sports leagues — the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL.
Whether you watch the World Cup or not, don't feel bad. Qatar may have done more damage than good to its reputation by hosting. In the 24 hours leading up to the first World Cup match, Qatari officials walked into a buzzsaw of bad press when they reneged on a promise to permit beer to be sold at the World Cup stadiums.
"It's difficult to imagine Qatar could leave this moment feeling like victors," New York Times reporter Tariq Panja said. "They found the shortest of shortcuts to get itself to the top, but I guess they got what they wanted. For one month, they have the world's attention."