The Brief — An ugly backdrop to the beautiful game 


We need some cheer as Europe faces a bleak mid-winter. With Russia’s war in Ukraine still raging on and Europeans set for months of struggles to pay ever-higher food and heating bills, we are certainly entitled to a bit of light relief.

The World Cup in Qatar, which kicks off on Sunday, appears well-timed to help many of us get through the next six weeks. But for those who love football, it is impossible not to feel distinctly queasy about the tournament and, specifically, where it is hosted.  

The numerous and well-documented allegations that multi-million dollar bribes were paid to members of FIFA’s executive committee in exchange for votes – though Qatar’s bid team deny any impropriety – are just the tip of a larger iceberg.

Qatar is not the first country to have bought the right to host a World Cup. Decades of endemic corruption within football’s governing body, FIFA, made kickbacks an established method of obtaining the sport’s biggest and most lucrative prize.  

Nor is Qatar the first autocratic state to engage in sports washing to give the false impression of an open, progressive and welcoming country. History is littered with examples of dictatorships using the World Cup, the Olympics and other events to burnish their image on the world stage.

Four years ago, Putin’s Russia – which like the Emirati state, also has an appalling record on LGBT and human rights – hosted the competition. 

The largely unreformed ‘kafala’ system, which applies to around 90% of the over two million foreign workers from the likes of Nepal, Bangladesh and India, and Africa, who massively outnumber Qatari citizens, amounts to little more than modern slavery.

Similarly, the deaths of migrant workers killed on the job and estimated by civil society groups at over 6,000 cannot simply be wished away by the Qatari spin team, their apologists and the government’s denials.

The competition is too precious and too lucrative for any team to have seriously entertained the idea of boycotting it, though a sizeable minority of fans will not watch the games.

Several teams, including Germany, England, Denmark, the Netherlands and the US, plan to demonstrate their support for LGBT rights. A number of EU leaders have indicated that they will only attend if their country’s team reaches the final. This is little more than token resistance though it will, at least, make a PR point. 

Hopefully, FIFA and other sports authorities will get the message. 

As Pele said, football is a beautiful game. The question is, how ugly can its backdrop get before football fans are put off?

Source : Euractiv