Whether you want to believe me or not, I’ve really made an effort to avoid beating a dead horse when it comes to World Cup 2022 in Qatar. Finding opponents of the decision to award the small Arab emirate with the world’s most popular sporting event has never been difficult, and miles of column space has already been devoted to denouncing it. Calls for the Qataris to be stripped of the tournament have been circulating pretty much since the day they were awarded it. So really, it just would have been overkill for me to allocate even more space to either subject.
And though it seemed for a moment that Qatar could lose the 2022 World Cup as pressure has mounted on FIFA, yesterday’s announcement that UEFA’s 54 member countries have backed a winter World Cup in Qatar seems to have stopped that momentum dead in its tracks. (A quick aside: the headline that “UEFA Support a Winter Qatar World Cup” was extremely misleading. UEFA’s members aren’t exactly endorsing that solution, but rather are uniting against a summer World Cup in Qatar. Very different)
But outside of the Qatari FA and the usual statements of support from Blatter and FIFA, finding supporters of a Qatar 2022 has been about as easy as finding Republican supporters of Obamacare.
That said, the overwhelming opposition to hosting the World Cup in the Qatar’s oppressive summer heat does seem a little statistically skewed. There has to be more supporters out there than we’re hearing from, and I’d wager that many of them have excellent arguments.
But believe it or not, there are actually a number of reasons why hosting the World Cup in Qatar is a good idea. And ironically, many of those reasons are the same ones that people are using to object to hosting it there — depending on how things are implemented.
But before we jump into those, let’s start first with the two most obvious for a Qatar World Cup: there’s never been a World Cup in the Middle East, and there is a massive fanbase in the region. Both of these, of course, have been trumpeted by Sepp Blatter during the lead up to and after the selection of Qatar as 2022 hosts. But just because Sepp believes them, that doesn’t mean they’re not valid reasons.
Along with Oceania and the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East is one of the few remaining geopolitical areas in that FIFA’s crown jewel hasn’t been staged yet. And with Sepp’s reign ushering in the first ever tournaments in Asia and Africa — not to mention ending the long-awaited returns to North and South America — taking it to another under served area is actually a legit reason for doing so.
And from Algeria to Saudi Arabia there are literally tens of millions of football fans. Iraq and Iran have proven adept opponents in the world game in recent years. Egypt is a soccer hot bed and has been for some time. Same deal with Saudi Arabia. Visit Dubai, and you’re likely to see scores of kits from the European superpowers and local clubs alike. Is it fair that these fans should be excluded from attending and hosting a World Cup simply because of their geography? I don’t think so.
Of course, we’ve heard plenty of arguments against Qatar getting the event. The most popular of those are the inhospitable conditions the players and fans would face in Qatar’s 120° summer heat, thus necessitating the much maligned switch it to the winter. There’s also the all-but-admitted view that they won the bid by bribing the FIFA Executive Committee members.
And honestly, I’m just going to ignore those. I really can’t find a silver lining in either one of them, so I won’t waste any keystrokes on such efforts.
However, there are three other highly popular arguments against Qatar 2022: the country’s intolerant stance towards homosexuality, the slave labor that will be used to build Qatar’s infrastructure and stadiums, and the fact that alcohol is more-or-less illegal to purchase and consume in the country. The first two of those are obviously far more reprehensible, but I’m lumping the beer one in there too.
And ironically, it’s those three reasons that could very well be excellent arguments for awarding an event of such magnitude to the tiny Arabian emirate.
By all accounts, Qatar is an extremely conservative country not unlike like many of their Islamic neighbors. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that on its own, either. But as is evident in countries like Iran, that conservative Islamic mindset can also be used by their countries governments to try to halt the encroachment of Western culture and ideals into their own populations. Unfortunately, this places practices such as (completely) free speech, homosexuality and alcohol consumption on the opposite side of the law, despite the growing acceptance those ideals find in the US and other Western countries.
But that’s changing, if ever so slowly. The Arabic Spring is evidence of the changing mindsets. And football has undoubtedly help play a part in that, exposing millions of young Arabs to Western ideals and tolerance. And that is exactly where FIFA’s true power could lie.
Though Qatar may lag behind Western expectations, granting them the privilege of hosting the World Cup in 2022 could have been on a conditional basis.
For example, FIFA could and should have said something along the lines of: Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup, but only if they improve their laws on social tolerance and working conditions.
Make them reverse their homosexuality laws, and hopefully not just temporarily. And by all means, demand the emirate use fair and accepted labor practices. If neither goal can be achieved, as determined by a 100% independent evaluator, then they lose the right to hold the 2022 World Cup.
This wouldn’t be that foreign of a concept: FIFA already mandate that host countries build adequate stadiums. They made the US promise to launch a proper division one league (which gave us MLS). So why not take it a step further and require that host nations meet certain social qualifications before they can host?
FIFA sit in a fairly unique position in this regard: there are few non-political bodies in the world that wield this kind of power. It’s argued — yet not proven — the kind of economic and prestige windfall that follows hosting a World Cup is immense, and many developing countries would likely bend over backwards to gain them.
Of course, this entire theory rides on the assumptions that FIFA value their role as a social arbiter and aren’t corrupt to the bones in the first place. And unfortunately, we all know that isn’t exactly the case. Mandating such standards would likely rule out cashcow super powers such as Russia (corruption and treatment of Ukraine), China (human rights) and probably even the United States (potentially both) from hosting future World Cups, as no country like that would ever bow to the pressure of an organization like FIFA.
Instead, we’re treated to quotes from Blatter like “I’d say they [gay fans] should refrain from any sexual activities” while in Qatar. That’s quite opposite to what I’m proposing, and thus renders my whole theory on why Qatar should be awarded the Cup as little more than a pipe dream. At least at this stage.
But imagine if FIFA did hold themselves to higher standards, and used this as an opportunity to speed Qatar’s social modernization. The World Cup would no longer serve just as a means to entertain us as the world’s greatest sporting spectacle, but also as a vehicle to improve the lives of millions around the globe.