How Qatar won the World Cup – POLITICO

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It doesn’t matter if Brazil, Argentina or someone else lifts the trophy next month, Qatar has already won the World Cup.

Despite more than a decade of critical coverage – which first focused on bribery and corruption embedded in the bidding process, then highlighted Qatar’s regressive laws on labor and human rights – the Gulf petro-monarchy has become stronger than ever after an unrivaled nation -building project.

The World Cup, which begins on Sunday, has helped accelerate Qatar’s development, boosting the construction of top-notch stadiums, gleaming shopping malls, five-star hotels and a world-class airport – and enabled it to exercise both geopolitical and sporting influence.

And, regardless of the human rights reaction, the tournament brings together some of the West’s most senior politicians.

Emmanuel Macron joined the chorus of politicians on Thursday asking people to be lenient with Qatar, saying “sport should not be politicized”. The French president was echoing a much-criticized letter from FIFA earlier this month, in which President Gianni Infantino told World Cup teams to stick to football and avoid giving moral lessons .

Far from being a diplomatic repellent, the controversial World Cup will instead host many top Western officials. As POLITICO first reported, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will attend the USA v Wales game on Monday. Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib will be there to support the Red Devils. His British counterpart James Cleverly is also going to Doha.

Qatar has long come under fire for its brutal use of migrant workers; his attitude towards LGBTQ+ rights; and potential state surveillance of fans. Externally, it has been hammered by a years-long blockade by its Gulf neighbors, led by Saudi Arabia and implicitly endorsed by then-US President Donald Trump.

But Qatar has seen both critics and foes thanks to its diplomatic dexterity, the leverage created by its vast hydrocarbon resources – and its willingness to spend the money.

“Qatar decided that they were going to learn to drive in the fast lane of a highway,” Simon Chadwick, professor of sport and geopolitical economics at Skema Business School in Paris, said of the Cup bid. of the world. “But Qatar had the money to be able to learn to drive.”


Some of the criticism – which continues unabated on the eve of the tournament – ​​hit home. And, in at least one case, sparked change.

The kafala system, a sponsorship-based employment mechanism first introduced by the British in Bahrain in the 1930s, was abolished by law in Qatar in 2020. In theory, this allows workers in Qatar to switch jobs. employment without having to obtain authorization from their employer. At the same time, Doha also legislated an increase in the minimum wage to 1,000 rials per month, or around €264.

The watchdogs, however, point out that Qatar’s ‘toxic’ labor problems – which have resulted in the abuse and death of dozens of South Asian migrant workers – did not end with the abolition of kafala.

Men making traditional fences before the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 | Francois Nel/Getty Images

“I think there’s a big compelling argument to say that the system facilitates slavery or forced labor,” said Nicholas McGeehan, founding director of FairSquare Research and Projects, whose work has largely focused on human rights in the Gulf.

“There are other things that help control workers,” McGeehan added. “You have heavy debts, the systematic confiscation of passports, the absence of trade unions, the absence of civil society and the absence of any access to justice or to good health [care].”

“When you put all of these things together, they’re very toxic, and they facilitate almost complete control over migrant labor,” McGeehan said.

Estimates vary, as the Qatari government does not share official data on migrant worker deaths, but hundreds of Nepalese have died in the Gulf state from cardiac arrests, work accidents and suicide since 2010, according to its government statistics. Meanwhile, Doha’s new work heat laws offer “terrible protection” against sweltering temperatures, McGeehan said.

Still, there is some support for Qatar’s reforms. Marc Tarabella, a Belgian socialist MEP who is vice-president of the parliament’s delegation for relations with the Arab peninsula and also co-president of the sports group, told POLITICO that, thanks to the World Cup, Qatar has become ” a good example to follow”. for other neighboring countries.

And Qatar, in recent months, has become increasingly belligerent in defending itself against the West, after years of getting punched in the chin.

The country’s labor minister told lawmakers in the European Parliament on Monday that Qatar had been the subject of a “smear campaign”. The World Cup’s own top official said Qatar’s criticism was “perhaps” racially motivated.

Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser al-Khelaifi, who is not linked to the World Cup host team but is the most prominent Qatari in European sport, was more circumspect, saying told POLITICO that he was “very proud” that his country was hosting the World Cup and not trying to “hide” in the shadows.

“Are we doing everything 100% correctly? Maybe not. Are we perfect? No. But we are fixing things,” he said. “The World Cup has done a fantastic job for Qatar: infrastructure, regulations. Many things have changed; huge things.


Perhaps the only thing that can really disrupt Qatar’s crowning glory now is a chaotic tournament from a human rights and logistical perspective.

This is something that detractors see as an obvious possibility.

LGBTQ+ fans attending the tournament still run the risk of falling foul of Qatar’s gay ban. The assurances that human rights groups have received from FIFA, largely unaccompanied by Qatari legislation on LGBTQ+ protections, are insufficient, said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch.

How Qatar won the World Cup – POLITICO
Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

Compounding these human rights concerns, a Qatari World Cup ambassador told German broadcaster ZDF that homosexuality was “a damage in the mind”, in comments that sparked an uproar. violent reaction at the beginning of the month.

Organizational questions also remain just before the start of the tournament with Ecuador against Qatar on Sunday, with tens of thousands of fans descending on the small country.

Ronan Evain, executive director of Football Supporters Europe, told POLITICO he was concerned about the training of World Cup stewards, the police approach to supporters and the logistics of shuttling supporters to and from stadiums in bus.

While car-ruled Qatar touts World Cup-accelerated public transport developments, only some stadiums are connected by the gleaming new metro system.

A last-minute U-turn on beer from the Qatari hosts, now banned in and around tournament stadiums, has sparked further anxiety among human rights groups, given previous assurances of alcohol consumption provided by Qatar.

And more than a decade after Qatar actually won the right to host the tournament, investigations continue into the corruption that hampered the process and led to the FBI knocking on FIFA’s doors. French prosecutors are investigating former French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s alleged role in helping Qatar win the tender, French daily Le Monde reported earlier this week. Qatar has always denied winning the bid by nefarious means.

Regarding the concerns of LGBTQ+ activists, a FIFA spokesperson said the governing body was “confident that all necessary measures will be in place to ensure that LGBTIQ+ fans and allies can enjoy the tournament in a welcoming and safe environment, like everyone else.”

In a statement, Qatar’s Supreme World Cup Committee said it is “committed to providing an inclusive and non-discriminatory FIFA World Cup experience that is welcoming, safe and accessible to all participants, participants and communities in Qatar and around the world”.


But what happens when the circus leaves town?

Qatar has shown remarkable geopolitical skill in safeguarding the competing interests with which its fortunes are tied. It is home to the largest US military base in the Middle East, while sharing access with Iran to the gas field that generated its astronomical wealth.

Due to the ongoing Russian war in Ukraine, “Qatar will remain extremely relevant in terms of energy dynamics, especially as gas begins to come into production,” said Kristian Ulrichsen, Middle East researcher at the Rice University’s Baker Institute. “I think they will continue to play a role in regional diplomacy, especially vis-à-vis Iran if there is no breakthrough in nuclear negotiations.” Doha was a key diplomatic player when the United States withdrew from Afghanistan in 2021, Ulrichsen added.

One of Qatar’s most successful exports, media conglomerate beIN Media Group, renowned for its international sports broadcasting arm but also owner of Miramax movie studios in Hollywood, has been approached by various American and Saudi investors interested in the buying a stake in the business – as the state considers how to position itself internationally once the World Cup is over.

Meanwhile, a person familiar with the talks said US investors were interested in buying a stake in PSG, which is 100% owned by Qatar Sports Investments. QSI acquired a 22% stake in Portugal’s SC Braga last month, which was the fund’s first step in investing in multiple club ownership and a further sign of QSI and beIN’s increased importance to Qatar after the World Cup.

“I don’t think they will give up on sports being a component of the national strategy,” said Mahfoud Amara, associate professor of sports management at Qatar University.

Qatar will host the Asian Football Cup in 2023 and the Asian Multi-Sport Games in 2030. Officials are also in preliminary talks on a bid for another crowning glory event: the 2036 Summer Olympics.

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