FIFA World Cup 2022: A Befitting Response to Unfair Criticisms

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Ever since Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup, there has been criticism surrounding its capacity and deservedness to hold the event. Since Qatar was given the privilege to host this year’s international football event as the first Arab, a Muslim country, the worldwide debate has been high, with some even attempting to have the 2022 FIFA World Cup moved elsewhere. Ahead of this year’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar, many in the West have taken the moral high ground once more, condemning the Middle Eastern country for its labor rights standards, stance on LBGTQ problems, and calling for boycotts. The trend in Western criticism of international athletic events is a highly contradictory attempt to maintain the moral high ground and the West-vs-Rest power gradient. These concerns were raised as part of the neo-orientalist explanation for why the small Gulf state is not “culturally, intellectually, or legally” prepared to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022. However, the paradox is more about pushing and enforcing Western ideals and values on other cultures than it is about truly fostering intercultural understanding.

Against the above backdrop, the question remains, is this issue actually about migrant workers and human rights, or is it because European nations and Western commentators, who see themselves as the traditional gatekeepers of global soccer, can’t bear the thought of an Arab Middle Eastern country hosting such a venerable event? International sport, like any other international arena, is a geopolitical opportunity, and the West’s behavior toward non-Western countries in the sports world is another illustration of global unfairness and how Western privilege operates.

Why Are the Criticisms?

Sports used to be a platform that bridged political divides and brought people together, but with increased political tensions, that notion appears to be fading. During the cold war, playing games indicates friendliness, whereas boycotting was a diplomatic gesture. In the cold war aftermath, the use of sports for diplomacy still sustains at the global level by discrete political regimes and elites. In the name of moral values and human rights, banning, boycotting, and imposing sanctions become a regular practice by the West to pursue their geopolitical gains. The Qatar World cup 2022 is not an exception.

Firstly, Western narratives are problematic and riddled with the contradiction of power politics in relation to sport-cum-social transformation in human rights, as shown in the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. Such colonial-cultural connections based around the Western model of political thought lead to questioning global sporting events like FIFA World Cup. This claim completely ignores the fact that other countries where the tournament has previously been held have seen a steady rise in Islamophobia, white supremacist politics, racist and racially motivated crimes. The 1978 World Cup arrived in South America at a time when thousands of people were being murdered by a cruel military government. FIFA made the decision to assign them hosting responsibilities in July 1966, one week after a coup headed by General Juan Carlos Ongania overthrew Arturo Illia’s democratic leadership. In the summer of 1934, fascist Italy hosted the second FIFA World Cup.

Secondly, the Western world raised concerns regarding the capacity of Qatar to arrange such a mammoth multicultural global event. Although Qatar is not well-known for its sporting prowess, it has attracted the world of sports to its doorstep. Qatar has gone to remarkable lengths to host the World Cup, reportedly spending more than $100 billion on infrastructure. Winter daytime temperatures may frequently approach 30° C, thus all eight stadiums will be air-conditioned to at least 24° C. The Doha Metro train has been built to transport spectators around venues, and it is supported by a modern bus transportation system. Eleven premium hotels debuted right before the World Cup. Apart from it, Qatar has even lessened its norms and regulations to align with FIFA’s code of conduct.

Thirdly, the media and political attention on migrant worker treatment has been pursued through a Eurocentric prism, with the West asserting moral superiority. It is undeniable that the region’s migrant worker situation requires reform, but the western media narrative focused on human rights not only promotes a discourse that the regional mistreatment of migrant workers is unique, but also fails to situate it within the global issue of labor exploitation, abuse, and worker’s rights in the context of the modern nation-state system’s border and immigration policies.

Fourthly, the west heralds ensure equality and level playing fields for all the players but their treatment of non-European players portrays an opposite picture. Neymar, the forward for Paris St-Germain, has claimed that he was the subject of a racial epithet during the French champions’ match. Mesut Ozil, a Turkish descendent German footballer had declared his retirement from international football, citing “racist” and “disrespectful” behavior following his meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Germany’s early World Cup departure.

Damaging Impacts: In his address, Infantino, therefore, dismissed the worries as contradictory given Europe’s past, emphasizing that discussions should focus on sports rather than human rights issues.  If Europe really cares about the destiny of these people, they can create legal channels like Qatar did where a number of these workers can come to Europe to work. Give them some future, some hope. The western dichotomy of attitude is imposing pressure on developing countries especially those that were former colonies of the west. People are also being deprived of enjoying the pure form of entertainment owing to the politicization of sports which is detrimental to sport itself. A certain kind of diluted narrative has been brainchild by the westwhich reflects their racial supremacy xenophobia, and Islamophobia. Hence, the alienation of certain countries and their people based on political and diplomatic considerations is against the spirit of international sports that needs to be broken off.

– Saume Saptaparna Nath is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA). Previously, she worked as an Intern at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bangladesh.

Published in Daily Observer [Link]