Football, for many, is an escape from the day-to-day dysfunction that is being a human in the 21st century. Whether it’s the bricky from Essex reduced to tears by an overtime freekick curling top bins, the serendipity of two strangers embracing to the soundtrack of the 90-minute whistle, or the look on a little lad’s face as he races from his dad’s side to get his first glimpse of a league pitch – sports are a sacred part of the human experience.
Football has historically always belonged to working-class people and formed the foundations of some of the most important cultural landmarks in British & global history. The Henry left hand, the Maradona right hand, David Beckham’s right foot, David Beckham’s left foot, George Best, Fergy, Rashford’s school meals – so much of our cultural identity has been forged between the white lines. That is why fans are sick of greed-riddled faceless organisations invading the game we love.From the fan experience to the monopolisation of power within the leagues and the humanitarian catastrophes that follow in the wake of wherever FIFA goes; the whims of one organisation are at risk of ruining the reputation, relevance, and sheer enjoyability of football.
Nothing embodies the tragic tale of football’s present and future more than the Qatar 2022 World Cup. Every moment from conception to construction and now commencement has been dripping in scandal as a result of the actions of FIFA and the questionable rules of the Qatari state. With so many issues surfacing daily, let’s break down the ins and outs of the outrage surrounding this year’s World Cup, predominantly focusing on two key areas: the alleged use of slave labour in the construction of the stadiums & the threat of persecution of LGBTQ+ community members both within Qatar and attending the event as fans.
OBVIOUS QUESTION: WHY IS IT WEIRD THAT QATAR IS HOSTING THE 2022 WORLD CUP?
If you asked fans to name some of the footballing meccas across the world, you would be hard-pressed to find one whose eyes wouldn’t light up as the obvious answer, “Qatar!”, sprang from the tip of their tongue. Why with its long-established history of football prowess, the ubiquity of football fandom across its population and the sheer quantity of Qatari players lining up in starting elevens every Saturday and Sunday – it seems like the obvious choice, right?
Sarcasm feels like the only survival mechanism we have left to process the sheer idiocy and nonsensical nature of hosting the biggest sporting event in the world in a country whose love of football seems to have conveniently arisen at the same time they decided they’d love some more attention. Qatar supposedly has a football lineage dating back to 1960, however, what is rarely mentioned by the new football fanboy on the block is that their league was founded by expat oil workers looking for something to do on a Saturday.
FIFA’s sheer desperation to lap up as much money as possible from the Qatar royal family has resulted in a winter World Cup that nobody asked and that makes even the most diehard football fan feel uneasy. Why winter you ask? Oh, well that’s because it’s too hot to play football in Qatar for 85% of the year – yet another totally rational and not-at- all mental reason why Qatar should host the World Cup. Now that the general absurdity of this tournament has been established, let’s look under the thin and near-translucent curtain Qatar has installed to hide the serious issues at the bedrock of this whole competition.
ALLEGED SLAVE LABOUR
Around 94% of Qatar’s workforce used for constructing the 90,000-seat stadium and surrounding village that will host the World Cup final is comprised of “expat” labour forces contracted to make up for their lack of domestic capabilities. Qatar has a population of 2.5 million, with only 330,000 citizens, meaning the “expats” making up the rest of the populace have little to no social protections in the best of times, let alone during dangerous mass construction projects. A Guardian investigation into the workforce used in Doha (Qatar’s capital) found that Nepalese men make up a substantial amount of the hands-on labour, with the conditions they are made to work in described as akin to “modern-day slavery”. In a one-on-one interview, one Nepalese worker said, “We were working on an empty stomach for 24 hours; 12 hours work and then no food all night”. He continued, “When I complained, my manager assaulted me, kicked me out of the labour camp I lived in and refused to pay me anything. I had to beg for food from other workers.”
Dozens of ex-pat workers have allegedly died since construction began, with more defecting to local embassies in an attempt to flee Qatari imprisonment. Reports of workers claim they sleep 12 to a bed while having their identification confiscated and pay withheld until completion of the project.
Although the use of alleged slave labour is enough to make this an utterly repulsive event, the welcome fans can expect to receive upon landing in Qatar is thought to be warm and inviting. That is for everyone except football fans who are gay, bisexual, transgender, female, like to have a beer, openly practice any religion other than Islam, sing too loud in public, or like to remove layers of clothing when it’s 40 degrees outside. Whilst the latter half of that list is somewhat whimsical, the fear surrounding LGBTQ+ football fans attending the event is all too painfully real. Being gay is a criminal offence in Qatar with those convicted being subjected to conversion therapy, imprisonment and physical abuse.
The idea of the world’s best footballers, largest brands, most famous political leaders, and celebrities flocking to Qatar is a sickening symbol of endorsement that is made worse when we consider how the same brands and individuals are more than willing to add a rainbow to their profile picture during Pride or claim to stand up for LGBTQ+ rights. That is as long as human rights don’t conflict with their bottom line or suntan plans. The attempt of European teams to show support by agreeing to wear rainbow armbands, despite a strict warning from Qatar and now FIFA, does little to drown the bitter taste left after the advice given to LGBTQ+ fans by the UK’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly to ‘respect the culture of your host nation’ and to show a ‘little bit of flex and compromise’. When compromising with oppressive regimes is the official statement of the UK government, we have to ask what the hell are we doing? and why are we continuing to go along with their farcical attempts to frame this as nothing out of the ordinary?
This World Cup just might kill football. To those who disagree, look no further than the mass indignation and contempt currently aimed at David Beckham & Garry Neville for signing massive $10 million deals to act as ambassadors for the event. Two individuals who have been part of the fabric of English football for the last 30 years, both of whom have endured numerous career-ending worthy scandals in the past, now find themselves out of public affection. Football has historically belonged to the people but that is slowly slipping away from us. Whether it’s the purchasing of clubs like Man City & Newcastle by oil tycoons, the advent of the Super League, or the fact a ticket can cost upward of £200, football is becoming a game destroyed by the elite. Nothing better embodies this fall from grace than Qatar 2022, an event that is looking more like a funeral for the spirit and conscience of the game with each passing day.
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