Qatar won the bid to host football’s most prestigious tournament all the way back in 2010. It will be the first time a Middle Eastern country has hosted the World Cup, which takes place every four years.
Positivity in the build-up to the World Cup has been somewhat dampened by concerns over Qatar’s human rights record. Qatar has attracted criticism over its treatment of same-sex couples, women, and migrant workers.
Some football fans and activists have said they would boycott the tournament.
Qatar and human rights
Qatar is a small, yet very wealthy Muslim country in the northeastern Arabian Peninsula. Its government is a hereditary monarchy ruled by the House of Thani.
Qatar has repeatedly drawn criticism for its human rights record. Scrutiny has intensified during the lead-up to the World Cup, with more attention directed at the country.
Homosexuality and same-sex relationships are outlawed in Qatar. Men can be punished with a prison sentence of up to three years for homosexuality. LGBTQ+ activism is also illegal.
In October 2022, a report by Human Rights Watch claimed that Qatari police had abused people identifying as LGBTQ+.
Human Rights Watch has also drawn attention to the alleged abuse of migrant workers. According to Rothna Begum of Human Rights Watch: “Migrant workers were indispensable to making the World Cup 2022 possible, but it has come at great cost for many migrant workers and their families who not only made personal sacrifices, but also faced widespread wage theft, injuries, and thousands of unexplained deaths.”
Qatar’s treatment of women is another source of controversy. According to Amnesty International, in Qatar, “women continued to face discrimination in law and practice.”
A woman’s life choices in Qatar are largely governed by her male guardian, usually the husband or another male relative. In many cases, women must receive approval from a male guardian to marry, study, take up certain professions, travel abroad, and access reproductive healthcare among other things.
World Cup boycott?
Concerns regarding human rights issues in Qatar have led some to call for a boycott of the 2022 World Cup.
Prominent voices in football, politics, and activism have raised concerns about Qatar hosting the tournament. For instance, Louis van Gaal, the Netherlands coach, has vocally supported the decision by some fans to boycott the tournament despite his team’s participation in the event.
Football fans across Germany have protested. At some German games, fans have held up banners highlighting human rights abuses and calling for a boycott.
A YouGov poll found that seventy-one percent of British football fans surveyed thought that it was unacceptable for Qatar to hold international sporting events.
Others have not opted to boycott the tournament but have taken actions in solidarity with certain groups who may feel unwelcome in Qatar. For example, the United States football team will add a rainbow to their kit to show support for the LGBTQ+ community.
Although the World Cup in Qatar has been met with a great deal of controversy, particularly in Europe and North America, the tournament will proceed this month.
FIFA expects that five billion viewers will tune in to watch the World Cup, a jump from 3.5 billion in 2018.
Some voices have warned against mixing activism with sports. French President Emmanuel Macron has commented that “we must not politicize sport[s].”
FIFA has reportedly urged teams participating in the tournament to “focus on the football” and prevent the sport from being “dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists.”
It is estimated that over one million fans will travel to Qatar for the World Cup. As the tournament proceeds, attention will likely turn to the sport rather than the politics surrounding it.
Fans have been advised to respect local customs and laws whilst staying in Qatar. Notably, alcohol will only be served in designated spaces during the tournament, and visitors must respect prohibitions against pork, pornography, drugs, certain religious materials, and offensive public gestures.