Sports Opinion

A Host to Human Rights Violation: The World Cup in Qatar

In 2010, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) chose Qatar to be the host country for the 2022 World Cup. With the World Cup currently in session just 12 years later, the subject has grown increasingly controversial. Qatar’s official religion is Islam, which guides many of the country’s laws. Under Penal Code 2004, same-sex sexual acts are illegal in Qatar, making members of the LGBTQIA+ community visiting the country to watch the World Cup feel unsafe.  

There had been suspicion that Qatar bribed FIFA committee members to be selected as the host country, but it only took until recently for the U.S. Department of Justice to make a statement on charges against some of those involved. Yes, it is important to prosecute and charge those who played a role in the scandal, but it doesn’t make up for the fact that LGBTQIA+ people around the world feel unsafe attending the world’s largest soccer tournament. Sporting events with a large following should be using their platforms to promote inclusivity. 

In Article 13.8.1 of the FIFA Equipment Regulations, it states, “For FIFA Final Competitions, the captain of each Team must wear the captain’s armband provided by FIFA. If FIFA provides a choice of captain’s armbands, the captain should wear the one that contrasts most clearly with the Sleeve on which it is worn.” The captains of England, Switzerland, Belgium, Denmark, Wales, the Netherlands, and Germany had explicitly stated that they were planning on wearing One Love armbands in support of the LGBTQIA+ community and to promote inclusivity. 

The teams were prepared to pay the fine that came along with breaching equipment regulation. However, just a few hours before the Cup’s opening game, captains were informed that wearing the One Love armband would result in a yellow card. In the World Cup, after a certain number of yellow cards, players are sent off the field and can be suspended from playing in following games. Without some of their most valuable players, the teams would have faced difficulty competing at the same level as teams that choose not to wear One Love armbands.

When speaking on the backlash against human rights in Qatar, FIFA’s president Gianni Infantino began by saying, “I am European. For what we have been doing for 3,000 years around the world, we should be apologizing for the next 3,000 years before giving moral lessons”. He explained how Europe’s mistreatment of people in the past disqualifies people from questioning Qatar’s discrimination against women, migrant workers, and LGBTQIA+ people. Infantino then went on to say, “Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel a migrant worker.” He listed many of the human rights issues in Qatar that are being looked into, but instead of addressing their importance, he again, normalized the issues. 

As the president of FIFA, it is Infantino’s job to use his global platform to bring about social change, especially when the laws of host countries are compromising the safety of players, coaches, officials, and fans in attendance. Even after the U.S. Department of Justice released information on Qatar purchasing votes to become the host country, Infantino chose to disregard the severity of the situation. He explained that people who were looking into Qatar’s human rights were looking “to spit on others.” Accusing those questioning human rights in Qatar, once again, undermines the extremity of the situation. In order for any change to be made, FIFA must acknowledge Qatar’s human rights issues. The association must also take responsibility for the actions of some of its committee members that accepted Qatar’s bribery. FIFA owes it to its players, coaches, officials, and fans to create a safe and inclusive environment to watch soccer.

In 2010, FIFA made a commitment to stay true to the “Three Pillars” of its mission: to develop the game, to touch the world, and to build a better future. FIFA’s mission statement video lists ways the association was acting on the three pillars. “FIFA protects the game regulations and initiatives, ranging from enhancing health and anti-doping policy, through to fighting match fixing and discrimination,” the video notes. Later on in the video, FIFA mentions another aspect of its mission: “[FIFA] supports programs around the world that are using football as a tool to tackle pressing social issues.” By dismissing Qatar’s bribery scheme and disregarding Qatar’s human rights issues, FIFA is going against its mission statement to use soccer as a way to make the world a better place. In the future, FIFA’s actions should represent its goal to transform soccer into a platform willing to face issues regarding social justice and discrimination.