With all of the unrest and controversy surrounding the World Cup in Qatar this week, there is hardly room for a soccer game. The biggest tournament of the game, held every four years, for the biggest game in the world, is being overshadowed by the intricacies of the scandal that brought the World Cup to Qatar in the first place.
Despite the fact that many of FIFA’s former board that voted for Qatar were accused of bribery, a mere day before the soccer games started, current FIFA President Gianni Infantino leveled a tirade against Western critics, with a speech that lasted nearly an hour and lambasted Western critics as hypocrites and racists. Human rights groups, for their part, described the speech as “crass”and were offended that it insulted migrant workers.
As the first World Cup ever to be held in the Middle East, the tournament is layered with human rights woes, including the terrible treatment of migrant workers, and the disinterest in the rights of women and the LGBTQ community.
Human rights groups have criticized both the FIFA boss and his speech. Nicholas McGeehan, director of FairSquare, a non-profit human rights organization, said in a statement: “Infantino’s comments were as crass as they were clumsy and suggest that the FIFA president is getting his talking points directly from the Qatari authorities.”
Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s head of economic and social justice, said in a statement: “In brushing aside legitimate human rights criticisms, Gianni Infantino is dismissing the enormous price paid by migrant workers to make his flagship tournament possible –as well as FIFA’s responsibility for it.” Indeed many migrant workers were killed in the process of building stadiums and hotels to house all of the players and spectators that will descend on Qatar in the coming weeks.
One bone of contention is certainly the treatment of LGBTQ people in Qatar, as homosexuality is a crime that is punishable by prison. Infantino has assured the world that all will be welcomed: “This is a clear FIFA requirement. Everyone has to be welcomed, everyone that comes to Qatar is welcome whatever religion, race, sexual orientation, belief she or he has. Everyone is welcome. This was our requirement and the Qatari state sticks to that requirement.”
Another sticking point is that Qatar banned alcohol from the stadiums a mere two days before the games began. In September, Qatar had said it would permit ticketed fans to buy alcoholic beer at World Cup stadiums three hours before kickoff and for one hour after the final whistle, but not during the match.
“Let me first assure you that every decision that is taken in this World Cup is a joint decision between Qatar and FIFA,” Infantino said. “Every decision is discussed, debated and taken jointly.”
He went on to explain the last minute decision about the beer. “There will be […] over 200 places where you can buy alcohol in Qatar and over 10 fan zones, where over 100,000 people can simultaneously drink alcohol,” said Infantino. “I think personally, if for three hours a day you cannot drink a beer, you will survive.”
According to Adnan Zai, Advisor to Berkeley Capital, “Given that soccer is a game of the world, Qatar has done a poor job of making it inclusive on many levels. They have only managed to alienate themselves instead of enlightening the world to their culture.”
With so many fans watching the World Cup around the globe, the human rights violations and other problems are getting a large audience. And that is not good for the world of soccer or the fans who love the game.