The 2022 World Cup in Qatar is football’s greatest scandal, and there are certainly a few to choose from. The tournament, built on a web of corruption, human rights abuse, and death, is the ultimate showpiece of football — a game that claims to be all-inclusive. For no player or team to boycott it would be a slap in the face to the family of every migrant worker that has died to build the stadiums that matches will be played in. A year away from the tournament, these issues are notably absent from the public eye — or even worse completely overlooked. They shouldn’t be.

There are a plethora of problems with Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup and outlining them all would require another article in itself, so I won’t go in depth on how terrible the idea of a winter World Cup is, or how the nation’s lagging football culture hardly justifies organising such a prestigious tournament. But just know, these are factors too.

If there was a minute’s silence at the World Cup for every migrant worker that has died working in Qatar since it was awarded the tournament in 2010, all 64 matches would be played without noise. The Guardian reported earlier this year that more than 6,500 workers had died, almost all on the building programme for 2022, and that this figure is likely an underestimate. Labourers, forced to work long hours in incredible heat with little to no protective equipment, have paid the ultimate price. In 2016, an Amnesty International report found that migrant workers were living in squalid conditions, going months without pay, being denied exit visas and having their passports confiscated, and had been deceived about the type of work on offer before going to Qatar. According to the charity, this is forced labour under international law — in other words, modern-day slavery.

“Attendance and endorsement are simply inseparable given the magnitude of the event and the publicity the country will receive from it.”

Individual stories are all the more harrowing. One Nepalese worker was reportedly denied an exit visa in 2015 after the Nepal earthquake. He claimed he just wanted to go home to see if his family was alive. This suffering is not an accident, it is systematic abuse and murder. When the World Cup is played here, because sadly it is now a case of when and not if, the players and teams who go will have blood on their hands and will be indirectly responsible for this abuse. As The German ProFans Alliance have put it, the tournament will be “a lavish football festival on the graves of thousands of migrant workers”.

To attend the tournament would also mean to overlook the country’s long list of human rights violations. In Qatar, homosexuality is outlawed and in some cases punishable by death. Freedom of speech is hard to come by too; in recent years, journalists have been jailed for speaking out against the regime. Meanwhile, domestic violence is legal. Unfortunately, the list goes on. Those competing at the World Cup will be validating the Qatari government and these policies. Attendance and endorsement are simply inseparable given the magnitude of the event and the publicity the country will receive from it. Boycotting, however, sends the perfect message of refusal to tolerate such abuse. Tifo Football laid it out well: “homophobia is not a life choice, it’s discrimination; domestic abuse is not a culture, it’s a crime”. To play this World Cup is to ultimately forgo basic morality and perpetuate backward attitudes.

This World Cup is also one of the many manifestations of corruption that has plagued FIFA for years. Assertions that Qatar won the World Cup dishonestly began less than a year after its allocation by a FIFA committee led by disgraced former President Sepp Blatter and Vice President Jack Warner, who alongside Chuck Blazer, may be some of the worst men in football. For instance, there have been allegations of $1.5 million paid by Qatar to African officials to vote for the tournament, and more than $5 million given to various officials for them to cast their vote in the nation’s favour. Although there is no concrete evidence of corruption, clearly something seriously untoward had to happen for the oil-rich, non-footballing state to be awarded the World Cup. After all, every one of the 22-man committee that voted on both the 2018 and 2022 World Cup has been implicated in dodgy footballing dealings in some way. Football is supposed to be a joyous, all-inclusive game and yet we are presented with a tournament built on death in a discriminatory state won by exclusive means. It makes no sense.

“As players like Marcus Rashford campaign against child poverty and teams around the world strive to champion Black Lives Matter, the silence on Qatar is deafening.”

Some argue Qatar has improved significantly since 2010’s announcement, and the tournament’s spotlight has forced them to. This is partially true; in March 2021, Qatar enforced its first ever minimum wage, employers are now obliged to pay for workers’ food and accommodation, and employees can change jobs without their employers’ consent. But these are small steps and in no way do they compensate for the huge suffering faced by previous workers, nor have the issues of corruption and human rights abuses been fully addressed. What’s more, Finnish captain Tim Sparv, after his recent meeting with migrant workers, claimed that many new laws are not being effectively implemented. Such flimsy policies from the Qatari government do not justify calling off a boycott.

Further measures have been taken outside Qatar to combat the situation, but still not enough. The Norwegian FA recently voted overwhelmingly against boycotting the tournament despite around 49% of the population being in favour of one. Elsewhere, Finnish international Riku Riski boycotted a training camp in Qatar back in 2019, prompting Sparv to increasingly raise awareness of the country’s distressing situation, and Sweden altogether cancelled their annual training camp in September. Meanwhile, Danish fans called for a debate on a boycott in parliament, and the German and Norwegian national teams have both trained in t-shirts calling for respect of human rights. Outside of Scandinavia and Germany, however, the footballing world has been largely silent. Clearly, not enough is being done. The players that decide to participate in Qatar who choose not to speak out should feel ashamed. Football must not be played at all costs, and this is far beyond any reasonable limits.


Mountain View

Sports fans face moral breaking point

A boycott from players or entire teams is needed, as it will effectively send the message that abuse and corruption will not be tolerated. If Qatar and FIFA are to improve, they must recognise the seriousness of suffering embodied in this World Cup. With no boycott, this is impossible. We live in an age of football activism unlike any other yet, as players like Marcus Rashford campaign against child poverty and teams around the world strive to champion Black Lives Matter, the silence on Qatar is deafening. How can this modern, socially-conscious generation of footballers justify playing in a World Cup that stands for suffering?

Perhaps this stance will change in the run up to the event, as media focus on the tournament intensifies. Already in recent weeks and months, as teams’ places are confirmed, scrutiny has increased slightly: David Beckham came under fire for becoming an ambassador of the tournament just last month (25/10). But still, this is not enough. Maybe players at the competition will say what needs to be said, or make outspoken gestures in high-profile moments, as has been the case before in sporting history.

Football is meant to be fun, joyous, and inclusive, but next year’s World Cup has been assembled on death, human rights violations, and corruption. The juxtaposition is both stark and worrying for the game. A boycott is the very least the footballing world can do to stand against such horror.