Updated: Apr 17
The new year marks a period of reflection for many, and as we look back on 2022, the World Cup is an event that sticks in the mind as not only the largest sporting event of the year, but as an event steeped in controversy. Beyond celebrating goals and mourning the losses of one’s national team, the latest coming of this quadrennial event will be remembered as one of the most contentious. This is because of the persistent condemnation of human right’s violations that have taken place in 2022’s host country, Qatar.
The International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) announced in 2010 its decision to hold the 22nd Football World Cup in Qatar. Historically, this event has been held in European and North and South American countries, as well as in Japan and South Korea (17th FIFA World Cup), South Africa (19th FIFA World Cup) and Russia (21st FIFA World Cup). This decision to host in Qatar can be interpreted as an opening of the Football Association to the Global East with a first-time host in a Gulf state. However, Qatar’s hosting has faced severe criticism from human rights activists concerned with the country’s discriminatory laws against women and the LGBTI+ community, as well as its treatment of migrant workers, who insisted that the FIFA should have chosen a different country for the event. Among the public’s demonstrations and other forms of protest, several well-known artists such as Rod Stewart, Shakira and Dua Lipa have refused to perform at the opening ceremony of the World Cup out of respect for human rights. Maluma and Nicki Minaj, the artists who agreed to perform and release the official World Cup song, have faced severe backlash for their support of the event amid concerns for human rights violations.
In another form of protest for the Qatari hosting, Amnesty International UK has branded the FIFA’s decision as “sportwashing”, a term that refers to the practice of improving a country’s reputation while detracting focus from its Human Rights Violations. Considering Qatar’s Human Rights record, should FIFA have selected another country to host the 2022 Football World Cup?
Football has been criticised by both players and the fans for cultivating an exclusively heterosexual environment and perpetuating discriminatory stereotypes. In response, FIFA has made efforts to rebrand football as an inclusive sport by supporting the LGBTQ+ community and investing in their Women’s Football Strategy. FIFA has also implemented a new policy to eradicate racism and racial discrimination in football as a part of their “Zero Tolerance” program, and alongside the World Health Organisation, FIFA has reinforced its anti-discriminatory commitments on Saturday 10th of December, marking the International Human Rights Day. Even if the decision to host the 22nd Football World Cup in Qatar was announced in 2010, which precedes their inclusive efforts, it comes as a step backwards to celebrate the Football World Cup in a country that openly discriminates against racial minorities, women, homosexual and transgender people.
Still, and contrary to the mainstream opinion, I do not believe that FIFA’s decision to host its 22nd World Cup in Qatar is necessarily an action which feeds the violation of human rights laws. As a human rights activist, I understand the reasons why many condemn Qatar’s hosting. But it is important to rationalise the sentiment and make the appropriate distinction between punishment and progress. If the ultimate goal is to isolate from the international community those who have a poor human rights record, we may then demand that Qatar, among many others, be excluded from the possibility of hosting or even participating in such events. In doing this, it is only logical to conclude that we’d abandon any hope that the excluded countries would work towards improving their human rights records. Additionally, it brings up the problem of drawing an appropriate line of guidance for what acceptable human rights records look like, particularly considering that every country must keep working on improving their current situations. At the present time, no country holds a perfect human rights record.
Human rights law is an ever- evolving area that requires international efforts for its promotion. Human Rights are above all, universal. There is no legal or rational basis for excluding from the international community those who need to improve their human rights record the most. In practice, human rights violations still occur globally. This does not mean that they are unfit for purpose or useless altogether. Human Rights and its mechanisms set a standard for human life and dignity, and they provide the means for claiming reparations and compensations whenever violations take place. It is unlikely for nations to radically improve their human rights records without the support and the pressures of the international community. Even if I advocate for inclusion and therefore do not condemn FIFA’s choice for Qatar, I do believe that there is a case for human rights activism to be made here, not for hosting the Football World Cup in Qatar, but for the lack of commitment and support of human rights within the territory.
Amnesty International has reported Qatar's consistent violation of freedom of expression, freedom of press, freedom of association, fair trials, as well as women’s, LGBTQ+ and labour rights. By deciding to host the 22nd World Cup in Qatar, FIFA should have worked alongside Qatari authorities to ensure that the event is a safe space for its workers, athletes and fans. Having contemplated the implications of inclusion and exclusion in the development of adequate human rights records, it is important to address the very real impact of the human rights violations that took place by selecting Qatar as the host.
As the now infamous article published by the British journal The Guardian reported, an estimated 6500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since the Football World Cup stadium began construction. The poor working conditions have been condemned worldwide for the poor living conditions, lack of access to food and water, long working hours and a severe lack of health and safety measures in the workplace. The working conditions described by Qatar’s migrant workforce fall nothing short of inhumane.
In yet another example of a human rights violation, a 28-year-old female World Cup official, victim of rape during her time working in Qatar, has been sentenced to 100 lashes and seven years in jail after reporting the rape to the Qatari authorities, without any consequence for her attacker.
Qatari authorities have also warned national teams and other professionals at the event against displaying any form of support for the LGBTQ+ community such as rainbow flags. Human Rights activists that attended the event with pride symbols have reported
that they were either denied access to the premises or invited to stop their display.
If the FIFA’s commitment to women’s and LGBTQ+ rights was to be taken seriously, it is
certainly, a difficult position to defend with how things were handled at the World Cup.
By selecting Qatar as a host, FIFA should have ensured that the event would be
inclusive and a safe space for anyone who wished to attend it. Hosting the event in
Qatar without the appropriate guarantees meant not only a missed opportunity for
advancement, but it lays the foundations for human rights violations to take place in the future. It is for this reason that this World Cup should not conclude with a celebration, for an event that has contributed to human rights violations is one where we have all lost.
Endnotes: Shakira, Dua Lipa and Rod Stewart refuse to sing at opening of World Cup 2022 <<https://sport.news.am/eng/news/136080/>>  Nicki Minaj, Maluma and Myriam Fares Drop Historic Trilingual World Cup Song amid Qatar Controversy <<https://people.com/music/nicki-minaj-drops-first-ever-trilingual-world-cup-anthem/>>  See <<https://www.amnesty.org.uk/issues/qatar-football-world-cup-2022>>  FIFA and WHO to mark International Human Rights Day with anti-discrimination message <<https://www.who.int/news/item/09-12-2022-fifa-and-who-to-mark-international-human-rights-day-with-anti-discrimination-message>>  Qatar: Six things you need to know about the hosts of the 2022 FIFA World Cup <<https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/11/qatar-six-things-you-need-to-know-about-the-hosts-of-the-2022-fifa-world-cup/>>  Amnesty International at <<Migrants building a state-of-the-art stadium for the 2022 football World Cup in Qatar are abused and exploited – while FIFA makes huge profits>>  Lauren Lewis, Female World Cup official flees Qatar to avoid a sentence of 100 lashes and seven years in jail for 'extramarital sex' after reporting that she was raped. Mail Online at: <<https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10538379/Female-World-Cup-official-faces-lashes-jail-extramarital-sex-alleged-RAPE-Qatar.html>>  Amnesty International at <<https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/qatar-fifa-yet-again-fails-uphold-human-rights-after-one-love-armbands-pulled>>