FIFA hasn’t been known for being particularly just and proper in its actions in recent decades. There have been countless occasions of corruption, scandals and other awful scenarios from FIFA over the years, even though it is in charge of the world’s most popular sport. The unclean nature of FIFA has not consistently been the subject of headlines worldwide. The current issues surrounding Qatar’s successful bid for the 2022 World Cup, however, thoroughly changed those dynamics. What about this particular controversy is so special that FIFA’s corruption is finally being discussed publicly, that its dubious decision-making processes are finally the subject of intense speculation and debate worldwide? It’s a rather nuanced story, one whose significance can be processed slightly better if one understands the multiple facets that have shaped it, from the original bidding process up to the current speculation that the location of the 2022 World Cup will be moved.
It began approximately 4 years ago, in December 2010, when FIFA announced that Qatar won the vote to host the 2022 World Cup. There were many negative initial reactions to the announcement, especially from the British after their bid for England failed. Qatar was a random, tiny state with no known affinity for soccer — certainly not to the degree of the British anyway. What was the only thing it seemed to have going for it? Well, it was particularly oil-rich, making it an attractive location for investors of all kinds. Indeed, in 2013, FIFA President Sepp Blatter said the vote could have been affected by “direct, political influence” from countries who had economic interest in Qatar. A substantial portion of those who voted “yes” were European countries that would fit this bill. In the larger scheme of things, however, these allegations only began scratching the surface in a relatively harmless manner.
The corruption theme took flight a few months after the vote, when Qatar’s representative on FIFA’s executive council, Mohammed Bin Hammam, was accused of bribery in his attempt to win votes for the FIFA presidential election and was banned from soccer. Reports emerged of Bin Hammam’s various bribes and uncertainty arose as to whether some of these could have been for the World Cup bid. No direct connection has been made, but the fact that FIFA has not put down these allegations either has helped to strengthen the potential that Qatar bribed its way to the World Cup.
Problems with the practicality of actually having the World Cup have put both FIFA and Qatar under further strain. Qatar is an intensely hot country; in the summer, it is not rare for temperatures to be within the range of 100 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. For its part, Qatar has been working on cooling technologies for the stadiums and some visitor sites. However, the success of these untested technologies cannot be guaranteed, and there’s only so much of the country that can be cooled down for the sake of fans. Qatar’s conservative nature has also led to outcries, particularly regarding alcohol policies.
Qatar was handed its most difficult issue when the Guardian released an article in 2013 that detailed the abuse and exploitation of migrant workers, who have been branded by some as modern-day slaves. These workers build the stadiums that Qatar will need to host the World Cup as well as related infrastructure projects. According to the report, these workers were provided with scant resources, minimal pay, and were essentially barred from going home after having their passports taken and vacations fined. The report cited by the article projected that 4,000 migrant workers could die due to these projects by the time the World Cup takes place in 2022. Blatter has noted that FIFA has some responsibility for issues like these, but believes they are primarily the responsibility of the state of Qatar. To put it in other words, FIFA will not intervene.
Of course, that’s not to say that the idea of the World Cup in Qatar is completely atrocious. On the surface, there are some nice sides to the story; in most cases, however, the flip side of the coin does negate any positive contribution to the larger situation. The idea of one of the 22 Arab countries finally getting a chance to host such an important tournament on the international stage is pleasant. The ideal view is that FIFA is working to expand the popularity of the beautiful sport of soccer. The reality, however, leans more towards FIFA’s desire to reach into untouched markets and increase profit. Qatar has been trying to find ways to get around its conservative nature for the sake of fans; for example, it is arranging a system where fans would be able to access alcohol. It has been open to ideas thrown its way, such as having the World Cup in the winter. Unfortunately, this is problematic for domestic soccer leagues and other sports competitions that usually run during this time. The Qataris do also have arguments they use to distance themselves from the FIFA corruption aspect of the controversy. Officially, they note that Bin Hammam was Qatari but not part of the Qatari bidding committee; unofficially, there is also the fact that bidding has been a corrupted process for the longest time. In his new book “Futebol Nation,” author David Goldblatt puts forth the claim that any dealing within FIFA nowadays is one that relies on “patronage and payments, mixing personal, political and commercial interests until they are virtually indistinguishable.” That doesn’t necessarily make any Qatari bribing better, but it does indicate that they shouldn’t be singled out for it; FIFA should probably be held just as, if not more accountable, for the nature of these dealings.
This mess of problems has come to the point where FIFA seems to be attempting to withdraw from the original decision to let Qatar have the World Cup. One FIFA executive official called the decision “a mistake.” More recently, executive committee member Theo Zanzwiger seems to have begun the climax of the story by proclaiming his belief that the World Cup will in fact be moved from Qatar. Blatter has supported Qatar half-heartedly, and would gladly follow through with moving the competition in light of his upcoming re-election campaign.
At this point, though, it feels as if there are more questions than answers. Should FIFA be more responsible for the host nations and hold them more accountable? For that matter, is Qatar or FIFA more at fault for the issues that have come up? Is there some way to have an acceptable World Cup in Qatar, or will someone always be dissatisfied?
With so many questions, there are only two possible outcomes: either the competition will remain in Qatar, or it will be moved. There will be displeased parties in either scenario, but what about FIFA? Its reputation has been tarnished, but will it successfully run away from this situation like others in the past? Will its corruptness as an institution continue to be the norm, something inevitable that soccer fans worldwide must deal with? Truthfully, it doesn’t seem like FIFA will change anytime soon. Although much has happened, that may be the most daunting reality underlying it all.