The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar is going ahead thanks to support from football associations around the world, and not for any other reason. There has been outrage aplenty over this World Cup due to the deaths of migrant workers and attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community from the host country. At this point, it’s no secret this World Cup was awarded for corrupt reasons. If you need a reminder, give the new ‘FIFA Uncovered’ documentary a watch on Netflix.
Given how impenetrable that group of FIFA executives were, there is not an awful lot people on the outside could have done about the awarding of the World Cup to Qatar. But there is plenty that could have been done afterwards.
To be clear, the FIFA executive committee - which was the group responsible for the selection of host countries, was a select group of individuals voted for to make specific key decisions on behalf of member nations. The selection of host nations was one of those decisions, and many of the people responsible for the selection of Qatar have since been booted out amid allegations of corruption. The committee has since been renamed the ‘FIFA Council’, which includes a larger group of executives in a bid to limit corruption taking hold.
But FIFA, as a whole, is made up of all the member nations, the associations behind the national teams. Meaning, when FIFA stick to a decision like the awarding of the World Cup to Qatar, it does so because of the support of the majority - not all - of its members.
So, if nations were as outraged by Qatar’s hosting of this World Cup as they say they are, they would have taken bold steps to prevent it early on. From minute one, when Qatar was selected over the USA and Russia and over England, it was clear that something was amiss. But no association was outraged enough to make a statement by withdrawing from the qualification process for these World Cups. Legal action, particularly from the US, later proved the corruption.
Sure, FIFA wouldn’t have lost much sleep had a few of the smaller nations done this, but had England, France, Italy, Germany, Argentina, Brazil or any footballing nation of that ilk felt strongly enough about the situation to boycott, they would have had to take notice.
No one did. United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Mauritania all threatened to do so in 2017, dubbing Qatar a ‘base of terrorism’, but again, no one did. In fact, Saudi Arabia wound up qualifying and will be in Qatar to compete this winter, a year after restoring political peace with the host country, along with the allies mentioned.
In the lead up to the World Cup, we have seen plenty of empty protests. Denmark are wearing a shirt where their badge is not clearly visible, nor is the Hummel logo. But again, if they felt that strongly about not being associated with Qatar, why are they playing there? It’s pretty clear that’s just a nice PR move from Hummel to sell more shirts.
Companies have also put out facades, such as BrewDog, who rallied behind a promotional campaign, dubbing themselves ‘Anti Qatar World Cup’ having agreed a distribution deal to sell their beverages in Qatar. Such empty ‘look at me, I’m the good guy’ promotional campaigns have been all too common.
I’m not much better. As a Welshman, I would have been proud of my nation had they boycotted the qualification process for this World Cup, but they did not. Instead, Wales will be at their first World Cup in 64 years and I will be watching at my home, in Spain. At this point, I don’t feel I should be denied the chance to see my country - that I have backed home and abroad over many years - at their first World Cup in a generation because of FIFA’s corruption.
But I am also acutely aware that I will be contributing the television numbers that will define this World Cup’s success. I’m not profiting from the World Cup, and I wouldn’t have attended if you offered me a free, all-expenses paid trip to Qatar, but I will be watching. I take responsibility for that, and I applaud those who will be staying away altogether.
Having said that, the fact that this World Cup is going ahead is not my fault nor yours. Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp recently tried to put the blame on journalists, and it’s not theirs - and being a journalist I could say ‘ours’ - fault either. In fact, we may not know the depth of the corruption at FIFA if it wasn’t for the hard work of journalists, and Klopp should be thanking them for that. In football, where these decisions are made, his words are worth 10,000 of those of a journalist, and he has largely chosen not to use them in relation to this World Cup over recent years. Still, it’s not Klopp’s fault, either.
The fault lies with the associations who have stayed silent, playing FIFA’s game. The FIFA chiefs know the World Cup carries too much FOMO - Fear of Missing Out - for countries to commit to a boycott. It’s for that reason, above all others, that associations haven’t shown the bravery that was required to push this World Cup off the rails.
There’s a monetary aspect, too. There is a $1billion prize money fund involved in the World Cup, and associations pocket $10.5million just for qualifying. There is a further $12million available for reaching the knockout stage, and eventual winners can take home as much as $47.5million. None of those fees include the increased sponsorship opportunities involved in being a qualified World Cup team.
Many associations cannot afford to pass up the opportunity of earning that money, while others most certainly can. The FA, for example, turned over £443million last year, announcing an operating profit of £132million, but who doesn’t want to add a few million to the pot?
What we should address is the reasoning that FIFA gave us all those years ago, when the World Cup was awarded to Qatar. FIFA wanted to use football as a tool to develop nations, hence we saw the World Cup awarded to South Africa and Brazil, ahead of more corruption kicking in for the awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia.
Undoubtedly, football can help host nations grow by forcing them to be exposed to the rest of the world. Of course, there has to be a degree of respect to the host nation’s customs, and the World Cup shouldn’t be a tool to enforce Western beliefs on the rest of the world. But not only are there major questions over Qatar not being welcome enough for LGBTQ+ fans - which should mandatory, as per FIFA’s claim to being inclusive - but it’s alleged that 6,500 migrant workers have died since the awarding of the World Cup to Qatar, and many of those have been due to the large scale building projects required in the hosting of the tournament.
That is among the biggest problems. The World Cup shouldn’t require nations to stretch beyond their limits to put on a show for the world. We have already seen examples of this in Brazil, where magnificent stadiums worth hundreds of millions were built, used for the World Cup and hardly ever used again. Even with all that the World Cup offers, this is a pathetic use of resources. Football doesn’t need, and shouldn’t allow nations to plough hundreds of millions into a showpiece while allowing people to starve within its borders, allowing people to be abused and so on.
Of course, we also don’t want the World Cup to be exclusively hosted by the rich countries already established enough to host, furthering their riches with every edition of the competition. But unless FIFA is going to help fund these tournaments, unless they are willing to truly help countries build infrastructure in a safe, sustainable, while ensuring there are extended uses for the facilities further down the road, a serious rethink is required.
There will be time, too, with the next World Cup hosted in the United States, Canada and Mexico, while the one after that is yet to be decided, but it looks like it could be footballing nations Spain and Portugal, who, like the 2026 hosts, require very little new infrastructure to pull off the competition.
In the meantime, we have Qatar, and we must point the finger at the associations for allowing it to happen. If you need further evidence of their support, just read their press release from just over a week ago.
Ten football associations, including England, Wales, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland agreed to release a statement that read: “We welcome the assurances given by the Qatari Government and by FIFA regarding the safety, security, and inclusion of all fans who travel to the World Cup, including LGBTQ+ fans.”
Around 24 hours later, a Qatar World Cup ambassador, Khalid Salma, said: “Let’s talk about gays. The most important thing is, everybody will accept that they come here. But they will have to accept our rules.” He added that he was concerned children may learn ‘something that is not good’, claiming homosexuality is ‘damage in the mind.’
We raised those comments with the FA and the FAW (the FA of Wales) to see if they still felt the World Cup would allow for ‘inclusion’ for the LGBTQ+ community, and the FA stuck by their statement, adding that they are working with people on the ground to make sure the tournament is safe to attend for all England fans. The FAW were approached for comment but did not offer a reply.
Maybe you are part of the LGBTQ+ community, or for a moment, put yourself in the shoes of someone who is, and answer this: Would you feel safe, secure and included enough to attend this World Cup after reading those comments from an ambassador of the tournament? Would you feel you could support your country at this World Cup while being yourself and not hiding any part of your personality?
The FA, FAW and the other eight associations believe the answer is ‘yes’. Of course, they are indeed working to keep fans safe, and we can only hope that they follow through on their promises to continue demanding progress in human rights in Qatar long after this World Cup has passed. But that statement, and in particular, the decision to stand by it, tells us all that for many associations, building excitement for this World Cup and being a part of it is far more important than ensuring the host nation is one that can offer an enjoyable and inclusive World Cup for all who attend and for all who work towards making it happen.