The FIFA World Cup is a stage for nations to display their unique brand of footballing ideology combining guile and craft with power and pace, all brought together in unison through simulated formations and tactics.
This sanguine take on the world’s most viewed sporting event is the idealistic fantasy of an unpolluted mind viewing football as the events that transpire within the stipulated 90-minute time frame alone.
The promise of money, power and influence is found in abundance in football and certain individuals, federations or even countries will always seek to exploit the immense potential the three big vices can provide.
But, diving deeper, and burdened with the cost of knowledge, football also becomes intrinsically coupled with massive real-life struggles of commoners and power wielders that traverse the art of football.
The international furore pertaining to awarding the hosting rights of the world’s biggest sporting spectacle to the middle eastern nation has multiple perspectives to deal with.
The reason world football’s governing body, FIFA, might officially cite for their decision to award their showpiece tournament to the Qataris would be that the first-ever football World Cup in the region will bolster the reach and quality of the football in the Middle East while also aiding the peninsular Arab country to unearth the region’s rather untapped talent pool and market potential.
But, the truth might be far from something as straightforward as a naive person might be led to believe.
And the biggest reason spotted by football experts in Qatar’s attempt to play host, one that can be heard around the world, is the opportunity for Qatar to sports wash its reputation as a strict Middle Eastern nation with ultra-conservative morals by demonstrating their so-called ‘modern’ outlook on that has progressed and improved through the aegis of time.
The wheels to bring the glorious trophy to Qatar were set in motion much before the voting process to decide the World Cup venue took place. By that time the voting opportunity rolled around, Qatari officials had already met with leaders that had to be met with and the palms that needed to be greased were greased, so as to facilitate a smooth process.
But, a lot of things needed to be done to fulfil the gigantic commitment of hosting the biggest showpiece on earth. Especially in a desert region.
Top-quality infrastructure to host football games had to be developed or renovated. The roads to the grounds had to be laid out, and most importantly, the accommodations to house the fans and travellers who flock to the nation. Simply put, Qatar did not just need to construct stadiums but also had to ensure the presence and availability of the auxiliary facilities and amenities that go hand in hand while attempting to organise a multi-country festival, in order to play the role of a gracious host.
And thus Qatar embarked on a mission quest to come up with the most advanced, super stadiums fitted with cutting-edge technology to house the games with the eyes of the world on them. And though agreeable that they have done a splendid job on the infrastructure front, talk is that they have paid for with time, money, oil and much more agonisingly, blood.
The much-discussed ‘Kafala’ system isn’t something new in the Middle Eastern region. It is a practice that has been ongoing for multiple decades and nobody batted an eye about the same despite evident knowledge of the subpar treatment of the migrant workers employed under the system.
Laymen seeking remuneration to satisfy their personal needs in third-world countries, flock to the Middle East with the promise of better earnings and possibly better living standards.
But, the evil of the Kafala system lies in the fact that the employees who land in the desert dominant region have their passports and credentials taken away by their employer till the end of the task at hand and in return are provided with uninhabitable, overcrowded living spaces, intolerable working hours and the worst of all, an absence of a way out of it.
Pot Calling Kettle Black
However, other Middle Eastern nations levelling human rights violations against World Cup host Qatar is a case of, to put it bluntly, pot calling the kettle black.
A couple of years ago, a trade embargo was imposed on Qatar as diplomatic relations between the World Cup hosts and other MENA (Namely, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain) countries broke down. Existing suppliers and vendors had to conduct their businesses with the help of third-party nations, such as Kuwait, who did not pick sides in the feud.
The reason given by Saudi Arabia for the boycott of the world cup host nation was mentioned to be Qatari’s funding of terrorism.
This coincided with the time that the majority MENA countries decided to dig up dirty Qatari laundry by pointing the spotlight, as brightly as they could, at the death of migrant workers employed on stadium building projects. A move aimed at tarnishing the status of the nation in the world’s eye, in the build-up to the most anticipated and very first FIFA World Cup in the Middle East.
In all honesty, variations of the Kafala system did exist in at least one of the four nations that declared the embargo on Qatar.
Does this mean the world has to wait for the said country to host a global event before its neighbouring rival nations start to reveal the dark secrets in the underbelly of the shady Arab region?
Modernity vs Tradition
The Kafala System and the deaths of the migrant workers aren’t the only issues that have troubled the upcoming world cup even before a kick of the ball.
The middle eastern Islamic territories are proudly or notoriously (depending on how you choose to look at it) conservative. Though the resistance to societal change varies from nation to nation, the region’s stringent adherence to Sharia law is well documented and difficult to alter.
The rights of the LGBTQ+ audience flocking to the country during the time of the tournament later this year created a big stir as it challenged the rudimentary belief system followed in the region.
The organisers have voiced that fans travelling to the world cup, irrespective of their nationality, race, origin, preferences and choices will be welcomed with open arms, much to the relief of the football-loving populace.
But, it seemed like mixed signals when the very same organisers mentioned that they wouldn’t be able to bear the flag or the responsibility if fans were to fraternise in ways contradictory to their belief system. As they refused to change the fabric of their society built on moral codes prophesied in the Islamic texts.
Fans travelling to the World Cup were strongly advised to refrain from overt displays of affection in public spaces so as not to hurt the religious sentiments of the indigenous people.
The Sharia law forbids alcohol. And one big concern for the football-crazy crowd who are so used to watching games with a pint of beer or an alcoholic beverage of their choice to hand was that they might not be granted access to some liquid courage.
Bear with the digression as it sheds some light on the magnitude of the scenario, South African cricketing legend Hashim Amla famously refused to sport the branding logo of a company that manufactures alcohol due to his staunch belief in Islamic principles. Word on the street is that he was fined for each game he played donning a shirt sans the logo of the sponsor. The brilliant batsman indeed made up for it with all those ‘Man of the match’ and ‘Man of the series’ awards he managed to rack up during his prime.
Consumption of alcohol in public places is not permitted, however, a little cushion has been offered to the travelling fans, who are reportedly permitted to consume alcohol in fan zones set up in light of the tournament. Other hospitality spaces will also be allowed to serve alcohol to expatriates and it was announced that beer will also be available in the venue. But, It still remains to be seen how this partial implementation would hold up against the age-old traditions and antiquated mindsets.
However, in a recent development, a source with knowledge of the issue mentioned that the sale and consumption of alcohol will only be permitted upon arrival and exit from the stadium, and not during match time or inside the stadium.
Amid multiple calls to shift the world cup outside the country, Qatar has continued to move as planned with the preparations and promises a fresh new experience.