The decision to award Qatar the 2022 FIFA World Cup sparked a slew of questions and debates about the country’s viability as a host country as well as the fairness of the FIFA bidding process. Several media outlets, sporting experts, and human rights organisations have criticised the event, citing issues such as Qatar’s lack of football history, the expected high cost, the weather, and Qatar’s human rights reputation. The Qatar bid group, as well as FIFA members and officials, have been accused of bribery on several occasions.
Migrant labourers, enslavement claims, and deaths
One of the most contentious issues surrounding the Qatar World Cup was the treatment of labourers who built the infrastructure. The Kafala system, according to Human Rights Watch and the International Trade Union Confederation, exploits migrant workers on a systemic level. Without the permission of their sponsor, workers are not allowed to change jobs or even leave the country. In November 2013, Amnesty International reported severe exploitation, alleging that workers were forced to sign fake declarations claiming they had received their salaries in order to reclaim their passports.
After visiting a labour camp, Sharan Burrows of the ITUC described the workers as “basically slaves.” The Qatar 2022 Committee claims that: “We aim to enhance working conditions to leave a legacy of better worker welfare. We understand that this will not be accomplished overnight. However, the FIFA World Cup in 2022 is serving as a stimulus for progress in this area.” Despite Qatar’s announcement in May 2014 of measures to better protect migrant workers, little progress has been made a year later. Even if Qatar’s promised improvements are realised, employers will retain significant control over their employees. For example, a proposed rule requiring salaries to be paid into a specific bank account will not apply to employees who are paid in cash.
The Nepalese ambassador to Qatar, Maya Kumari Sharma, stated that Qatar must become an open prison for Nepalese employees. According to a September 2013 report by The Guardian, a number of Nepalese labourers have been subjected to appalling working conditions as companies in charge of constructing infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup pressured workers to stay by denying them agreed-upon wages and withholding relevant worker ID permits, effectively making them illegal immigrants. According to The Guardian, the investigation found evidence that thousands of Nepalese, who make up Qatar’s single largest group of labourers, are subjected to exploitation and mistreatment that amounts to modern-day slavery. Every day in Qatar, one Nepalese worker has died. The Guardian’s piece included video footage of immigrants living in filthy, run-down labour camps. Workers told The Guardian that they were promised good pay before going to Qatar, but that their contracts were cancelled once they arrived. Some workers claimed they hadn’t been paid in months, but construction firms refused to provide them with worker IDs or passports, trapping them. Workers claimed they were abused and had to beg for food. They could try to flee, but if caught without proper documentation, they will be imprisoned.
In April 2020, the Qatari government contributed $824 million to cover the wages of foreign workers who were quarantined or who were receiving COVID-19 treatment. In August 2020, the Qatari government set a monthly minimum wage of 1,000 riyals (US$275) for all workers, up from the previous temporary minimum wage of 750 riyals per month. The new legislation went into effect in March 2021. According to the International Labour Organization, “Qatar is the first country in the region to introduce a non-discriminatory minimum wage,” which is “part of a series of historical reforms of the country’s labour laws,” while Migrant Rights said the new minimum wage was too low to meet migrant workers’ needs given Qatar’s cost of living. Companies must also pay 300 riyals for meals and 500 riyals for lodging if they do not provide them to employees directly. The No Objection Certificate was repealed, allowing employees to change jobs without their current employer’s permission. A Minimum Wage Committee was also formed to oversee the implementation.
The country’s LGBT situation
The legal status of homosexuality in Qatar has sparked a lot of discussion in the media. According to the Gay Times, there are no documented cases in Qatar where homosexuality has resulted in capital punishment. FIFA President Sepp Blatter initially stated: “I would advise them to avoid any sexual activity.” He then added, “We don’t want any prejudice. What we want to accomplish is make this game accessible to everyone, across all cultures, and that is exactly what we are doing in 2022”.
“FIFA now has no choice but to call off the World Cup in Qatar,” LGBT campaigner Peter Tatchell said after reports that Qatar would implement medical screening tests to identify and prevent homosexuals from entering the country. However, there is no such screening test. As it turned out, this suggestion came from Kuwait, not Qatar.
World Cup in Winter
Because the World Cup is usually held in the summer in the northern hemisphere, the weather in Qatar was a concern, especially when temperatures reached 50 degrees Celsius. A medical practitioner from Qatar’s Aspetar sports hospital in Doha claimed in an interview with Qatar Today magazine in November 2010 that the weather would be a concern, claiming that the region’s climate would impair athletes’ performance levels from a health standpoint, particularly footballers. They also predicted that recovery times between games would be longer than in warm weather, and that on the field of play, more mistakes would be made. One of the doctors went on to say that complete adaptation to the Qatari climate is unlikely. FIFA President Sepp Blatter initially dismissed the criticism, but in September 2013, he stated that the FIFA executive committee would consider holding a winter tournament instead of a summer tournament.
The decision to hold the championship in the winter was criticised. To avoid clashing with the 2022 Winter Olympics, Blatter has stated that the tournament will not be held in January or February, while others have expressed concerns about hosting it in November or December to avoid clashing with the Christmas season. The Premier League has expressed reservations about moving the event to the winter season in the northern hemisphere, citing potential conflicts with regional leagues as a reason. FA Chairman Greg Dyke stated shortly after taking office in 2013 that he was open to either a winter tournament or relocating the event to a different location. A member of FIFA’s executive council, Theo Zwanziger, believes that awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar’s desert state was a mistake, and that moving to a winter championship would be impossible due to the impact on major European local leagues.
According to Franz Beckenbauer, a member of FIFA’s executive committee, Qatar could be allowed to host the 2022 World Cup in the winter. He defended his proposal by claiming that Qatar would save money by not having to spend money on stadium conditioning. Beckenbauer went on to say that Qatar had won the vote and deserved a fair shot at hosting the event for the first time in the Middle East. During a ceremony commemorating the World Cup’s awarding in Qatar, FIFA President Sepp Blatter later acknowledged that this idea was possible, though FIFA later clarified that any change from the bid stance of June–July tournaments would be up to the host country to propose.
UEFA President Michel Platini stated that he was willing to restructure European club tournaments to accommodate the Cup being held during Europe’s winter. For the summer 2022 World Cup, Qatar won Platini’s support. Despite the air conditioning, FIFA President Sepp Blatter stated that the tournament was about more than sports and included cultural events. In light of this, he doubts that fans and players will be able to attend in the hot weather.
In addition to the European leagues’ concerns, Frank Lowy, the chairman of Football Federation Australia, mentioned that moving the 2022 World Cup from summer to winter would disrupt the A-schedule, League’s and that if the decision was made, they would request reimbursement from FIFA. Richard Scudamore, the Premier League’s chief executive, stated that if the change interfered with the league’s popular Christmas and New Year match schedule, the league would take legal action against FIFA.
In September 2013, FIFA allegedly met with broadcasters to discuss the decision to move the World Cup’s date due to potential conflicts with other scheduled television programmes. The Fox Broadcasting Company, which paid $425 million for the rights to broadcast the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in the United States, later expressed displeasure with the potential change, claiming that it would conflict with the NFL season, which takes place in the winter. The network stated that they purchased the rights with the expectation that the championship would be held in the summer and that they would demand compensation if the schedule was changed. On February 12, 2015, FIFA awarded Fox the 2026 World Cup broadcasting rights without allowing ESPN, NBC, or any other interested American broadcasters to bid. According to Richard Sandomir of The New York Times, FIFA did so to avoid Fox filing a lawsuit in American courts, which could force FIFA to open up its records and reveal any alleged misconduct.
On February 24, 2015, it was announced that a winter World Cup would be held instead of the usual summer event. Between November and December, the event will take place. According to commentators, the tournament’s schedule clashes with the Christmas season, and the tournament’s length is a concern. Although the monsoonal rainy season in Guinea begins around that time, the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations will be moved from January to June to avoid a two-week turnaround for African players.