With the World Cup now underway in Qatar, many are wondering how this moment came to be: that a small Gulf nation with little footballing history ended up hosting the biggest event the sport has to offer.
Qatar had never before appeared in a World Cup tournament, let alone hosted one, and became the first host nation to lose the opening match of the tournament with a 2-0 loss against Ecuador on Sunday.
The country’s World Cup debut took 12 years, a period in which Qatar’s host status has generated controversy within the football community and beyond.
When Qatar was named the host of the 2022 World Cup in 2010, it was selected ahead of the United States, South Korea, Japan and Australia.
During the bidding process, it faced several obstacles as FIFA, football’s governing body, flagged concerns in technical reports. These included the lack of existing infrastructure and the region’s intense heat in the summer, when World Cup tournaments traditionally take place.
In fact, reports went so far as to label Qatar’s bid as “high risk”, but the country won with 14 votes to the US’s eight in the final round of voting.
At the time, Qatar promised the world would be “proud of the Middle East” as the first country in the region to host the tournament, while then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter welcomed the prospect of the main event of football moved to “new lands”.
“I am a happy president when we talk about the development of football,” he said.
Twelve years later, Blatter is more critical.
Earlier this month, he told the Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger: “Qatar is a mistake… the election was bad.
“It is a very small country. Football and the World Cup are too big for that.”
Blatter said FIFA changed the criteria he used to select host countries in 2012 in light of concerns about working conditions at tournament-related construction sites in Qatar.
“Since then, social considerations and human rights are taken into account,” he said.
With a population of three million, smaller than Connecticut, Qatar has invested billions in its soccer infrastructure in preparation for the 2022 tournament.
But questions remain about how Qatar won the right to host the World Cup.
As recently as March 2020, the US Department of Justice alleged that top officials took bribes as part of the voting process to choose Russia and Qatar as tournament hosts for the 2018 and 2022 events; Russian officials denied the claims and Qatari officials called them “false” in a statement to CNN.
The DOJ has been investigating allegations of corruption in international soccer, including FIFA, for years. To date, there have been more than two dozen convictions, and some cases are ongoing.
A FIFA statement in April 2020 said it “supports all investigations into suspected criminal acts related to national or international football competitions and will continue to provide full cooperation to law enforcement officials investigating such matters.
“FIFA is closely following these investigations and all developments related to ongoing legal proceedings in the United States and other parts of the world.
“It is important to note that FIFA has been granted victim status in US criminal proceedings and that senior FIFA officials are in regular contact with the US Department of Justice.”
US prosecutors gave FIFA victim status as they felt world soccer’s governing body had been nearly hijacked by a series of corrupt individuals.
Criticism of human rights
Qatar’s human rights record has also been in the spotlight ahead of the World Cup, particularly with regard to the welfare of migrant workers.
Given the minimal infrastructure that Qatar had at the time it was awarded hosting rights to the World Cup, seven new stadiums were built before the tournament, as well as new hotels and extensions to the airport, railway networks and motorways of the country.
That has made it reliant on migrant workers from Qatar, who make up 90% of the total workforce, according to Amnesty International.
Since 2010, many migrant workers have respectively faced back or unpaid wages, forced labor, long hours in hot weather, intimidation by employers, and the inability to leave their homes.
However, Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC) said the health, safety and dignity of “all workers employed on our projects have remained steadfast,” with “significant improvements” made around to the rights of workers.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino also told CNN Sport’s Amanda Davies that he has seen a “great evolution” in Qatar’s labor reforms, and the International Labor Organization has noted reforms such as a non-discriminatory minimum wage that Qatar it is the first in the region to adopt.
Meanwhile, Qatar’s state-backed discrimination against LGBTQ people has also come under fire in the years leading up to the World Cup.
Sex between men is illegal and punishable by up to three years in prison in the country, and a Human Rights Watch report published last month documented cases as recently as September of Qatari security forces arbitrarily arresting men. LGBT people and subjected them to “ill-treatment”. -treatment in detention.”
A statement sent to CNN on behalf of the SC said it was committed to an “inclusive and discrimination-free” World Cup, pointing to the fact that the country, it said, had hosted hundreds of international and regional sporting events since receiving the award. World Cup in 2010.
“There has never been a problem and each event has been delivered safely,” the statement read.
“Everyone is welcome in Qatar, but we are a conservative country and any public display of affection, regardless of orientation, is frowned upon. We simply ask that people respect our culture.”
Perhaps the most obvious sign that this World Cup is different from most has been the decision to host it in November and December, rather than June and July, as is the norm.
The sweltering heat during the summer months in Qatar has necessitated the change, although temperatures are still forecast to exceed 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) later this week.
Other changes in the organization of the tournament have been rather last minute.
On Friday, FIFA announced that no alcohol would be sold in stadiums and then on Monday captains from seven countries were warned they would receive yellow cards if they wore armbands that promoted inclusion and opposed discrimination.
FIFA announced on Monday that it had introduced its “No Discrimination” campaign, which also has a designated armband, adding that “all 32 captains will have the opportunity to wear this armband” during the World Cup.
The FIFA equipment regulations state that “for FIFA final competitions, the captain of each team must wear the captain’s armband provided by FIFA”.
Time will tell what the legacy of this World Cup will be, but when you look at the last few days, months and years, it’s likely to be complicated and controversial.