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Human Rights and the Qatar World Cup

By Willian Garcia

Analysing FIFA’s latest world cup tournament in Qatar, has brought to the world’s attention how degrading an individual’s rights can be, main issues being the exploitation of migrant workers, the anti-LGBT rights, and the mistreatment of women in a sexist society. A country that wishes to be seen as, “open to all”, does not act like Qatar, researching it is found to be a very fraudulent system. The ‘Kafala System’ although no longer legal, it still is part of the culture, Sharia Law certainly must be respected, even when it involves killing one for their sexual choice. Such actions make us all wonder why host the biggest sport event of the world in Qatar? Most certainly every nation should have the right to host the event, but surely with an open mind and spirit to all sorts of individuals.

To what extent can cultural acceptance go without violating rights to which so many individuals have fought for in the last decades? The Qatar World Cup 2022 was a phenomenal event with great football and praise, but having a controversial human rights decline, for those visiting and watching around the world the games in the middle eastern country.

The small nation of Qatar was awarded the rights by FIFA to host the world cup of 2022 (Giulianotti R.)[1], making a tremendous impact for the world of football, given that it is the first Islamic country to host a world cup. The middle eastern state although geographically small, has an abundant wealth from their natural gas and oil reserves, making it possible to build the infrastructure for a world sport event. Although may seem like a new chapter of cultural diversity in football, not all is right when it comes to human rights issues in Qatar.

Once in foreign soils the respect for the culture must always prevail, otherwise hypocrisy stands when visitors come to us respecting our cultural heritage and societal norms. To what extent though we can differ social and cultural differences to abuse of power over an individual’s right to life? During the Qatar World Cup, it can be addressed three main, critical, human rights points, even though they were always there but just now the media has put it on their spotlight of “emerging news” (BBC 2022)[2]. The exploitation of migrant labour, the anti-LGBT law and punishments, and the dejected rights of women, these possibly being the main issues to be discussed (Giulianotti R.)[3]

For the construction of Qatar’s ingenious and marvelled stadium structures and the developing of the city’s infrastructure to host the world’s biggest football tournament, the country required a substantial number of workers, and what better way than migrant labour, specifically 173,000 that are under the Kafala system, (Amnesty International 2022)[4]. Qatar just like Lebanon, Jordan, and most of the other Arab Gulf states, has a migration, or sponsorship system called Kafala, which regulates the relationship between migrant workers and their employers. The system supposedly brings cheap labour into the country, developing the territory in a fast-paced manner with very little cost to local businesses, (Tatchell P. 2022)[5]

Qatari investors and employers “sponsored” many migrants from countries like India, Pakistan, and other middle eastern states, people that are looking for opportunities abroad, trying to make some sort of valuable income to bring back to their homelands, but at the end of the day being treated with very little respect, working longer than expected, being paid less than what they are owed, and at times some are even sent back to their home countries without any notice of such, (Renkiewicz P. 2023)[6]. Although Qatar has passed new legislations back in 2020 discontinuing the ‘Kafala system’, the culture is not very accepting of that, as the system secretly still lives in the nation, violating the UN’s (United Nations) Trafficking protocols. To some extent it can be said that whilst all cheer and celebrate football victories, we also turn a blind eye to violation of basic human rights over migration, so that the slightest feeling of guilt does not corrupt our endorphin and serotonin levels of such celebratory moments, (Trade Union Congress 2023)[7]

Celebrating one’s country victory on football should in fact be for all, no matter religion, race, nor sexual orientation, unfortunately when it comes to the freedom of your sexuality Qatar is not the most accepting on the matter. Being an Islamic country, Qatar, interprets the Sharia Law as its main source of legislation, up to that point all is well, as we must when visiting one’s nation respect their culture and beliefs, as they respect ours when coming to this country. The main issue being that Qatar’s legislation condemns same sex intercourse, according to the Penal Code 2004 such sex intimacy can have up to a 7-year imprisonment, (Human Dignity Trust 2022)[8]

Deeper into their legislation, Qatar operates in Sharia Courts and such a court, a male who has committed the “crime” of the sexual act can be sent to death, in some cases by stoning as it is considered an act of sodomy. Qatar being an Islamic country has very profound religious beliefs which tend to impact on making laws such as, being an offence to drink alcohol in public, protests requiring permission from the Ministry of Interior, and homosexual behaviour being illegal, (GOV.UK 2023)[9]. It should be understood that there are cultural differences between our nation and others, that the respect to one another must prevail, but how can one accept the suffering of another? The lack of freedom to live as you desire? The act of love? Hosting the biggest sport event in the world, should also mean everyone is accepted and can express, with respect, their choices, (Human Dignity Trust 2022)[10]

Although Qatar is seen as a prosperous and modernised nation, Qatari women cannot say the same, as they are legally bound to a male guardian, ‘wali al-amr’, this being the father, brother, husband, or at times even a government official. The guardian has absolute control over the life of the woman to which he is “protecting”, being responsible to give permission towards where they study, who they marry, and if they are allowed to travel. Once married the women can be deemed as “disobedient”, in many cases even refusing to have sex with their husbands can be classified as an act of disobedience, such can and should be considered the lack of freedom, of basic rights over their bodies, (Kipling E. 2022)[11]

The more equal gender system that we experience and live in most western societies, is not what Qatari women undergo even in their workplace, the employability of women is only 37%. The lack of liberty that women experience, the inequality of rights, and the fear that these citizens go through from their guardians, should have been something FIFA analysed before. Indeed, it is wonderful that Qatar has had the opportunity to host a world cup, but it is clear to all, even the hypocrites, that money and power come before anyone’s basic rights and freedom, (Kipling E. 2022)[12]

The Qatar Olympic Committee stated in 2015 the following desire, “to be active around the world as an outward looking state”, the only problem with that statement is they have not accomplished it. Hosting a world cup is not the solution to a modern minded culture, quite the opposite, you must already be one, and accept the diversity that comes to hosting such event. In fact, embracing the Gulf culture is needed when visiting, as it is a matter of respect, but how did a member of the LGBT+ community, or an independent woman feel when cheering to their countries at the world cup? Was it a feeling of supreme joy, or the feeling to always be careful with their actions, not just to respect their culture, but also not to violate their law? (Henderson J. 2016)[13]

At last, we return to the first question of this article, the extent to which cultural acceptance can go without violating basic human rights. As individuals from other cultures, we must accept Qatari customs and laws, we might not agree to them, but respect is necessary, especially when visiting the country. The issue is witnessing the mistreatment of workers, the anti-rights for people for loving the same sex, and the deprived lives of so many women, we cannot just turn a blind eye to all of that. It is not correct to celebrate such victories whilst all of that undergoes beneath us. We must ask ourselves, if when contributing to this sort of event are we not contributing to the lack of freedom to these individuals? In a near future it should be analysed and debated if such event should take place with those conditions.

[1] Richard Giulianotti, Leveraging Mega-Event Legacies (first published 2017, Routledge 1st Edition) [2] BBC, World Cup 2022: Why is the World Cup in Qatar so controversial? (2022) [3] Richard Giulianotti, Leveraging Mega-Event Legacies (first published 2017, Routledge 1st Edition) [4] Amnesty International, Reality Check: Migrant Workers Rights with Two Years to Qatar 2022 World Cup 2022 [5] Peter Tatchell, ‘Qatar’ (Peter Tatchell Foundation) Accessed 29th December 2022 [6] Paula Renkiewicz, ‘Sweat makes the green grass grow’ (Hein Online) Accessed 3rd January 2023 [7] Trade Union Congress, ‘Migrant worker abuse in Qatar’(TUC) Accessed 3rd January 2023 [8] Human Dignity Trust, ‘Qatar’ Accessed 4th January 2023 [9] GOV.UK Qatar – Foreign travel advice – 2023 Accessed 4th May 2023 [10] Human Dignity Trust, ‘Qatar’ Accessed 4th January 2023 [11] Ella Kipling, ‘The Qatar World Cup: male guardianship laws send clear message to female football fans’ Accessed 5th January 2023 [12] Ella Kipling, ‘The Qatar World Cup: male guardianship laws send clear message to female football fans’ Accessed 5th January 2023 [13] Joan Henderson, ‘Hosting the 2022 FIFA world cup: opportunities and challenges for Qatar’(First published Feb 2016) Journal of Sport and Tourism 281-298


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