As fireworks went off in the Al Bayt Stadium in Doha, Qatar on the 20th of November, fans present at the venue and from all over the world tuned in to witness the grand opening ceremony of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. It marked the start of football’s biggest tournament where 32 teams, representing their respective nations, will battle it out to be crowned the champion of the champions. It is the first time in the festival’s long 92-year old history that a nation from the middle-east has won the bid to host the World Cup. The FIFA World Cup is held held every four years and nations always fight in bidding to gain rights to host one of the biggest sporting events in the world.
Hosting the World Cup, for a nation, means tremendous exposure in the global sphere; booming foreign exchange, foreign trade, tourism, jobs and opportunities for newer developments. Every single eye will be on the country for the period of 28 days the games will be held and that is exactly why the stakes are so high.
The FIFA World Cup, when it first started in the year 1930, was established with the hopes that healthy sportsmanship will arouse fellow feelings of unity between participating nations. With the passage of time the event, notwithstanding the feelings of team spirit and passion that the game of football generates, has become increasingly associated with power plays, politics and sport washing ventures by powerful nations. This year, especially, the time leading up to the event in Qatar has been charged with high tension in international relations. A photo shoot that broke the internet a few days ago, that of football royalty Christiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi playing an intense game of chess, is ironically an accurate symbolic representation of what the World Cup does, pit nations against each other in an elaborate game to showcase power and gain glory and domination on the world stage.
Qatar was announced as the host of the 2022 World Cup way back in 2010, more than a decade ago which left many surprised since the gulf nation with little football history (The Qatar football team has never before been selected to participate in the World Cup), won against powerful nations in the bid. Moreover, there were high risk factors involved as reported by the officials, like the intense heat and a proper lack of infrastructure required for an event of that scale. Regardless, FIFA stuck to its decision and ever since then Qatar has faced a long line of controversies constantly talked about in sporting circles and beyond.
Most recently, with the World Cup starting, the criticisms and condemnations against Qatar, specifically from the West, have been innumerable. Now, there are two viewpoints to this situation; the two are parallel and contradictory to each other and yet true and equally valid. Sports washing is a very real thing many nations have done throughout history. It is a covering up of the country’s crimes and violations through the blitz, glamour and reputation that comes with being a part of such large scale sporting events. It is also an effective way of diverting attention from the very real problems the nation might be facing. Qatar, as a nation, has a long-standing history of human rights violations – curbing of of women rights, violence against the LGBTQ community, and torturous working conditions with less than minimum wages for migrant workers.
So Qatar being accused of sports washing might not be entirely unjust. There have also been many rumoured reports claiming that bribery is rampant in the process of the bid for hosting FIFA and countries like Russia and Qatar, apparently, have had their hands dirty and played with unfair means to come out triumphant in the bids to host the World Cups in 2018 and 2022 respectively. The problem does not lie in the condemnation of such abominable acts but rather in the very inherent islamophobic strains these criticisms are carrying with them.
The West, historically with its orientalist approach, has always seen the East and its cultures as inferior to theirs and made essentializing narratives concerning them from its own narrow perceptions. The Middle East and Muslim Arab population, have been victims of such dehumanizing labelization for centuries; muslims as backward camel riders , as ‘oppressors’, as perpetrators of organized terrorism, and as practicing the ‘evil’ religion are among a few stereotypical labels West has constantly used to describe Arabs.
CNN reports that “Britain’s public broadcaster, the BBC, refrained from airing the opening ceremony on television, opting instead to cover criticism of the host nation.” Many famous western artists, notably Shakira, and Dua Lipa, who previously were scheduled to perform at the Opening Ceremony, cancelled their participation, seemingly, as a protest against Qatar’s human rights violations. But the ironic fact is, as the FIFA chief Gianni Infantino so rightfully points out, that it is “hypocritical of the West to be giving lessons in morality to others”.
“I’m European. For what we Europeans have been doing around the world in the last 3,000 years, we should be apologising for the next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons to people.”Gianni infantino
These artists previously have performed in their home countries and many other nations where human rights violations have occurred, it is after all not specific to the first Muslim country that is hosting the World Cup.
The question is where was this attitude when other powerful nations with a lineage of corruption and fascism, hosted the World Cup? Nothing exists in a vacuum, especially not media coverage which are heavily influenced by any nation’s political stand. The unfortunate thing is, that western perceptions have always dominated thought and common conversations in the world, which is why there is unprecedented hate being directed at Qatar, exactly according to the propaganda put into motion by the insidious Western coverage of the World Cup.
While Qatar should be held responsible for all the reports coming out about its inhumane treatment of marginalized communities, that criticism should not be laced with blind hatred against middle eastern cultures, and Islamic influences on the ceremonies for the World Cup and the Arabian people.