Imagine you’re walking on the beaten, muddy path through your local carnival. Sweat dripping down your forehead and watered-down lemonade in hand, you find your favorite game booth — the one where you race others to pop a balloon by squirting a water gun at a target.
You fork over your crinkly $5 bill and sit down on the plasticky leather stool. Another player hands over his offering to the carnival worker, who points him to the seat next to yours.
The bell dings, and you are on a mission to win that large, green, understuffed bear — a prize more valuable to have as temporary badge of honor to tout to other fairgoers than a long-term possession. You glance over, and the kid to your left has one hand on the water gun, his stream is barely hitting the target and his friends are distracting him. You’re confident, your stream is on target, and your balloon is double the size of his. It’s going, going, going — pop!
But it’s not your balloon. It’s his. But how? He didn’t play the game right. The difference is you didn’t slip a $20 under your $5, so you weren’t directed to sit in the seat with stronger water streams and a smaller balloon. You are just out of luck.
The FIFA World Cup bidding process is the game, and that kid with the $20 bill is Qatar. All eyes are on this small desert state — one with egregious human rights issues and rampant homophobia among a slew of other problems — because they won the rights to host the 2022 World Cup. The tournament is fraught with issues, and stuffing dollar bills in the gaping wound won’t solve it.
How could FIFA, soccer’s global organizing body, choose a country that has never played a world cup match?
Money. The U.S. Department of Justice said Qatar representatives bribed FIFA officials to bring the tournament to the country. Coupled with bribes for the 2018 Russia World Cup, numerous high-ranking soccer officials and executives were convicted for their involvement.
Cash continues to be no problem for Qatar, as it is reportedly estimated to have spent $220 billion on building stadiums, infrastructure and even a whole city — yes, there is an entirely new city that didn’t exist a decade ago — for the tournament. That makes 2022 the priciest World Cup ever — and by a landslide. That bill is over 15 times what Russia spent on its tournament.
What’s so bad about spending that much money if they have it in the bank? This World Cup was built on modern day slavery, and FIFA knew that would be the case before ex-president Sepp Blatter proudly announced Qatar as the tournament host. Over 6,500 migrant workers from South Asia died building a playground for the wealthy to watch a few soccer games.
Qatar is too hot for athletes to play soccer for 90 minutes during the summer, but apparently, those workers are fine doing manual labor for long hours in upward of 120-degree heat with no water and deplorable living conditions. If they wanted to leave, their passports are held by their bosses — who may or may not have paid them anything. Many are reporting migrant workers had to return to their home countries with money still owed to them.
FIFA credits itself as saying that the tournament helped forge better labor practices in the country, but it’s becoming increasingly clear those reforms were introduced after much of the work had already been done, are not always followed and are not that much of a step forward. Regardless of whether they did or didn’t put new restrictions into effect, it wouldn’t have made a difference because, as John Oliver said in his scathing segment on the tournament, “The World Cup still would have kicked off in Qatar.”
It’s a familiar theme: unfulfilled promises. Air-conditioned stadiums. Beer. Inclusivity.
Supposedly, all are welcome to attend the World Cup. However, Qatar criminalizes people who identify as part of the LGBTQ community with severe punishments. The Human Dignity Trust listed it as a country that attempted to prevent people in that community from entering the country through medical checks aimed to find out one’s sexuality around 2013. It was never implemented, but the sentiment lingers.
We see the residual effects from such homophobic ideology through the World Cup, but there are people who live in Qatar experiencing that discrimination full force. Fans can’t enter stadiums wearing rainbows, and FIFA went as far as to say it will penalize teams who planned to wear the OneLove armbands. Instead, the corrupt organizing body shrugs its shoulders and points to “culture” as an excuse. Saying a practice is part of a culture doesn’t mean it is free from criticism or reform. Parts of some cultures can be downright inhumane, and just because it’s a common ideology doesn’t mean it’s ethical.
This is not to say there aren’t issues in the U.S. and other prominent countries. However, where is the line? Every step of this tournament has shown a blatant disregard for some of the most vulnerable populations and a veneration of the dirty dealings of the insanely wealthy.
The likelihood of FIFA cleaning up its act has similar odds to the carnival worker of the water gun game deciding he cares more about equal opportunity than a quick buck. There isn't a good solution besides relying on FIFA to make the right decisions, and if a financial scandal cleaning house doesn’t give the association a new direction, we can bet they never will. This isn’t new; Qatar has just been the most egregious example. Your favorite past tournaments likely have a dirty past too.
Now, we are in an awkward spot with two conflicting feelings in our guts: the hope that comes with every World Cup and the guilt of watching a spectacle built on pain and suffering.
I don’t have a clue what we can do to fix this. I unfortunately don’t have millions of dollars to make my opinion matter, but widespread conversation on the topic is a start.