Qatar’s Foul: The World Cup and Human Rights

Written by Luiza Jacovaz

In 1904, the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) was founded by Belgium, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. The goal was to promote friendly relations among National Associations, Confederations, their officials, and players. The growing competition among soccer teams in Europe urged for a governing body that would promote “the organization of football matches at all levels, and [that would] control every type of football association by taking steps as shall be deemed necessary or advisable.” On May 26, 1928, FIFA declared the decision to arrange the first edition of the so-called ‘World Cup’. Two years later, the first official World Cup was played in Uruguay. 

In total, 21 editions of the World Cup have happened so far. And in 2022, Qatar is in the spotlight for being the host country for the 22nd edition. 

Although football is admired by many countries and millions of people, this World Cup is especially in the spotlight for bringing into discussion deeper topics such as Human Rights, LGBTQ+ rights, workers rights, and several other issues. Notwithstanding football, other more important matters are at stake, and international attention should now be paid to them. 

Contextualizing Qatar 

Qatar is a sovereign and independent emirate in the Middle East. Since its independence from Britain in 1971, the country has emerged as one of the world’s most important producers of oil and gas. Now, Qatar stands as the world’s largest exporter of liquified natural gas, and ranks 14th in oil production worldwide. 

In terms of its political system, Qatar is a constitutional monarchy with one advisory body, and Islamic Law is its basis for legislation. An emirate is a territory or a state under the rule of an Emir, who is the head of state of an emirate – they can be a king, prince, commander or governor. Qatar’s Emir is His Highness Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, a figure that “shall be inviolable and must be respected by all”. Additionally, the Emir shall represent the state internally and externally, as well as in all international relations. 

Moreover, the country’s constitution entrenches the hereditary position of the Emir. Qatar’s known political stability is a consequence of the homogeneity of the ruling family – which comes from the established hereditary position – combined with the country’s wealth.

Qatar is also known as an ‘oil monarchy’, which implies “absolute personal rule based on the distribution of oil wealth”. Thus, the lack of effective constitutional control over the Emir and His political decisions allows for the fortification of the power base mainly by buying political rivals with the aid of substantial oil revenues. 

Finally, it is important to mention Islamic Law. Islamic Law, or Sharia Law, is the chief source of legislation in Qatar, which differs from Western legal systems due to its religious tenets. It implies that all laws are an expression of Allah’s commands for Muslims, and thus its divine will must be respected. Therefore, Qatar is not a secular monarchy, and religion still plays a central role in politics, economy and society.

‘Football is leaving behind its LGBT fans’ 

The Penal Code of 2004 prohibits same-sexual activity, and both women and men are held accountable under this law. The maximum penalty is seven years of imprisonment, but Sharia Law also allows for the death penalty to be imposed in some situations. Although concrete cases have not seen the imposition of this law in recent years, discrimination and violence are still greatly present, but under-reported due to state repression. For instance, Qatar’s 2014 cybercrimes law criminalizes anyone who is responsible for spreading fake news, which is interpreted by the government as any online content that “violates social values or principles”. One example of such violation is LGBTQ+ communities who open up about their identities in social media platforms, and as a consequence, they can be held in prison for a maximum of three years and/or pay a fine of 137.325 dollars. Therefore, even though the death penalty has not been recently pressed, discrimination is the underlying principle through which LGBT people are subjected to.

In October of 2022, Qatar proposed to introduce tests to prevent LGBT individuals from entering the country, and later on, Human Rights Watch reported that security forces have been arresting LGBT people and subjecting them to ill-treatment in detention. 

When FIFA announced the decision to host the World Cup in Qatar, it was greatly criticized around the world, but FIFA briefly replied with the following: “focus on the football, not on politics”. As a response, John Paul Kesseler – from Birmingham Blaze, an LGBT football club – stated that “Football does not exist in a vacuum”. This brings us to the question at hand: should deeper issues such as people’s identities and their sexual orientation be ignored for the sake of football? One fan said “Football is leaving behind its LGBT fans”. To what extent should this be ignored by other fans and citizens around the world? 

In order to protest against Qatar’s treatment of LGBT communities, Belgium’s Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib and Germany’s Interior Minister Nancy Faeser were spotted wearing the One Love armbands to support their respective countries playing. One Love is a campaign that aims to unify all people and condemn all types of discrimination. Although this is a subtle way to react to Qatar’s discriminatory laws, this is an initial response by the international community that should be recognized and supported by other national leaders in order to strengthen and give visibility to the movement.

Migrant Workers

To host the World Cup, Qatar has estimated a cost of 220 billion dollars to improve infrastructure – this includes eight stadiums, an airport expansion, a new metro, multiple hotels, and much more. 

According to Human Rights Watch, despite repeated warnings from workers themselves and civil society, “FIFA failed to impose strong conditions to protect workers and became a complacent enabler to the widespread abuse that workers suffered, including illegal recruitment fees, wage theft, injuries, and deaths.” 

A total of 1.7 million workers in Qatar are migrants, which represents 90% of the workforce in the country. 3.200 workers out of this number are currently working on Khalifa Stadium everyday, and are reportedly being abused and exploited. It was also revealed that more than 6.500 workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died since Qatar was chosen to host the World Cup. This leads to what most people are calling the World Cup of Shame. 

The World Cup is known for uniting nations through a common sport, but the world seems to be forgetting how stratified the fight for Human Rights currently is.

Edited by Uilson Jones, artwork by Teresa Valle