The 2022 FIFA World Cup is underway and some of the best footballers on the planet spend four weeks competing for soccer’s ultimate prize.
But this World Cup is ripe with controversy, largely due to its host country, Qatar; a Persian Gulf nation roughly the size of Connecticut that is holding the once-in-four-years soccer tournament for the first time. And the concerns over human rights abuses in Qatar — such as allegations the country has exploited migrant workers — as well as the environmental impact of the tournament and the last-minute ban on alcohol, have all been overshadowing the event.
Representatives for FIFA and the Qatar organizing committee did not respond to MarketWatch’s request for comment on this story.
Here is a refresher on why the 2022 FIFA World Cup is so controversial.
Corruption allegations over Qatar’s winning bid to host
Qatar and its men’s national team have little history with the World Cup. In fact, the home team has never qualified in any World Cup dating back to the Qatar’s declaration of independence in 1971.
So there were questions raised when Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup back in 2010, being chosen over nations including Australia, South Korea, Japan and the United States. Qatar scored the hosting duties despite fears of being a “high security risk,” as well as its abnormally hot temperatures during the tournament months (more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit on average), concerns over the country’s transportation and sewage systems, as well as a lack of overall sports stadiums infrastructure.
Former FIFA President Sepp Blatter has said that he advocated for the United States to host, but the votes ultimately went in favor of Qatar 14 to 8.
There were allegations of corruption, vote-swapping and bribes in relation to Qatar winning the vote. In 2020, U.S. prosecutors accused three former senior FIFA officials of taking bribes for voting for Qatar. Yet despite this move by the U.S. Department of Justice, Qatar kept the 2022 World Cup.
Earlier this month Blatter admitted that picking Qatar as World Cup host was a “mistake.”
“It’s a country that’s too small,” Blatter said. “Football and the World Cup are too big for that.”
Treatment and pay for migrant workers
Partly due to a lack on infrastructure in Qatar prior to the tournament, a critical amount of construction was needed for the country to be able host the World Cup. And the safety of many of these workers has been called into question.
According to a 2021 Guardian report citing government sources, a total of 37 migrants working directly on World Cup stadiums have died. While 34 of them were classified as “non-work related,” the categorization has come into question after numerous incidents of laborers collapsing and dying during construction have been reported.
The organizing committee for the Qatar World Cup maintains that only three workers have died during construction. “When it comes to the building of World Cup stadiums, it’s actually three persons who died. Three,” said FIFA president Gianni Infantino over the summer. “Three is three too many, but it’s three.”
Yet Amnesty International (a non-government organization focused on human rights) has reported thousands of migrant worker deaths in Qatar since 2010, when the World Cup was awarded to the country. And in May, Amnesty International, along with 23 other organizations, wrote an open letter to FIFA President Gianni Infantino urging a “remedy for labor abuses behind the 2022 World Cup.”
There are 1.7 million migrant workers in Qatar for the World Cup, and many have come from countries including Bangladesh, India and Nepal. Migrant workers account for more than 90% of the World Cup workforce in Qatar. Amnesty International reports that migrant workers must pay between $500 to $4,300 in fees to work in Qatar. And many of these migrant workers are living in “appalling living conditions,” the organization adds, and they were lied to about their salaries. Many have been waiting for months to get paid.
Amnesty International has called the 2022 tournament “the World Cup of shame”.
Discrimination against women and LGBTQ+ members, and human rights abuses
The treatment of migrant workers isn’t the only issue. Human Rights Watch has released a 42-page report summarizing “the numerous human rights concerns surrounding Qatar’s preparations for the 2022 World Cup,” including discrimination and violence against women and the LGBTQ+ community.
For example, it’s illegal in Qatar for two men to have sex, even consensually, and penalties include lashing, lengthy prison sentences and/or deportation, as the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs notes under its travel advisories for Qatar. And a World Cup ambassador from Qatar recently sparked outrage for saying that gay people “have damage in their mind.”
While there are no laws against same-sex sexual relationships between women, the country is generally conservative on the matter, the U.S. travel guide to Qatar says. There are laws against sex outside of marriage, for instance, with men or women engaging in premarital or extramarital sex facing seven years in prison. The Human Rights Watch notes that rape victims have been punished under this law.
U.S. travel advisories also note that unaccompanied women who travel to Qatar may be verbally and/or physically harassed. The Human Rights Watch reports that women living in Qatar cannot travel alone; they must follow strict rules on how to dress; and they need permission from their male guardians (fathers, brothers, husbands, etc.) to exercise many basic rights such as choosing who marry, getting reproductive care, pursuing higher education and making choices about their children’s lives.
Qatar’s organizing committee has said that the country “protects and promotes the rights of women, and this extends to all women visiting for the World Cup.”
As for LBGTQ+ rights, Qatar’s senior security leader Abdulaziz Abdullah al-Ansari has said that gay couples would be welcomed and accepted in Qatar for the World Cup. “Watch the game. That’s good,” he said in April. “But don’t really come in and insult the whole society because of this.”
“Here we cannot change the laws,” he continued. “You cannot change the religion for 28 days of World Cup.”
A lack of transparency over its climate initiatives
FIFA and World Cup host country Qatar claim the 2022 tournament will be the most environmentally friendly in history, including a vow that the whole event will be carbon neutral. But climate change groups aren’t convinced, citing among other concerns, the amount of water that will have to be pumped in, transformed from salt water to fresh via desalination or transported by truck to the desert nation.
French officials, for instance, won’t project World Cup matches on large screens for Parisians to watch in protest both over reports of the violation of human rights of migrant workers building FIFA facilities, and the environmental impact of the tournament.
The organizers have pledged that climate-neutral technologies were used to build eight stadiums, and that more than 90% recycled materials were used for their construction. Further, Qatar — which split in recent years from the powerful OPEC cartel promoting Middle East oil production to export its mostly natural gas independently — has vowed to cut wasteful energy consumption during matches. Qatar also says it can deliver on zero-emission public transportation for fans. And to their credit, organizers have located matches close to one another, cutting down on overall commuting between events.
Still, a lack of transparency from World Cup planners and FIFA officials around the event in general leaves environmental guardians skeptical that numbers around carbon emissions, waste, recycling and other metrics can be fully trusted. Estimates say the tournament will produce around 3.6 million tons of carbon dioxide, according to FIFA’s official greenhouse gas emissions report. That’s 1.5 million tons more than the previous World Cup in Russia in 2018, and more than some countries produce in a year. Carbon dioxide emissions are responsible for the bulk of global warming, with man-made activities such as driving, powering technology and cooling our homes accelerating the natural warming that takes place over centuries.
The group Carbon Market Watch, in a report, questioned whether the stadiums are net-zero endeavors considering that seven of the eight were built from scratch and their post-Cup use isn’t clear. For one, Qatari officials bragged that the grass pitches themselves will offer carbon absorption but Carbon Market Watch speculates the grass will be swapped for artificial turf beyond 2022 because of the area’s very high temperatures. For their part, Qatar replied to the report, arguing that its findings are speculative and that emissions will be calculated using “best-in-practice” methods after the tournament concludes.
Beer was banned at the last-minute
Qatar has strict rules around drinking alcohol. It does not allow its residents to drink alcohol in public or to be drunk in public, a travel guide from the U.K. government states, and “drinking in a public place could result in a prison sentence of up to 6 months.” There are some hotels and bars in Qatar that are allowed to sell alcohol, but those establishments have obtained licenses to do so.
Previously, Qatar said that it would allow beer sales within stadiums during the World Cup. And, in fact, Budweiser spent a reported $75 million to be the official beer sponsor of the World Cup. But just two days before kickoff, Qatar pulled an about-face and announced it will not allow beer to be sold at stadiums during the tournament. Budweiser reportedly tweeted “Well, this is awkward …” before deleting the post.
Qatar said it will only allow the sale of alcohol during the 2022 World Cup in a few luxury hospitality areas of the stadiums — but most fans don’t have access to those areas. Some fans will be allowed to drink beer in the evenings in what is known as the FIFA Fan Festival, a designated area that also offers live music and activities.
But Budweiser’s non-alcoholic Bud Zero will still be available at Qatar World Cup stadiums.