A year ago, a certain spectacularly successful protest campaign captured the sports headlines. Twelve months later, there was another protest about exactly the same thing but it was not loud enough, not sufficiently broad-based and required more courage from more people than could be found.

We, the millions of football fans around the world, missed the opportunity to mount such a protest at the corruption and immorality surrounding the World Cup in Qatar, and that future competitions would be taken out of the hands of business tycoons, oligarchs, royalty and shady go-betweens.

The campaign against the establishment of the so-called European Super League last year resulted in a victory of passion over greed and that is precisely what was needed in December 2010, the minute Qatar was selected to be the venue for the 2022 World Cup. At the time, there were enough reasons to question the choice.

The many problems with Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup

To begin with, the son of the emir of Qatar was the chairman of the bid committee, surely at least a conflict with the need for objectivity. Then it was already acknowledged that the temperature in Qatar in the summer when the Cup matches are played could rise to well over 40 °C and 30 °C in the evening.

Assurances that measures would be taken to deal with the problem were dropped five years later when the World Cup was moved to the winter, meaning all the European leagues, which do not play in the summer, had to re-arrange their schedules. That there was no outcry about this from European football officials amounts to a scandal in its own right.

General view during the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, Al Khor, Qatar, November 20, 2022 (credit: REUTERS/PAWEL KOPCZYNSKI)

Furthermore, there were many allegations, some later accepted as true, that bribes were offered to some countries in return for their support of Qatar’s bid. Doubts that a country of only 400,000 citizens (foreign residents with no citizenship make up the rest of the around 3,000,000 population) would be able to mount such an event, were set aside by further assurances that the country’s extreme wealth would be able to solve every problem. Qatar had no football tradition, having previously hosted only one international friendly match.

Finally and most significantly, the country’s record on human rights, the criminalization of homosexuality, the laws restricting the rights of women to marry or to travel without the permission of a male relative and the exploitation of immigrant workers who carry out all the infrastructure and manual work in the country, were all apparent at the time of the successful bid. In the 12 years that have elapsed since then, the reasons for the original doubts and objections did not only grow, they magnified and their validity was proven with some tragic results.

Millions of dollars were poured into dealing with the climate problem. Eight air-conditioned stadiums were built, surrounding perfect pitches of green grass grown from imported seed and regularly watered with a commodity that is very precious in the Middle East. Concerns about the role money played in mounting the competition have only grown with the evidence of the profits involved. Worst of all is the justification of reservations around holding a prestigious event in a country with such a poor record of human rights.

IN THIS respect, Qatar is by no means the only guilty party. The same could have been said about awarding the World Cup to Russia in 2018 or the Winter Olympics to Beijing, and there are many other examples. The president of FIFA, Gianni Infantino, made the same point in defending Qatar’s case in a press conference. He referred to the hypocrisy of the criticism coming from Europeans, whose own historic record on human rights is far from unblemished.

None of it could justify Qatar’s treatment of the migrants who built those stadiums, nor lessen the suffering of the estimated 6,500 families whose members were killed while working in the country.

One of the main reasons the scheme to set up a Super League of the most famous and rich teams in Europe to play against one another with no relegations and few new admissions was dropped after only four days, was that it totally failed to understand the essence of football. At the center of this essence are the fans. Without them, there is no game. It is the fans who create the soul and the atmosphere as you walk into a stadium.

It follows that fans should be a priority consideration in the planning and execution of football events ahead of profits and prestige for its promoters. Obviously, these motives have their place in modern sport but not to the extent that its origins and continuing engine are the last consideration. In this respect, as well, the 2022 World Cup fell short. Accommodation for the fans was behind schedule, very expensive and in some cases, apparently unsatisfactory.

LGBTQ fans were not welcome, nor was anybody displaying the rainbow colors. Any player wearing a rainbow armband was threatened with a yellow card. Two days before the start of the games, alcohol was banned at the request of the Qatari royal family, contrary to an agreement with FIFA.

If these things had been made clear in advance, in addition to all the other reasons the choice of Qatar for the World Cup was questionable, the case for a mass protest would have been made and those who were in it for the money may have had cause to think again. Qatar and the World Cup make it clear that where there are strong grounds for complaints against any scheme affecting the lives of millions, they should be acted upon not at the eleventh hour but from day one.

The writer made aliyah to Israel in 1993, after 10 years of running the Britain-Israel Public Affairs Committee in London. She was appointed the head of the British Desk at the Jerusalem Foundation, a post she held until she retired to concentrate on writing. She is an author and a journalist, and is married to Yoav Biran, former director-general of the Foreign Ministry and past Israeli ambassador to the Court of St. James.

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