Credit: Md Mahdi via Unsplash

The 2022 Qatar World Cup: a competition veiled in corruption and cynicism

By Gabriel Wheway

Less than 12 months before kick-off, the world looks on, stagnant and bewildered.

While no one expected anything different from the ghouls at FIFA, it continues to remain an enduring discomfiture, that over a decade after their decision to grant the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, amongst widespread global indifference, the tournament remains on course to take place in the clinical new build stadiums of the Arab state. Sepp Blatter, in 2010, warily revealed the name of the country anointed to host the 2022 World Cup. Little did the football world know, through a smug grin of manipulation, Blatter had just conceived one of the most deceptive and corrupt decisions in the history of the ‘beautiful’ game.  

Events in the Middle East are bound to top global headlines again in 2022, yet these will certainly be veiled in negativity. Some may see the Qatar World Cup as a cause for optimism with the potential for a major spur for the Gulf region in terms of future business, tourism and hopefully a more open and progressive form of governance. Yet, Qatar hosting the world’s most prestigious football tournament is overshadowed by countless allegations of corruption, along with an abhorrently  scrutinised human rights record. The Guardian revealed that more than 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died during the building process, in preparation for the tournament. These numbers do not consider workers from the home nation Qatar, or the significant number of Kenyans and Filipinos whose contribution to work has seen a significant increase in the death toll since 2010. 

“Qatar hosting the world’s most prestigious football tournament is overshadowed by countless allegations of corruption…”

The unprecedented building program that Qatar embarked on, over 10 years ago, has seen astounding amounts of development throughout the country, including seven new football stadiums, a new airport, modernised public transport systems, and essentially a  new city – manifesting a sterile and spurious façade that is solely built to host the World Cup final. Concerns will additionally persist regarding Qatar’s parochial attitude to free speech and the authoritarian and aggressively restrictive stance on women’s and LGBTQ+ rights, in a nation that considers homosexuality illegal, and where it remains dangerous to openly criticise the government. But there are suggestions that most fans visiting Qatar will overlook these issues, introducing the most blatant example of “sports-washing” to date. 

For the UNICEF goodwill ambassador David Beckham, this conforms perfectly with his desired image. Speaking of images, he recently posed on his Instagram with high-achieving young women such as Malala Yousafzai and Emma Raducanu, captioning the post “these girls make me excited about the future ahead”, to mark the Day of the Girl. He also poses next to his daughter, Harper, claiming that these young women have caused her to become an “inspiration’’ due “to their determination”. Now encapsulating these supportive images of women’s rights and its progression, Beckham has embarked on a campaign for Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup, a country where Harper would need a male guardian’s permission to study or work, where Victoria would technically be subordinate to her own son Brooklyn. A study by Human Rights Watch entitled “Everything I Have to Do is Tied to a Man”, investigates women and Qatar’s male guardianship rules, impressively arguing that any advocate of Qatar’s authoritarian governance is not only violating Qatar’s own institution, but more that women are openly discriminated against and treated like children, simply left without any assistance of independent women’s rights organisations, with little hope of either changing the country’s attitude to such prevalent issues or even leaving it in its own right. Now David, why would you support a country where migrant workers have died in their thousands, but moreover a country where your children and your wife would not have a voice in their own right? With his reputation arguably in jeopardy, UNICEF maintaining his representation also raises some issues. Their image revolves around “a world in which all children have the opportunity to reach their full potential”, Qatar would only allow for half of those children to reach this potential it seems.  

“Now David, why would you support a country where migrant workers have died in their thousands, but moreover a country where your children and your wife would not have a voice in their own right?”

Beckham’s endorsement of this competition is by extension an implicit endorsement of Qatar’s actions and a critical eye-opener on what public figures will do (or endorse) for money and favourable connections.  

While the Qatar World Cup is still scheduled to go ahead at the end of 2022, there is still ample time for activist action and objection to take place. Philip Lahm has pointed to footballers and professional sports officials to act. With such a prestigious platform, sports professionals still have the means to deeply impact politics and influence decisions such as this one. Chelsea and Ivory Coast Legend Didier Drogba, showed how possible this was for elite athletes,  after playing a pivotal role in his nation’s ceasefire during a civil war in 2006.   

Objection is one thing, but actively becoming the catalyst of change is another. They can no longer plead innocence. While we have an obligation to follow our moral compass and the very best intention to confront  the obviously repugnant discrimination within the host nation, it appears that football fans and players worldwide dither when there is potential to derail the journey to the World Cup and ultimately a team being victorious. Priorities need to be clearly defined, otherwise this winter recess to create the most corrupt competition in history will maintain its status and undeniably prevail. 


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