Why The Qatar World Cup 2022 Is Attracting Backlash Already

An ambassador for the event dubbed homosexuality "damage in the mind."
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Qatar is hosting this year’s highly anticipated World Cup — but, more than a week before it officially kicks off, it’s already attracted a lot of controversy.

FIFA members voted for the country in the Middle East to host this year’s tournament back in 2010, but in the last few weeks, there’s been a flurry of headlines around calls for people to boycott the occasion, which is held once every four years.

The World Cup will begin Nov. 20. Here’s what you need to know ahead of the matches’ start.

Why is Qatar such a divisive host?

LBGTQ+ rights

Homosexuality is illegal in the country, and could lead to punishments of up to seven years behind bars.

Qatar criminalizes all LGBT people and any sexual activity between members of the same sex.

The country uses an interpretation of Sharia law (a legal system stemming from Islam’s holy book the Quran) as a source for this criminalization.

It also suggests sexual activity between men could result in the death penalty.

While Human Dignity Trust reports that it’s rare for these punishments to be enforced in recent years, there are still incidents of discrimination and violence against LGBTQ+ people.

And, as the charity points out, the number of reported incidents may be lower because LGBTQ+ people cannot be open about themselves.

While this is the headline cause for concern, especially as foreign fans may face a risk to their safety if they push for gay rights, that’s not the only ethical problem with the country’s government.

Migrant workers’ rights

Migrant workers make up 95% of the country’s total workforce, according to the Human Rights Watch website, but many are subject to wage abuses.

The worker’s legal status is linked to a specific employer, too. This means leaving an employer without their permission is considered a crime, and many of their employee rights, including the right to strike, are banned.

TIME magazine also reported last week that thousands of migrant workers died during the construction work for the World Cup’s stadiums, due to the extreme heat.

Construction workers continue working on the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar.
Construction workers continue working on the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar.
Adam Davy - PA Images via Getty Images

Women’s rights

Women must receive permission from their male guardians to marry, study or travel abroad, work for the government and receive some reproductive health care. There are bans against Qatari women at some events, and bars which serve alcohol. She can even lose her husband’s financial backing if she refuses to have sex with him, without a “legitimate” reason.

Extra-marital sex is criminalized as well, but women often bear the punishment especially if they become pregnant.

This is punishable via flogging and up to seven years in jail. Rape victims can be prosecuted too if the suspect claims it was consensual.

Voting rights

Qatar has removed the right to vote for thousands of its citizens because of their nationality via lineage.

Only those who are originally Qatari or can prove their grandfathers were born in the country can vote in districts.

No other naturalized citizens can vote, run for office or be appointed to legislative bodies.

What does FIFA say?

The organization has released a letter telling soccer players not to be “dragged” into political or ideological battles. It urged players to “focus on football.”

President of the organization, Gianni Infantino, wrote to all 32 competing countries in an unusual plea, trying to calm the tensions around the tournament.

He said there are “many challenges and difficulties of a political nature all around the world,” and that football cannot be expected to solve all of them.

He has argued that the presence of the World Cup will help change cultural views in Qatar.

Who will be attending from the U.K.?

James Cleverly, foreign secretary, drew backlash after urging U.K. fans to be respectful of Qatari culture, despite the human rights concerns.

He said: “It is important when you are a visitor to a country that you respect the culture of your host nation.”

He has also said he intends to attend the tournament.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has “no plans” to attend, according to Downing Street, but members of Parliament will not be banned from attending.

However, his spokesperson added: “We confirm travel nearer the time.”

Wales’s first minister Mark Drakeford will go in group stages with two cabinet members.

England and Wales team members will also wear “One Love” armbands at the event while Denmark will wear reduced colors in solidarity with migrant workers.

The Prince of Wales, Prince William, will not be attending despite being the president of the Football Association. Kensington Palace claim this is because he has a busy winter schedule and will be in the U.S. when the tournament is on.

Who opposes Qatar’s hosting?

Ten European football countries have called on FIFA to promise to deliver on workers’ rights in the country and a compensation fund for migrant workers and their families.

Most Brits, according to a survey conducted by Public First for More in Common, between November 1 and 3, asked 2,030 adults if opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer was correct in boycotting it.

More than two-thirds (69%) said Starmer was doing the right thing, while 12% disagreed.

As Starmer told LBC radio in October: “I’ld love to but the human rights record is such I wouldn’t go. That would be the position of the Labour Party.”

Luke Try, UK director of More in Common, said: “The British public clearly thinks that Qatar’s position on LGBT rights was a reason not to award the World Cup to that country.”

Some countries in Europe will not show tournament games in public spaces or public TVs in protest, such as France.

Strasbourg mayor Jeanne Barseghian also claimed that, as the city is the home of the European Court of Human Rights, it could “not turn a blind eye to human rights being flouted at the event.”

Who has been criticized for supporting it?

Former Manchester United player Gary Neville was left denying he was a “hypocrite” after clashing with Private Eye editor Ian Hislop on the TV quiz show “Have I Got News For You.” It came after the commentator signed a deal to commentate for the Qatari state-run broadcaster.

Former footballer David Beckham also accepted a £10 million ($11.5 million) deal to be an ambassador for the country, while campaigners are asking pop star Robbie Williams, who was going to perform at Doha, to pull out.

The government’s former equality adviser Jayne Ozanne said that Cleverly’s comments about LGBTQ+ fan having to “respect” Qatar, left her speechless.

She told LBC: “FIFA should not, I believe, and should not in the future, be sports-washing countries which are known to have such bad human rights records.”

How has Qatar responded?

The country’s minister of foreign affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani dubbed critics “arrogant” and claimed they were spreading “misinformation.”

He said everyone was free to attend the World Cup but called for visitors to “respect our laws.”

“The law actually doesn’t allow a public display of affection, whether it’s a man or a man and a man or a man and a woman. That’s our law.”

Asked what would happen if two men held hands in the street, the minister said: “Holding hands is not a public display of affection as far as I know.”

But, former Qatar international footballer, Khalid Salman, has drawn intense backlash after telling German broadcaster ZDF that homosexuality is “damage in the mind.”

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