Earlier this week, in an interview with a television station in Switzerland, FIFA president Sepp Blatter admitted that it was a mistake to award the World Cup to the nation of Qatar. It has long been questioned why he awarded the small Middle Eastern state the world’s most prestigious football event in the first place. Since the announcement in December 2010, many have alleged that bribery played a pivotal role, but Qatar remains steadfast in the notion that their proposal was simply the best one.
Qatar is a small nation on a peninsula in the Persian Gulf that is bordered by Saudi Arabia and very close to the United Arab Emirates. It is home to around 2 million people and, because of its immense oil reserves, it is the richest nation in the world per-capita. In 2022, when the nation hosts the World Cup, it will be the first time the competition has ever been held in the Middle East. Despite being the upcoming hosts, Qatar has never qualified for the World Cup. Unless they qualify for the 2018 competition in Russia, 2022 will be the first time they play in the event.
Qatar’s bid for the 2022 World Cup was a glamorous one to say the least, filled with promises of new state of the art stadiums that would be temperature controlled even though they are outdoor stadiums. The reason Sepp Blatter came out and admitted it was a mistake to award Qatar the World Cup was because in the summer, when the competition has always been held, temperatures rarely dip below 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of this, Blatter has now set up a task force to see about moving the event to the winter months. However, a decision on that will not be made until after the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Even though Blatter has owned up to the fact that the safety of players and fans alike will be in danger because of the heat, some other FIFA executives have come out and said that they knew this going into the decision, but only now has Blatter stated that is an issue.
Although the heat is the initial reason Sepp Blatter admitted to the mistake of awarding the World Cup to Qatar, it is not the only reason the football world is upset that the event will be held there. Almost immediately after Qatar was awarded the competition, allegations of bribery swirled around FIFA and Blatter. In 2010, it was alleged that payments of over one million dollars were made to Jack Warner, who is the former President of CONCACAF and part of the committee to choose the location for the 2022 World Cup. There have been no charges or fines because the men involved have since left FIFA and any subsidiaries amid allegations of previous bribery. The committee for Qatar’s 2022 has stated that no rules were broken in the process and that they are unaware of any bribery allegations.
A bigger issue than just bribery has been brought up in recent months. The lack of laborers in Qatar means that thousands of workers are being brought into the country from some of the poorest parts of the Middle East and South Asia. These workers are told there is money to be made in the building of new stadiums, but once they arrive, their passports are taken and they are refused exit from Qatar until their bosses deem they can leave. Thousands of workers have already died in the preparation for the event and now human rights and worker rights groups are starting to take notice and take action.
While bribery is no small claim, allegations of human rights violations as it relates to the foreign workers in Qatar is a much bigger issue. Some people have compared the conditions in Qatar to 21st century slavery. The workers are forced to live together in dormitory like conditions and are not allowed by their bosses to assimilate what so ever into the culture of Qatar. Most of them were told they would be paid well, but when they arrive, they are offered substantially less and told to take it or leave it. Out of pure desperation to feed their families, the workers stay and take the small pay, despite being subject to tortuous living conditions.
While Blatter admitting any wrongdoing is surprising, his admission does not address the two biggest issues surrounding the event; bribery and the working conditions. Blatter likely will not address any bribery allegations around this because the sport is four years removed from when Qatar’s bid was accepted, but he does need to address the allegations of new world slavery made by human rights groups around the world. The rioting and protesting that has happened in Brazil in the lead up to this year’s World Cup could be on the horizon for Qatar once 2022 draws closer and that is something Blatter needs to address very soon.
Sepp Blatter admitting his mistake that awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar is a step in the right direction for him and FIFA. Admitting a mistake is one thing, but Blatter has made no indication that moving the event to another location is even a possibility. He may need to consider that possibility if the working conditions for the World Cup stadiums in Qatar continue the way they have been. It has been and will continue to be a major public relations nightmare for FIFA and Blatter if more people keep dying in the construction of stadiums for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Commentary by Max Petkevicius