This House would boycott the 2022 World Cup in Qatar
Explore points for and against the proposed consumer and viewer boycott of the 2022 Footbal World Cup in Qatar
Under much controversy and debate, the small Gulf state of Qatar is hosting the 2022 edition of the football World Cup, one of the most watched events in the world. This marks the first time that the edition is hosted in the Middle East, as part of a concerted effort by the global football governing association FIFA to rotate the competition around the world. But the hosting has been marked in controversy. There are credible accusations that members of FIFA's governing body have been bribed surrounding the awarding of the cup to Qatar. Qatar has also come under scrutiny for its human rights record in recent years, with a particular focus on the kafala system under which migrant workers have difficulty accessing labour rights. The World Cup has also been moved from its traditional summer slot to the winter months, owing to the heat of the Middle Eastern desert. Faced with these controversies, many fans are torn between watching the most beloved event in their sport and boycotting the event.
The Qatar World Cup caused significant human rights violations
The British newspaper The Guardian opened in 2021 with the shocking news that 6500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since the World Cup was awarded to them. Many deaths can be linked to the harsh conditions in construction work, including oppressive heat and construction accidents. Qatar is reliant on migrant laborers from countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and The Phillippines, who are brought in under a system of laws called kafala. Under this system, migrant laborers cannot enter Qatar, change their job, resign, or leave the country without permission from a Qatari sponsor. When migrant workers die family members are often unable to receive compensation for the death of their loved one. Critics have condemned the kafala system as a form of 'modern slavery.
Moreover, Qatar has oppressive human rights records in other areas. It does not recognize LBGT rights and has criminalized gay sex. Women have basic rights such as the right to work and vote, but are required by law to wear headdresses and need permission from male guardians to go to school or work. Free speech on these issues is limited by the Qatari government, and LBGT supporters have noted feeling unsafe entering the country to spectate matches. Jewish fans have reported that Qatar reneged on promises to provide kosher food and allow for public Jewish prayer.
Some of these human rights violations have been a direct consequence of awarding the World Cup to Qatar, while other violations meaningful limit the ability of fans to participate in enjoying the football matches.
While Qatar's human rights record is mixed, it is unfair to place the blame solely on the World Cup and to be overly harsh in criticizing its human rights policy.
Migrant workers can opt freely into the kafala system from abroad, and many do so because the wages on offer in Qatar are significantly higher than in their home country, giving them the opportunity to sponsor their families back home. The kafala system has furthermore undergone reforms since 2020, making it easier for migrant workers to switch jobs if they so desire. The Guardian report calls all migrant workers who died since 2011, including migrant workers who died from natural causes. The Qatari World Cup organizing committee has counted only between three and forty deaths from construction on the football stadiums.
While Qatar does not offer the same freedoms to minorities as some countries in the West, it does so following its interpretation of Islamic sharia law. This practice can be considered in light of religious freedoms. The Qatari World Cup organizing committee and FIFA have stressed that LBGT individuals are safe to enter the country and watch matches.
It is immoral to consume content linked to human rights abuses
The human rights abuses and bribery committed by Qatar have presented clear and grave harm to many individuals. Qatar has committed or enabled these abuses in order to raise its international profile and make a profit from tourism and international business networking. Its success, therefore, rests in being able to stage a successful World Cup that fans tune in to watch, as this makes sponsors happy and enables Qatar to show fans the world over its preferred depiction of itself. By watching the World Cup, individuals enable the Qatari government in their aims and legitimize their human rights abuses. Moreover, victims' families feel slighted by the fact that the memories of their dead relatives get papered over for the enjoyment of their fans. As moral actors, individuals should not condone human rights abuses to take place. Importantly, they shouldn't allow the abuser to feel that they successfully reach their aims. A penalty needs to be paid by Qatar. For similar reasons, activists have changed the names of buildings and places that commemorate immoral figures from the past such as Cecile Rhodes and Christopher Columbus.
Human rights abuses have unfortunately already occurred and as an individual, you are powerless to prevent them now. Moreover, certain abuses such as the allegations of bribery have not yet been proven, even though the US and France have been investigating the matter for close to a decade. Migrant workers' deaths will be in vain if the fruits of the labor for which they suffered do not come to pass and the World Cup does not become the spectacle for which they give their lives. Many tourists routinely visit and praise aesthetic and historically important monuments such as the Great Pyramids, even though we know they were built on the backs of slave labor. One can enjoy an event without tacitly supporting the underlying human rights abuses that made the event possible. Similarly, one can purchase smartphones without giving moral support to the oppressive labor conditions in the cobalt mines of the DRC. Individuals here recognize that they have limited capacities to change these practices and that their limited influence over these abuses can be counterweighed by the important enjoyment that their consumption brings. Football is a moment for celebration, for fostering important bonds of national pride in an activity that celebrates multi-racial teams who engage in sportsmanship and athleticism.
As a consumer, your consumption choices will influence the future behaviour of FIFA
When awarding the World Cup, FIFA was reportedly worried about the financial shortfall of hosting the World Cup in a nation with a small population who would not flock to the stadiums, and under controversies that could lead to diminished viewership and associated commercial revenue. This is why it has been alleged that the TV network Al Jazeera paid 700 million USD to cover the expected shortfall. This anecdote illustrates that FIFA is very concerned with its bottom line. It needs that money to pay its staff and to distribute money to national footballing associations, many of them in the Global South. The latter activity helps sustain FIFA's legitimacy and usefulness in the eyes of these FAs, and prevents a rival "FIFA" from becoming a likelihood, as has happened in sports such as wrestling.
As an individual, you are not just a part of eyeballs - when you watch, advertisers want to pay extra money to capture more consumers. Not watching means revenues fall, and makes the World Cup less profitable, decreasing Fifa's bottom line. Moreover, advertisers do not want to be caught up in controversy. The beer manufacturer Budweiser is smarting over their loss of the right to purchase alcohol in stadiums and the negative publicity that followed and is reportedly seeking a 47 mil USD settlement. By not watching, you, therefore, send a clear message to FIFA that this and future events should not be held under such awful conditions. Moreover, you increase pressure for FIFA and the Qatar World Cup to attempt to save face by addressing human rights concerns and putting more money into funds to compensate families of dead migrant workers.
You are only one individual, with very limited power to actually influence anything such large bodies do. Most people will continue watching the World Cup nonetheless, as they are either uninformed or do not care sufficiently to stop watching, as the World Cup holds too much meaning for them. The lucrative sponsorship deals that FIFA is able to obtain through these events, from organizations such as Gazprom and Qatar Airways, which are less concerned about human rights abuses, compensate for any potential losses from TV money. Growth markets from FIFA are in places with spotty human rights records such as China, where it is unlikely such boycotts would be followed up on.
The attention brought to the World Cup is putting a spotlight on the human rights record of Qatar
Qatar is a small gulf state with a negligible population. Most people would not be able to point out Qatar on a map before this World Cup. The attention of the worldwide media has brought an outsized lens to the human rights record of Qatar. The massive media scrutiny has led to many media outlets describing the World Cup as a "PR disaster" for Qatar - allegations of sportswashing have clearly worked and the sportswashing of Qatar has disastrously failed. The attempt to censor the OneLove captain armband has backfired, with more attention brought to Qatar's LBGT records and the need to create more LBGT-inclusive spaces within football itself. In response to the ban, the German national football team staged an iconic protest. The issue isn't just limited to Qatar,. The Iranian national football team has been able to use the global platform of the World Cup to stage an impressive protest against the Iranian government's crackdown on civil and women's rights protests.
Anticipating the challenges to its public image, Qatar has promised to modernize its labor rights system in 2020. The scrutiny, both real and anticipated, therefore has led to liberalization in Qatar.
It is all well and good that more people are aware that Qatar plays fast and loose with individuals' human rights, but 6500 deaths have already occurred and these individuals cannot be brought back alive. Awareness does not necessarily translate into material gains for the people living in Qatar, with Human Rights Watch alleging that the promised labor rights reform actually is not followed through on. While Qatar is receiving bad press, they are also receiving large diplomatic delegations. EU nations are afraid of losing out on LNG transports from Qatar in the midst of an energy crisis following the war in Ukraine. This shows that Qatar successfully leverages its economic power to make a success of the World Cup.
As an individual consumer your power is limited, and you should be allowed to enjoy your sport
It is unlikely that individuals are going to have a decisive influence on the bottom line for Qatar and FIFA, as the World Cup is the most-watched event in the world, with billions tuning in. So while the anticipation of scrutiny has already led to Qatar initiating reforms, a boycott now is too little too late.
Moreover, as an individual, you can have legitimate reasons to want to enjoy watching the World Cup. Football is an important pastime for some that transcend more than just pure enjoyment. National football is an expression of national pride and an important way in which citizens create ties with one another. This often transcends lines of class and race, as can be seen by the multi-ethnic success of Turkish-German footballers providing a model for successful integration. In England, the football player Marcus Rashford has been able to use his platform as a player to bring attention to malnourishment among impoverished school children. Football can also be an important pastime to foster bonds between relatives and friend groups. Moreover, we are inundated with daily moral transgressions: should you eat avocados that exacerbate droughts in California? Should you shop at Amazon, even though they are allegedly exploiting workers in their warehouses? Should you use an iPhone, even though the cobalt is mined in atrocious conditions in the DRC? With so many moral battles to fight, it is understandable that individuals pick and choose the battles most important to them.
Individuals may not have a decisive influence, but they don't just influence themselves - they embolden their peer groups to do the same, and so create organic movements. In countries like Germany viewership for World Cup matches are trending well below previous years' averages, and often fail to beat reruns of crime shows.
Moral demands may be many in today's immoral society, but that does not mean that you can live a meaningful life without having to condone immoral acts. There are other and more inclusive ways to build national identity or form bonds with relative and friends. One can support a local football team or join a local five-a-side group. There are forms of entertainment one can enjoy that did not need to build massive airconditioned gas-guzzling stadiums in the middle of the desert for which up to 6500 people needed to die. During the World Cup elimination rounds of the women's Champions League were broadcasted in Europe as well, for instance.
Moreover, it can be a virtue to strive to live a better life, and that can form an important reward for people.
It is hypocritical to single out Qatar when human rights abuses are flagrant around the world, including in countries that have previously hosted large sporting events
The previous World Cup, held in 2018 in Russia, attracted record viewerships, with FIFA reporting more than half of the world at the time tuned in to at least one of the matches. Yet Russia is a country with an appalling human rights record, that jails opposition politicians, protesters, and journalists; that cracks down on LBGT rights; and that launched an illegal invasion and war in neighboring countries ranging from Georgia to Ukraine. And the World Cup is not alone. The Olympics has been infamously used many time to prop up the image of totalitarian regimes, ranging from the facsist movements of Mussolini and HItler to the communist regime of China. For the Beijing 2008 Olympics thousands of homes were demolished and people were rendered homeless to build the Crow's Nest Stadium.
But it's not only oppressive regimes that commit human rights abuses. Countries like France and The Netherlands have come under scrutiny for their decision to fine people who wear burqas, which some see as flagrant violations of religious freedoms. The United States is under increased scrutiny for its gun violence and police crackdowns, many incidents of which seem primarily aimed at racial and gender minorities. It is also worth pointing out that most stadiums were built with lucrative contracts with Western companies.
In this light, it is hypocritical to single out Qatar, a country in the Middle East that is relatively relaxed in terms of its human rights record compared to neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia. In contrast to Saudi Arabia, Qatari women can freely work and vote, and Qatar is home to Al Jazeera, a media outlet widely perceived as reporting tough and freely on government abuses in the Middle East.
Moreover, what is seen as human rights abuses can also be interpreted as Qatar following the wishes of its majority-Muslim population to enact their preferred form of religious-inspired government. It should be considered religious freedom to implement systems in line with sharia law such as the kafala system. This system also provides opportunities to increase the wealth of migrant laborers, who often make far more money than they would be able to make in their home countries, and who can send remittances back home to allow their families to sustain themselves.
While other events in the past have been carried out for similar sports washing reasons as Qatar, and human rights abuses indeed have taken place, that does not condone Qatar doing the same. Increased media exposure has made it easier to understand now what is happening in Qatar and to formulate one's opposition to these practices. Moreover, in the past people have also been appalled at the hosting of sports events in regimes such as Russia, China, and fascist Germany and Italy - there is no hypocrisy there.
The abuse of human rights cannot be seen as a legitimate expression of religious freedoms. Religious freedoms always need to be weighed against other interests, and cannot be used to condone systems such as kafala which is described as 'modern slavery' by some critics. Moreover, Qatar even limits religious freedoms for some under the name of religious freedom of Islam, for instance by prohibiting public prayer for Jews.
No country has a perfect human rights record, but in more democratic countries there is an open and lively debate surrounding these issues, which is virtually non-existent within Qatar. Moreover, its democratic system can hold leaders to account and creates pressure to prevent future human rights abuses.