Since Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup in December of 2010, the small Gulf nation has been the target of a hailstorm of criticism from abroad while also seeing tremendous excitement from residents of the region. International scrutiny of the decision to let Qatar host the tournament has focused on political as well as demographic issues: the small size of the country, extreme heat, and probable human rights violations.
However, there are important factors as to why Qatar is an appropriate and deserving selection to host the tournament, which seem to have been lost in an overwhelmingly negative narrative. Not only is it important for Qatar to host the World Cup in order to open the world’s eyes to the Middle East, but the country has also proven it is up to the task by expediting vital infrastructural improvements.
Qatar, a peninsula with a meager area of 4,416 square miles, is preparing to welcome an influx of around 400,000 fans during the FIFA World Cup in 2022. Because it is the smallest nation to stage the World Cup since Uruguay in 1930, many individuals fret over its capacity to manage a temporary increase in population surrounding the World Cup. But because 10 of its 12 stadiums are located within a 20-kilometer radius, the country is marketing that an under-construction rail system will limit the travel time between any of the arenas to under an hour. This would hypothetically give fans the exciting opportunity to attend multiple matches in the same day—something that hasn’t historically been possible for ordinary fans.
But those who excuse the country’s small size argued that the region’s sweltering heat is cause for concern. During the months of June and July, Qatar’s temperature hovers around 95 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the issue of Qatar’s summer heat has been resolved as well. Qatar will officially be hosting the World Cup in the winter (November and December) per FIFA officials’ recommendations. The rescheduling will help avoid discomfort and potential medical risks associated with the July temperatures.
Still other skeptics of Qatar’s fit as a World Cup host point to heavy costs of the country’s rapid development: the poor treatment of its migrant laborers. As efficiency is maximized in hopes of increased profit and growth, human dignity is sacrificed in the form of an abused workforce. Reports of at least 400 Nepalese and 450 Indian workers’ deaths have stunned both those in the region and the international community.
Similar to the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Qatar has a kafala system in which foreign migrants must be sponsored by an individual in Qatar, usually the migrant’s employer. Without the sponsor’s permission the workers cannot leave the country. Due to press surrounding the violation of laborers’ rights under this system, there recently have been works to amend this policy.
The changes to the kafala system highlight “the [duty] of employers to return workers hired under fixed-term contracts to their home countries once a project is completed” and require employers “to educate new foreign workers about Qatari laws and customs” in order to make them aware of their own legal rights. There is still much work to be undertaken with regard to this issue of human rights’ violations; however, the dialogue thus far has been constructive.
The organizing committee for Qatar’s World Cup, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, issued a 50-page document entitled Workers’ Welfare Standards in response to the less-than-ideal labor conditions. This document works to improve relationships between contractors and their workers, by, for example, requiring contractors to set up bank accounts for their laborers. The organizing committee hopes more foreigners see the World Cup as a catalyst for the acceleration of workers rights initiatives by shining a spotlight on long-existing exploitative practices.
In addition to Qatar’s continued efforts to mitigate many of the concerns surrounding its bid, the country’s hosting of the World Cup presents several unique opportunities.
A Unique Opportunity
For many living within the Middle East, Qatar’s victory in the bid for the FIFA World Cup in 2022 was a personal and regional triumph. The depiction of Muslims and Arabs within Western media has often been disparaging to say the least. For many decades, Muslims and Arabs have been vilified in images, cartoons, film, and television (and long before the attacks of September 11 took place). For many Qataris, Arabs, and Muslims, the opportunity to show the world the reality of life in much of the Middle East is a primary goal of the 2022 World Cup. An important goal of hosting such a widely followed sporting event is to deconstruct the negative stigma that has often been attached to Muslims. Hosting the World Cup will be a truly historic event for the region, as it is an opportunity to humanize the Arab and Muslim world as culturally rich and diverse region. Most importantly, the World Cup is about, among other things, promoting understanding and unifying people around the world through sport. The ideals behind the World Cup should not be lost in the face of the logistical obstacles that have arisen.
Another cornerstone of Qatar’s bid for the World Cup in 2022 is the initiative to aid the international community beyond the event itself. In Qatar’s bid, the organizing committee suggested an unprecedented plan to donate the stadiums used in the tournament to countries that are lacking in football infrastructure. The arenas will be built using modular upper levels that can be taken down and shipped elsewhere after the conclusion of the tournament. The international community’s investment in Qatar, therefore, will directly benefit some of the world’s most underprivileged regions down the line as well.
Another important aspect of Qatar’s journey toward the World Cup in 2022 has been its investment in infrastructure, which has signaled its capacity to execute a smooth tournament. Qatar’s vast oil and natural gas reserves give it the financial means to invest in an array of infrastructure projects. The winning of the bid has led to a $100 billion increase in infrastructure investment in 2015. The initiatives currently in progress focus on health, education, transportation, sewage, the environment, security, and economic diversification. The International Monetary Fund projects that Qatar will have the fastest-growing economy in the world over the next two years as a result of such initiatives. Qatar plans on constructing a $25 billion rail network, an $11 billion airport, a $5.5 billion deep-water seaport and a $1 billion bridge linking the new airport with projects in the northern part of Doha, its capital city. An additional $20 billion will be spent on building new roads. This investment in infrastructure will serve the Qatari people not only in 2022, but also for generations to come. But beyond this personal development, its booming infrastructure projects demonstrate that Qatar can step up to the plate and confidently deliver a successful World Cup.
Despite the challenges that Qatar faces in terms of hosting the FIFA World Cup, the advantages to Qatar are important to recognize as well. The emphasis that has been placed solely on publicizing the country’s problems neglects the admirable goals Qatar has in hosting the beloved event.