ALEXIS CRUZ WRITES – In just four years, Qatar will become the center of the sports world as host country of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the world’s premiere sports event. Hence, when this year’s World Cup in Russia concludes, Qatar is anticipated to become the focus of massive media attention.
For a small country like Qatar, being spotlighted on the universal stage should be a dream come true. It’s a moment when the host can showcase its best qualities and gain soft power through increased cultural influence. But already there has been darkness behind the scenes.
Consider some of the controversies of this tiny country: Reports of bribing FIFA officials; postponement of the tournament to winter, an inconvenient time for most national teams; a shortage of stadiums and training facilities to provide accommodations, necessitating, therefore, a great deal of construction; an overall cost for all of this estimated to be higher than any in tournament history; and concerns regarding labor abuse such as low wages, inadequate housing and dangerous working conditions in construction sites. FIFA has failed to fully address these issues, choosing instead to put a positive spin on these massive construction projects and supposed progress in the area of workers’ rights (like increasing safety standards).
Qatar has indeed shown commitment to the cause of improving labor conditions through its many reforms passed under the guidance of the International Labor Organization. In fact, the Qatari government plans to provide a total $5.2 million in workers’ compensation over the next two years. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have praised new laws to protect domestic workers, end the sponsorship system which prevented workers from changing jobs or leaving the country without an employer’s permission, and establish a minimum wage.
Yet more must be done. Migrant workers still face deplorable conditions. An audit of 19 of Qatar’s 208 construction companies revealed that some workers are on the job as long as five months without breaks, up to 72 hours per week.
It is a story that needs to be told, and re-told. This past year, most of the reporting on Qatar was about the blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates as a way to protest Qatar’s repressive foreign policy. In response, Qatar has sought to use the media to gain sympathy on the world stage. Al Jazeera’s reporting has been highly favorable toward its home country, despite being the most independent media voice in the Middle East.
Thus far, FIFA has largely dodged these controversies, and is in fact considering expanding the tournament from 32 to 48 teams for the 2022 games. Yet Qatar will barely have accommodations to host just 32 teams, even with completion of all that planned construction. Why 48? According to ESPN, FIFA will make more money that way and will recover funds lost in their prior corruption scandals, such as racketeering and money laundering. In addition, FIFA’s plan is to solve diplomatic crises by arranging for Saudi Arabia and the UAE to co-host the games with Qatar.
Don’t expect a lot of good press for Qatar over the next four years. Coverage will most likely resemble the negative reports we’ve been gotten on this year’s host—Russia, which has its own history of human rights violations and which FIFA has pretty much conveniently overlooked.
The press has grown smarter, though. Reporters are on the lookout now, and hard image-eroding times for Qatar are sure to come.