Unique and controversial in many ways, the 2022 FIFA World Cup is being hosted amid a cascade of Western criticism from one of the smallest countries in the world, Qatar.
Despite not having a great local football tradition, Qatar won the bid in 2010 and is now hosting the biggest event in the world. Qatar has reportedly spent $200 billion or even more on the tournament. Aware that hosting the event will not pay off, the Doha government is nonetheless pleased that the small country can improve its image in the world and help foreigners find it on the map. However, Western media have scrutinized and criticized Qatar for its culture, political system, working conditions, etc. While there are some valid criticisms, most appear to be biased and made up. We know that Qatar’s regional opponents have encouraged the publication of anti-Qatar articles in foreign media to discredit Doha’s performance, although it is also true that there is already deliberate anti-Qatar propaganda in Western media as well.
The media in Qatar have drawn particular attention to the working conditions of expats in stadium construction and the kafala system, which requires employers to sponsor their employees. In this system, in return for the support, the employer enters into contracts with employees that stipulate that they cannot leave their job before the contract date, which is usually set at five years. The kafala system has been almost completely abandoned in Qatar, but it is still used as a means of insulting the country.
Reporting by foreign media
It can be argued that foreign media coverage of Qatar hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup is hypocritical. For example, when Russia was awarded the contract to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup and hosted the event, labor abuse, human rights abuses and other shortcomings were not properly investigated. When China also hosted the Olympic Games in 2008, such criticisms were not of much interest. Regarding LGBT rights, again compared to Russia when Russia hosted the 2018 World Cup, the Russian government’s anti-LGBT stance was rarely discussed in the media. However, it seems Qatar’s similar stance will not be ignored. When asked whether gay couples are allowed to hold hands in public, Nasser al-Khater, head of the World Cup project in Qatar, said “yes”. Furthermore, Qatari officials stated that they will allow fans to drink alcohol. Therefore, the Qatari government seems to have decided to lift some restrictions on fans during the tournament to avoid criticism.
Despite changes in Qatar’s stance, the Western media have maintained their double standards towards the host nation. For example, the BBC ignored the World Cup opening ceremony to criticize Qatar by not broadcasting it. However, the British channel broadcast the opening ceremonies for the Russian World Cup and the Beijing Olympics, despite their human rights record. In addition, the British football team in Qatar has been protesting for labor rights, but it has been revealed that the British Football Association’s jerseys, which cost £115 (US$139), were made by Thai workers who worked for £1 an hour. While the British criticized Qatar for the working conditions, they ignored the conditions of the workers who made their shirts.
Based on the massive anti-Qatar coverage, the claim that western media have an orientalist view against Qatar, which hosts the biggest football organization, is not wrong. Qatar is both a Muslim and Arab country, not to mention it’s in the south. The opposition to Qatar is not criticism for the sake of human rights, but appears to be an opportunity to insult Arab and Muslim cultures. Alcohol and LGBT activities are actually banned in Qatar (and many other Muslim countries) because Islam (and other religions) forbid it.
Qatar partially allowed alcoholic beverages and vowed not to invade gay couples’ privacy, but media and rights groups continue to crack down on the Qatari government. While Qatar has taken a step back, the “other side” wants more and ignores Qatar’s religious and cultural values. Similar restrictions were applied by France, Russia and China, none of whom are Muslims, but there was no media reaction at the time. However, when the Qatari government applied the same rules, it was severely criticized.
Some groups have an agenda other than enjoying the month-long football tournament. In addition to ending the tournament peacefully, Qatar must contend with demonic campaigns. Let’s see if the small country can muster the trophy for repelling anti-Qatar attacks.
* Holder of a Ph.D. in International Relations