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The World Cup Turns into a World of Controversy

By: Megan Pitt

The World Cup is the culmination of countless professional soccer games. It is, according to FIFA, “the most prestigious tournament in the world”. It takes place every four years and is usually a host to great excitement and celebration. Usually. This year, though, it is consumed by controversy–and rightfully so.

The host country of the World Cup in 2022 is Qatar, a small Middle Eastern country with a government that holds a poor reputation in regard to human rights and integrity. Many believe that Qatar illegally acquired this prestigious role by interfering with the integrity of FIFA, “the governing body of soccer” (​​PBS). It has been argued by the U.S. that “officials from Russia and Qatar had bribed voting FIFA members to support their ultimately successful bids”, says PBS. Russia hosted the World Cup in 2018. Both Qatar and Russia have denied such allegations, but FIFA opened an analysis into the decision that “‘flagged almost every asset of the Qatari bid as being dangerous’” (PBS).

Despite the rising lawsuits, however, Qatar was granted the ability to host the World Cup in 2022. However, due to the nation's small size, seven stadiums had to be built to accommodate the tournament’s numerous matches. To build these stadiums and the other necessary infrastructure, Qatar recruited “an estimated 30,000 workers from countries such as India, Bangladesh, Nepal and the Philippines”, as stated by an article by BBC. Between the nation’s bid and February 2021, the Guardian reported 6,500 worker deaths. Qatar responded by claiming “the total…counted many foreign workers who had lived in Qatar for a long time and had not worked on World Cup projects” (BBC). Official documents from Qatar prove 37 World Cup laborers died in Qatar between 2014 and 2021 (BBC).

Some migrants, brought in to help with World Cup construction, discussed the horrid working conditions with major news outlets. Anish Adhikari, from Nepal, talked to PBS NewsHour. According to the article, he said “‘sometimes, the company gave us rotten food. The fish would smell disgusting. It used to give us diarrhea.’” He also described extreme temperatures: “‘It got up to 125 degrees Fahrenheit. We didn’t get the water we needed.’”

Nevertheless, FIFA defended Qatar. According to an article by ABC, “Gianni Infantino, the current FIFA president said that migrant workers gain ‘dignity and pride’ from working on Qatari infrastructure despite migrant deaths.”

The Qatari government is also infamous for restricting the lives of the LGBTQ+ community, with antiquated punishments, among which is the death penalty According to BBC, “homosexual acts are illegal in Qatar because they are considered immoral under Islamic Sharia law. Punishments include fines, prison sentences of up to seven years–and even death by stoning.” Conversion therapy is also a common punishment.

As the World Cup approached, Qatari officials warned against any acts of rebellion against the laws of the nation regarding LGBTQ+ rights. According to BBC, FIFA requested that teams “‘focus on the football’. It said football should not be ‘dragged’ into ideological or political ‘battles’.” Many countries were angered by this request. 10 European teams responded and said “‘human rights are universal and apply everywhere’” (BBC).

Many teams planned on making public statements using clothing and other mediums. For example, according to PBS, “Denmark will make a statement with its jersey, an all-black mourning shirt, in memory of the workers who lost their lives.” England and many other countries originally planned on wearing armbands that said “One Love” in support of the LGBTQ+ community. However, FIFA warned “players wearing a non-FIFA-approved armband would be given a yellow card” (PBS). PBS said the plan was later “scrapped.”

The World Cup, an international phenomenon, should not have been held in a country with a government that lacks basic respect for humans as shown by the inhumane conditions that many in the country have to suffer. As Roger Bennett, the creator of several soccer podcasts, described in an article with PBS, “it’s right for Middle Eastern nations to have the opportunity to host the World Cup, but that Qatar, whose team had never qualified for a World Cup before being included by default as this year’s host, was the wrong choice.”

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