Diana Ross fluffing her lines. Ballon d’Or Baggio muzzled by McGrath. Nigeria announcing themselves. The solo run of Saeed Owairan. Lalas’ hair. Campos’ kits. Maradona’s maw. Dahlin. Hagi. Stoichkov. Romario. Penalties. When I was 9 years old, USA ‘94 made me fall in love with football. Every FIFA World Cup since has been a must-watch for me.
That Qatar was awarded the tournament at all was, of course, ludicrous on its face. Qatari organisers initially insisted that the country could host the event in the summer…when temperatures routinely pass 40℃. Thankfully, the dates were moved, but many issues remained. The country is tiny, it has only one international airport for goodness’ sake. It has no football tradition whatsoever. There is no fan culture.
None of those are reasons why I will not be watching.
No, my objections surround the human rights violations of the Gulf state. LGBTQ+ relationships are banned. punishable by fines, jail sentences and even death…by stoning. Human Rights Watch report that the security services regularly arrest gay, lesbian and transgender citizens, who are sometimes forced to undergo conversion therapy. This makes a mockery of Qatar’s claim that, at the World Cup, “everyone is welcome”.
If that is not reason enough for a boycott, how about labour rights? Thousands of foreign workers travelled from as far afield as Ghana and the Philippines to help construct the stadia and assorted infrastructure needed for the tournament. These workers live in appalling conditions, subject to unimaginable privation, and are paid a pittance for the privilege – the minimum wage in the country is the equivalent of about €1 per hour. Still, it could be worse.
They could be dead.
Qatar say that 37 workers involved in stadium construction have died, and that only 3 of those deaths were work-related. UK newspaper The Guardian, on the other hand, used data supplied by embassies in Doha to come up with a figure of 6,500 deaths among World Cup labourers. Which total do you think is more believable?
Much as Israel paints any criticism of its actions as antisemitic, Qatar seeks to handwave away the highlighting of its egregious violations as Islamophobic. As in the case of the former, in which there are unquestionably those whose anti-Zionism is rooted more in antisemitism than a genuine desire for justice, there are doubtless Islamophobes out there who would object to this World Cup regardless of Qatar’s policies. Yes, previous tournaments have had their issues, which could have earned a boycott; the 2018 edition staged in Putin’s Russia comes to mind. Nonetheless, I contend that no World Cup in the last 30 years has been so brazen in its disregard for basic human dignity.
The Qatari regime wants to use the glitz and glamour of the World Cup to put on a pristine picture of life in the Gulf State and hide the desperate inequality and inhumane conditions in which their own people live. This is called ‘sportswashing’. Apartheid South Africa tried to do the same, as did Hitler’s Germany. Indeed, arguably the most successful example in World Cup history was that of Argentina in 1978, where the fascist Junta staged a tournament in which the home team emerged victorious…drowning out the screams of those ‘enemies of the state’ held prisoner in the notorious Navy Petty-Officers School of Mechanics.
It hurts to miss a World Cup. It really hurts. Football is the longest-lasting love of my life, an obsession that has never burnt out or dulled…and such international tournaments provide so much joy and excitement – not just to me, but to literally millions of people around the globe. It unites us, in a way that no other sporting event can.
Qatar 2022, however, cost too much blood to look past.