1. Is this World Cup really that bad?

Of course every football fan knows there’s something wrong with the Qatar World Cup. Bribery, modern slavery, searing temperatures in the summer, we’ve all heard about it. Still, the situation wasn’t exactly clear to me and I didn’t know how big the problems were. It was time to freshen up my knowledge.

That’s why I started at the beginning, when Qatar got awarded the World Cup, and worked my way through the history of this tournament. I looked at the different scandals, how FIFA and Qatar responded to them and if those responses improved anything. I composed the following timeline, in which I’ll highlight a few key moments. Together these moments paint the picture of how bad things are, which people played vital roles in all this and what’s at stake when we are talking about the 2022 World Cup.

December 2, 2010, Zürich

Jérôme Valcke, FIFA’s secretary-general, climbs the stage while triumphant music is played[i]. We get a shot of the FIFA’s slogan ‘For the game. For the world’ before Valcke takes his place next to the World Cup trophy. He welcomes his audience – consisting of heads of state like Xi Jinping and Mark Rutte along with legends of the game like Eusébio and Frans Beckenbauer – and tells them that the votes are in. The host nations of the World Cups of 2018 and 2022 have been selected. “It is now my pleasure”, he says, “to welcome on stage le président la FIFA. Monsieur président, s’il vous plaît.”

The man who takes Valckes place apparently needs no further introduction. Everyone knows his name. He is FIFA. And if you’d ask him, he is football. Even though BBC made serious allegations of corruption against him earlier this week[ii], Sepp Blatter is still firmly in the saddle at the international football association. When he reaches the microphone he declares it to be a “great day”. He goes on to claim that football is more than just kicking a ball, but also a way to teach people “respect” and “fair play”. A source of hope for all mankind, even.

Shortly after, Russia is awarded the 2018 World Cup, accompanied by loud cheers from about twenty Russians and a muted applause from the rest of the audience. A representative of Vladimir Putin is allowed on stage and given the World Cup trophy, after which he reassures the people at home: “I promise you will never regret this.”

 We can now move on to 2022. Australia, Japan and South-Korea have already been ruled out as hosts, the USA’s last hurdle is a tiny oil country that started this race as a total dark horse: Qatar. An envelope containing the winning nation is handed to Blatter by a special auditor from Zürich, to show us all that there’s no meddling with the result. The FIFA boss then takes out a sheet of paper with five letters on it. A deafening silence is broken by a few Qatari falling into each other’s arms. All eyes will be on their country in the summer (or winter?) of 2022.

A few moments later a well-dressed young man is standing on stage, speaking in by far the most impeccable English accent of the entire ceremony. Sheik Mohammed bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, son of the Emir, is only 22 years old but destined to organize the enormous sporting event. While Jérôme Valcke has returned to the stage standing among the Qatari delegation, Al-Thani ignores his audience filled with world leaders and football royalty. He turns to Blatter and gives him such an extensive word of thanks, that even monsieur président seems a bit embarrassed.

Football enthusiasts around the globe are starting to speculate. Isn’t Qatar way too hot for a World Cup? Do they even have stadiums? Do they care about football at all? And most of all: has our planet’s biggest football event just been sold to the highest bidder? Meanwhile Al-Thani, Valcke and Blatter smile carelessly into a row of flashing cameras. Who in the footballing world can touch them?

September 25, 2013, London

After years of relative silence, the bubble finally bursts. The world’s eyes are on Qatar, nine years earlier than planned, and what they see is very different from what Al-Thani and his compatriots want to show. News outlets and social media are outraged: the 2022 World Cup will be made possible by modern slavery.

The British newspaper The Guardian does not beat around the bush with its headline: ‘Revealed: Qatar’s World Cup ‘slaves’’[iii]. Blatter’s claims about football being a source of hope for all mankind turn out to be false. Hundreds of thousands of migrants, mostly from Nepal, India, Pakistan and several African countries, have been coming to Qatar for years, lured by empty promises. Once they arrive they are put into the Kafala system: their employer confiscates their passport, which companies only have to return if they feel like it. The workers are then forced to work for sometimes twelve hours a day in temperatures of up to 50º C, often without drinking water. In some cases they don’t even get food afterwards. In these poor conditions workers die almost daily because of accidents or from pure exhaustion. On top of all this, many don’t even get paid, while they have to pay off debts, incurred while getting to Qatar in the first place. Without their passports it’s impossible to switch jobs, let alone leave the country.

A video accompanying the article shows footage of a worker’s camp just outside the extremely wealthy city of Doha. The camp’s six hundred men share only two kitchens, in which the food is infested with flies and cockroaches. One of the men, who wishes to remain anonymous, shares his story. He came to Qatar to earn money for his wife and kids, he was promised he would make 1500 riyal a month. In reality he only receives 900 riyal. He has to share a small, dirty room with eleven other men. He would rather leave, but he has to pay off the debt from traveling here and he has to provide for his family.

Another interviewee watched how his contract got torn up even before he reached Qatar. Upon arrival, he was told he would make much less than what he signed up for. He decided to run, becoming an illegal alien. Now he lives on the streets, where he frequently has to escape the Qatari police. A third man also ran, but to the Nepalese embassy. “For two months we had to beg for food”, he says about his former job. “Until now I haven’t even sent one rupee home to my son. We were suffering a lot. But still the manager came and beat me at 2 am. We went to the police, but they wouldn’t do anything.” Without his passport, even the embassy can’t send him home. Because of the stress, all of his hair has fallen out.

Still, they’ve been ‘lucky’. The video also shows Ganesh Bishwakharma’s funeral. Six weeks after his arrival in Qatar, he died of a heart attack. He was only sixteen years old. His family members say Ganesh wanted to make money to build a house for his parents. His father has put himself in debt to pay for Ganesh’s trip to Qatar, but six weeks later he has to bury his son. “My son was strong and healthy”, he says. “He was such a good son and I sent him abroad. He died unexpectedly. Was it the climate? Or was it something else? These questions are weighing on my heart. I think about them day and night. I never want to hear the name Qatar again.”

The Guardian cites experts who predict that by 2022 another 1,5 million of these modern slaves will have been brought to Qatar. They also estimate the death toll will be around 4,000.

In a response, the young sheik Mohammed bin Al-Thani claims to be “very worried” about these revelations and says the health and safety of the workers are a top priority[iv]. He says he’s going to improve their rights and will enforce them more strictly, in cooperation with organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The 2022 World Cup will usher in huge improvements for migrant workers in Qatar, none of this will ever happen again. Reassuring words to the average football fan.

December 5, 2013, Paris

“I will never forget those 24 hours”, says Zahir Balounis, standing on a balcony overlooking his place of birth[v]. “I didn’t sleep. I held my daughters close. It was so intense and I didn’t believe I would really get out, even as I went to the airport. I didn’t believe it until I heard the sound of the stamp. When I heard that, I knew I was free.”

Zahir has only been back in France for six days after a six-year footballing career at the Qatari club El Jaish SC. His story is a prime example of how the Kafala system works. For a long time, Zahir and El Jaish had a great relationship. He was their star player, the goal scorer who led them from the second tier to the Qatar Stars League. But when his goals and assists dried up, he stopped getting paid. When he confronted his employer, their message was simple: he could either renounce the money he was owed and get his passport back, or he could fight for his money and not be able to leave Qatar.

Zahir lawyered up and went to court, but El Jaish didn’t flinch. While lengthy court proceedings dragged on, Zahir still didn’t have any income, so he had to sell his family’s belongings one after another. His employer refused to let him, his wife and his two daughters out of the country unless he would give up the claim to his money. But Zahir had lost all his faith in the Qatari authorities and was scared that they still wouldn’t let him leave even if he did renounce his salary.

“The only way I was able to stop doing something bad to myself was to drink”, he says, safely back in Paris. “Alcohol was a help to me, I thought about something else until the morning. It was the only way I had.”

In November, he sent an open letter to Zinédine Zidane, a former Qatar ambassador, and Pep Guardiola, manager of FC Barcelona, sponsored by Qatar Airways[vi]. Neither of them responded. But he did receive help from Amnesty International and his colleague Abdeslam Ouaddou, who had had a similar experience during his time in Qatar[vii]. Still, this support didn’t seem to make much of a difference. Zahir became so desperate that he came up with a plan to escape with his family. “I will not say how I was going to do it, because I don’t want to give bad ideas to some people”, he says. “But I made that decision. I said ‘I will be home before Christmas’.”

In the end, he finally did receive a liberating phone call. Zahir is very happy to be back in France, but he also knows that many people experienced the same difficulties without being able to call in help from NGOs and Western media. “I heard that maybe Qatar will change the rules for footballers and maybe they will cancel the Kafala system. But for me, the value of a football player and a worker is the same. If you cancel the system for football players, you need to cancel it for everybody.”

Despite his ordeal, Belounis still supports the Qatar World Cup. He is hopeful. “Qatar will host something amazing. It will be like no World Cup we have seen before. I wish all the best for the Qatari people.”

October 8, 2015, Zürich

Out of the three men basking in the lights of flashing cameras on December 2, 2010, only Al-Thani is still standing. It had been coming for a long time, but Sepp Blatter and his right-hand man Jérôme Valcke have finally fallen from grace. UEFA president Michel Platini and former FIFA vice-president Chung Mong-joon have also been axed. The FIFA Ethics Committee has suspended them from all football-related activities[viii]. Mong-joon is out for six years, the others for 90 days, but their suspension is expected to be extended to many years. (On December 21st Blatter and Platini are suspended for eight years, later reduced to six. In 2016, Valcke is banished until 2028.)

Back in 2002 Blatter had survived a scandal related to financial mismanagement and the marketing company International Sports and Leisure (ISL), and he was cleared of wrongdoing after a 2013 investigation by the Ethics Committee[ix]. In May, the FBI arrested six high ranking FIFA officials[x] right before a ceremony in which Blatter was re-elected as president. This frightened Blatter, so he resigned after only six days and announced new elections. But now his past has finally caught up with him. The Ethics Committee finds him guilty of a conflict of interest and a secret six figure payment to Platini, right before the 2011 presidential elections[xi]. His henchman Valcke ran a scheme selling tickets for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa for inflated prices and was implicated in several other shady deals[xii].

Common knowledge about FIFA is now definitively confirmed: it’s a corrupt mess. But the biggest symbol of this corruption, the Qatar World Cup, is not mentioned in the entire case – despite countless suspicious activities. In 2014 it was revealed that Jack Warner, former president of the Central American Football Association CONCACAF, had received two million dollars in payments from a company with alleged ties to Qatar[xiii]. And Platini turned out to have had dinner with then French prime minister Nicolas Sarkozy and Qatari representatives right before theWorld Cup elections in 2010. Trade deals and the sale of Paris Saint-Germain are said to have been discussed at this dinner[xiv]. Of course, both Warner and Platini voted in favor of the Qatar bid. Furthermore, there are Qatari-financed youth academies that were built in countries that supported Qatar’s bid[xv], a villa which PSG owner Nasser Al-Kelaifi supposedly bought for Valcke[xvi], allegations from Qatari whistle-blower Phaedra Al-Majid which she was later forced to withdraw[xvii] and the alleged bribery of South American football executives Nicolas Léoz (Paraguay), Julio Grondona (Argentina) and Ricardo Teixeira (Brazil)[xviii].

But perhaps most poignant is the farcical story of the Garcia Report[xix]. In 2012, FIFA appointed the experienced U.S. attorney Michael J. Garcia to lead an investigation into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup. The Russians didn’t let him enter their country, the official reason being because Garcia was from the U.S., and the FIFA officials he interviewed were not required to answer his questions. Despite these issues, he still submitted a 350-page report which terrified the good people at FIFA’s Zürich headquarters. They kept the report under lock and key and only published a 42-page summary. Garcia then resigned, saying the summary didn’t adequately reflect his findings.

For two-and-a-half years FIFA refused to publish the full document, until in 2017 German newspaper Bild claimed to have obtained a copy. The next morning, the full report was published on FIFA’s website for all to see. The accompanying statement read: “For the sake of transparency, FIFA welcomes the news that this report has now been finally published.” Unfortunately, and because of Garcia’s limited capacity to investigate, the report does not contain any conclusive proof of bribery. It does, however, confirm many indirect favors, such as a bizarre payment of two million dollars to the 10-year-old daughter of one of the officials on the voting committee.

Now let’s return to the downfall of Blatter and Valcke. Ultimately, it appears to be largely symbolic. While the Ethics Committee pretends to flex its muscle by sacrificing some executives which caused a lot of bad publicity, it also acquitted Qatar of any allegations of corruption[xx]. Speculations of moving the World Cup to a different country are ongoing, but such a scenario is becoming less and less likely. Al-Thani, the last man standing, has FIFA on a leash.

June 8, 2019, Qatar/Nepal

Qatar’s human rights abuses haven’t been in the news much in the last couple of years. You might even start believing that the promised reforms have turned the oil state into a migrant workers’ paradise. But now that the dust of the 2018 World Cup, which drew away a lot of attention, has settled, the Qatari malpractices are under scrutiny again.

The scale of the building project has been revealed in its entirety: Qatar is investing over 200 billion dollars into their World Cup[xxi]. What does all this money buy them? First of all, seven state-of-the-art stadiums equipped with cooling systems which can keep the air inside of the stadium up to twenty degrees cooler than the air outside[xxii].  The Al Bayt Stadium is part of a huge complex containing a shopping mall, a park, and a hospital. The stadiums of Al Rayyan and Al Wakrah even have built-in mosques. A brand-new international airport, a new road network and a new sewage network are also part of the amenities[xxiii]. And then there’s the hotels, which since 2010 have risen from the ground by the hundreds[xxiv]. Still, none of this even comes close to Lusail City, a city of a quarter million people erected specifically for this tournament. It’s filled with villas and skyscrapers, a Formula 1 track, artificial islands, amusement parks and – of  course – the 80,000 capacity Lusail Iconic Stadium, which will host the World Cup final[xxv].

Who’s footing the bill? The royal family and their oil fields, but also the army of migrant workers. Despite Mohammed Bin Al-Thani’s promising words in 2013, not much has changed. On paper migrant workers have gained a lot of rights and safety nets, but in practice their situation hasn’t improved a lot. An undercover documentary from German broadcaster WDR Sport shows how workers from Nepal, India and Bangladesh, working on the Al Thumama Stadium, work without pay for months, live on just water and, bread and can’t even call their families[xxvi]. Their legal papers have been confiscated so they can’t leave Qatar or find another employer. Their living quarters look like prison cells which haven’t been maintained in decades. Adi Gurung, one of the men interviewed, says: “Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to be dead.” But he keeps on working, because his wife and two kids back home count on him, even though he hasn’t been able to send them money for eight months. Adi is stuck, but the German reporters are able to fly to his home country of Nepal, to meet his wife. She bursts into tears as she explains how her family has taken out loans to cover their monthly payments.

Meanwhile, some Nepali do return from Qatar – in coffins. The documentary ends with the funeral of Vishnu Bahadur, the 1426th Nepali who died in the Gulf state since 2009, intercut by footage of Gianni Infantino, the new FIFA boss. “Without the World Cup, improvements [in Qatar] would not have happened”, Infantino says, while we watch Vishnu’s coffin being buried.

October 12, 2020, ‘Worldwide’

No intro music this time, no flashy camera angle or glamorous podium. Gianni Infantino is standing in front of a wall with the word ‘FIFA’ printed on it in repetition. He starts talking right away, not to an audience of world leaders and football legends, but straight into the camera. We’re in the middle of the COVID-era.

“We’re all aware of the damage that this virus has inflicted on our communities, and it reminds us that health comes first. Even before football, health comes first”, Infantino says. Some people in Nepal would beg to differ…

 “This year brought a central, unifying challenge for all of us in combating the pandemic, but it also brought other challenges, [like] standing up to the racism and discrimination we have seen reemerging in society, and shamefully also in football”, he says. Thousands of forced laborers from Africa and South-East Asia might wonder when Gianni will stand up for their human rights.

Infantino continues: “The partial return of football across the world provides us with hope that football, and life, will return to normal. A new normal, in the not-too-distant future.” In the meantime, hundreds of workers laid off because of COVID don’t have income or the ability to leave Qatar, and are losing all hope[xxvii].

Gianni Infantino is speaking at Soccerex[xxviii], and annual symposium to which household names from the footballing world are invited as speakers: some kind of Davos for the world’s biggest sport. The FIFA president is giving the ‘Keynote Address’ at the end of the week. Like his predecessor Blatter ten years earlier, he doesn’t have to worry about his place at the top of the footballing pyramid. He can be content in the knowledge that peace has returned to Zürich. The bad apples have been thrown out and Infantino’s reputation is much better than Blatter’s. He never got into trouble, at least that’s what most football fans believe.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The Panama Papers mention his name and reveal his involvement in Blatter’s wrongdoings.[xxix] In his time as UEFA president he aided Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City in evading the rules of Financial Fair Play[xxx]. When he became president of FIFA, he let his organization pay for personal expenses worth thousands of dollars, including matrasses, fitness equipment, flowers, and a tuxedo[xxxi]. He also initially refused to sign his employment contract because he thought his salary was too low, and he accepted flights with private jets paid for by the authorities of Russia and Qatar[xxxii]. The most serious allegation came a couple of months ago, concerning the ongoing corruption case of FIFA. Infantino secretly met with Michael Lauber, the Swiss attorney general working on the case. This meeting was investigated and deemed ‘highly problematic’, after which Lauber resigned. Infantino denied any collusion or other wrongdoing[xxxiii].

Back in the recording studio, Gianni announces a 1,5 billion dollar relief fund to support football across the globe during these difficult times. “This is unprecedented, this is historic and it certainly has no equal in sports. We have been able to do this because FIFA is in a healthy and solid financial situation. We have been able, thanks to our sound and conservative management, to set aside a significant amount of money in our reserves, which was to be there if FIFA faced a crisis.”

It’s telling how Infantino calls forty years of corruption scandals ‘sound and conservative management’, but what he doesn’t say is even more telling: COVID is a crisis, but the situation in Qatar isn’t, apparently. No money needs to go there. A while later Infantino smiles naughtily and adds: “We know we have the money because at the new FIFA, money doesn’t disappear anymore. The money goes where it has to go.”

The gentlemen responsible for appointing the World Cup to Qatar might have taken the fall, but the organization they used to work for keeps profiting off of large-scale human rights abuses. FIFA has a new, naughty face, but behind this face there’s still a ruthless, money hungry business model. FIFA has become better at hiding and sugar coating that business model, but that’s all that has changed in the past decade.

April 2, 2022, Doha

In the desert, huge stadiums are casting long shadows and the city of Lusail, built entirely for the World Cup, is shining in the Qatari sun. Mohammed Bin Al-Thani and the big boss himself, Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, are ready to show their country in all its glory. Gianni Infantino will be the world’s guide, giving us a tour through this great nation, accompanied by a host of former football stars. This includes Lothar Matthäus and Cafú, who have been flown in to grab balls from a bowl today. These balls place the Netherlands in the same group as Qatar, while Spain will face Germany: juicy fixtures. But today is mostly about getting a first glimpse of flashy skyscrapers, beautiful desert imagery and quotes like “This will be the World Cup of unity and peace” coming from Infantino’s mouth, echoing Blatter’s words from 2010[xxxiv].

Despite promises and symbolic changes, there’s still a grim reality behind the façade. Qatar is a monarchy without elections (these keep getting announced but also keep getting postponed)[xxxv]; where under sharia law you could get forty to a hundred lashes for drinking alcohol[xxxvi]; where you could get stoned to death for being gay or, if you’re a woman, even for owning a cell phone[xxxvii]. A country where the Emir can put you in prison if you say anything negative about him or his family on the internet[xxxviii] and where foreign journalists end up in jail for asking critical questions[xxxix]. Qatar places 117th out of 169 countries on the World Freedom Index[xl], 114th out of 167 on the Democracy Index[xli] and 129th out of 180 on the World Press Freedom Index[xlii]. Although the Qatari proudly claim their energy-guzzling, air-conditioned tournament to be completely climate neutral (which remains to be seen)[xliii], their country has been leading the ranking of Earth Overshoot Day for years: if the entire earth would consume like Qatar, we’d hit the safe threshold of CO2 output as early as February 10[xliv].

Something less important, but for a football World Cup still relevant: Qatar is not a footballing nation. It will be the first country participating in a World Cup without ever qualifying for it. Its lack of football quality is unsurprising: in 2015 the Gulf nation counted only 7,000 adult men playing football. This lack of popularity is easy to explain: in the summer heat, it’s virtually impossible to play any sport. Furthermore, Qatari youths bathe in luxury because of their parents’ wealth. Coaches at youth levels complain about their players’ lack of motivation to really become good at football[xlv].

‘Fans’ are allowed free entry at exhibition matches of the Qatar national football team in order to fill up the stands[xlvi], or migrant workers are paid (a pittance, of course) to take a seat[xlvii]. The Qatari team itself also consists in large part of migrants. Many important players have been naturalized from countries like Algeria, Egypt, Mali or Sudan. Luckily, this hasn’t become as extreme as in handball where, at the 2015 World Cup (also organized in Qatar), the host nation fielded an all-star team filled with players born in Spain, France and Montenegro (cheered on by a group of sixty hired Spaniards)[xlviii]. Only four of the seventeen squad members had roots in Qatar. Mohammed bin Al-Thani might be angry about football not following this example, because the Qataris have actually tried. They built youth academies in Africa and Central America, in cooperation with KAS Eupen and Leeds United. Some talented players came through this network, such as Henry Onyekuru, Moussa Wagué, Francis Uzoho, and Moussa N’Diaye, but comically none of them chose to become naturalized Qatari.

But by far the biggest problem is of course the way in which the World Cup stadiums and infrastructure have been built. In November 2020, Amnesty International published a report in which it was made painfully clear how Qatar tries to obfuscate its practices[xlix]. Yes, on paper the country did a lot to improve worker’s conditions, but in practice barely anything has changed. Qatar, together with FIFA, only does the bare minimum to stave off bad publicity. The case of about a hundred workers at the Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor is a good example. They were owed seven months of salary, which they reported to the authorities in July and again in September of 2019. But the authorities did nothing.

Only when Amnesty International heard about it almost a year later and put in a complaint with FIFA, the migrants suddenly received payments. Some of them still didn’t receive all the money they were owed, but the media storm had died down. Al Thani and Infantino could sleep peacefully again. Their only goal seems to be to save as much money as possible on their tournament, while painting as nice a picture as possible for the rest of the world. So far, they are succeeding.

Meanwhile the death toll is rising. It’s hard to say how high it is exactly, because Qatari authorities are not clear on this. According to their numbers, 34 workers have died since 2013[l]. But these numbers don’t tell the full story, because they don’t include construction on infrastructure other than stadiums and don’t include deaths that occurred at worker camps. An estimation can only be made based on records from countries of origin. The Guardian did this based on numbers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Their estimate: 6,500 dead from 2010 to 2020[li]. Qatari authorities claim the vast majority of these people died of natural causes unrelated to the World Cup, but research at the Oslo University Hospital indicates that a large number of heart attacks are caused by the extremely high temperatures in which these young, healthy men are forced to work on World Cup building projects [lii]. Furthermore, many deaths are labeled ‘natural causes’ without an autopsy[liii]. Of course, some of them will indeed be by natural causes, but would thousands of young men die of natural causes in ten years’ time? Moreover, the number of 6,500 does not include deaths from African countries and the Philippines, for which there are no numbers available. Possible deaths since 2020 are also not included.

Qatari authorities keep trying their best to downplay the number of deaths, occasionally aided by their football ambassador Ronald de Boer (“everyone’s talking about these big numbers, but they’re taken out of context”)[liv]. They don’t seem to realize that ultimately, the exact number is beside the point. Even if the official number of 34 is correct, it doesn’t excuse the brutal conditions to which migrant workers are subjected. The country of Qatar is treating human lives as fodder, regardless of how many of those lives were lost. The poor living conditions, long days of heavy labor in scorching heat, all of it often forced and without pay, constitute an amount of suffering which should be strongly condemned. Even if nobody died from it.

So, is the Qatar World Cup really that bad? In short, the situation is as follows. Qatar, which has no significance as a footballing nation and is unfit to organize a World Cup because of its climate, probably paid several FIFA higher-ups to be awarded the tournament. After years of bad PR and investigations by the FBI about these dealings, FIFA cleaned up shop but keeps profiting off of this lucrative tournament. Both Qatar and FIFA only did the bare minimum (i.e. symbolical) to end the modern slavery at World Cup building sites. When the ball starts rolling in Qatar’s brand new stadiums, this will be made possible by forced labor, broken families, unpaid salaries, people who have lost years of their lives because they couldn’t leave the country and, probably, thousands of deaths. All this while those in charge, who stand to gain the most (financially and PR-wise), are purposefully prolonging these practices while making average football fans believe it’s not that bad.            

There can be no doubt: this World Cup is made with blood, sweat and tears, and not in a good way. But, you could wonder, is it really worse than previous tournaments, like Russia in 2018 or Argentina in 1978? I’ll look into that in the next chapter. First, to keep matters at least a little bit light, a short interlude about how I experienced my first World Cup.

[i] FIFA Announces Russia, Qatar as World Cup Hosts for 2018, 2022 (Full Presentation). (2010, 2 december). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YfyPi5MnPSY

[ii] Giles, T. (2010, November 29). Panorama: FIFA’s Dirty Secrets. [Blog]. From BBC Sport: https://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2010/11/fifa_football_panorama.html

[iii] Pattison, P. (2013, September 25). Revealed: Qatar’s World Cup ‘slaves’. [Article]. From The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/25/revealed-qatars-world-cup-slaves

[iv] Mahmood, M., Lamble, L. & Kelly, A. (2013, September 5). Qatar World Cup ‘slaves’: the official response. [Article]. From The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2013/sep/25/qatar-world-cup-official-response

[v] Smith, B. (2013, December 3). Trapped Zahir Belounis planned to escape from Qatar before release. [Article]. From BBC Sport: https://www.bbc.com/sport/football/25209879

[vi] Gibson, O. (2013, November 14). French footballer trapped in Qatar asks Guardiola and Zidane for help. [Article]. From The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2013/nov/14/zahir-belounis-letter-pep-guardiola-zinedine-zidane-qatar-trapped

[vii] BBC Sport. (2014, February 13). Morocco’s Abdeslam Ouaddou wins case against Qatari club. [Article]. From: https://www.bbc.com/sport/football/26169879

[viii] Borden, S. (2015, October 8). Sepp Blatter and Other Top Officials Are Suspended, Deepening FIFA’s turmoil. [Article]. From The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/09/sports/soccer/sepp-blatter-michel-platini-jerome-valcke-fifa-suspended.html?_r=0

[ix] The New York Times. (2015, December 21). The Rise and Fall of Sepp Blatter. [Article]. From: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/05/27/sports/soccer/sepp-blatter-fifa-timeline.html

[x] Gibson, O. & Gayle, D. (2015, May 27). Fifa officials arrested on corruption charges as World Cup inquiry launched. [Article]. From The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2015/may/27/several-top-fifa-officials-arrested

[xi] Gibson, O. (2015, December 21). Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini banned from football for eight years by Fifa. [Article]. From The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2015/dec/21/sepp-blatter-michel-platini-banned-from-football-fifa

[xii] Gibson, O. (2015, June 2). Fifa’s secretary general Jérôme Valcke under new pressure over $10m ‘bribe’. [Article]. From The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2015/jun/02/fifa-jerome-valcke-under-pressure-10m-bribe

[xiii] Gibson, O. (2014, March). Qataris paid Fifa official $1.2m after World Cup bid win, documents claim. [Article]. From The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2014/mar/18/qatar-fifa-jack-warner-world-cup

[xiv] BBC Sport. (2019, June 19). Michel Platini released after being questioned over awarding of World Cup to Qatar. [Article]. From: https://www.bbc.com/sport/football/48673461

[xv] Manfred, T. (2014, July 15). Why Qatar Has Scouted 3.5 Million Young Soccer Players Around The World. [Article]. From Business Insider: https://www.businessinsider.com/qatar-aspire-academy-world-cup-2014-7?international=true&r=US&IR=T

[xvi] De Menezes, J. (2020, October 30). PSG president Nasser al Khelaifi acquitted in Swiss corruption trial. [Article]. From The Independent: https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/news/psg-swiss-corruption-trial-nasser-al-khelaifi-b1448416.html

[xvii] Conway, R. (2014, November 20). Fifa whistleblower Phaedra Al-Majid fears for her safety. [Article]. From BBC Sport: https://www.bbc.com/sport/football/30122601

[xviii] Conn, D. (2020, April 7). World Cup likely to stay in Qatar despite new bribery accusations in US. [Article]. From The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2020/apr/07/world-cup-likely-to-stay-in-qatar-despite-new-bribery-accusations-in-us

[xix] Keh, A. (2017, June 27). In Long-Secret FIFA Report, More Details but No Smoking Gun. [Article]. From The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/27/sports/fifa-garcia-report.html

[xx] BBC Sport. (2014, November 13). World Cup 2022: Qatar cleared of corruption by Fifa. [Article]. From: https://www.bbc.com/sport/av/football/30034291

[xxi] Booth, R. (2015, November 4). ‘We will be ready, inshallah’: inside Qatar’s $200bn World Cup. [Article]. From The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2015/nov/14/qatar-world-cup-200-billion-dollar-gamble

[xxii] Knecht, E. (2019, September 26). World Cup host Qatar sees climate-controlled stadiums as the future. [Article]. From Reuters: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-soccer-worldcup-climate-idUSKBN1WB2X1

[xxiii] Architect (2015, August 25). Top 10 Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup infrastructure projects. [Article]. From: https://www.middleeastarchitect.com/gallery/top-10-qatar-2022-fifa-world-cup-infrastructure-projects

[xxiv] Qubein, R. (2022, March 26). Qatar Plans 100+ New Hotels For FIFA World Cup Later This Year. [Article]. From Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/ramseyqubein/2022/03/26/qatar-plans-100-hotels-in-time-for-fifa-world-cup-later-this-year/

[xxv] Lusail. From Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lusail

[xxvi] Migrant Workers in Qatar – Trapped in Slave-like conditions as they work for World Cup 2022. (2019, June 8). From YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjgYVHdU0Zo

[xxvii] Pattison, P. & Sedhai, R. (2020, May). Qatar’s migrant workers beg for food as Covid-19 infections rise. [Article]. From The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/may/07/qatars-migrant-workers-beg-for-food-as-covid-19-infections-rise

[xxviii] Keynote Address – Gianni Infantino, FIFA President | Soccerex Connected. (2020, October 12). From YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0HjHeJ5Qos

[xxix] Gibson, O. (2016, April 6). Panama Papers: Fifa president Infantino pulled into corruption scandal. [Article]. From The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2016/apr/05/panama-papers-pull-fifa-uefa-chief-gianni-infantino-corruption-scandal

[xxx] MacInness, P. (2018, November 2). Gianni Infantino urged Manchester City chairman to ‘be positive’ in FFP talks. [Article]. From The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2018/nov/02/gianni-infantino-manchester-city-psg-positive-ffp-talks

[xxxi] The Independent (2016, August 5). Gianni Infantino: Fifa president cleared following ethics committee investigation. [Article]. From: https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/news/gianni-infantino-fifa-president-cleared-following-ethics-committee-investigation-a7173616.html

[xxxii] Conway, R. (2016, July 14). Fifa president Gianni Infantino to be interviewed by ethics committee. [Article]. From BBC Sport: https://www.bbc.com/sport/football/36795446

[xxxiii] Nicholson, P. (2020, July 24). Lauber resignation over Infantino meeting ‘lies’ ramps up pressure on FIFA boss. [Article]. From Inside World Football: https://www.insideworldfootball.com/2020/07/24/lauber-resignation-infantino-meeting-lies-ramps-pressure-fifa-boss/

[xxxiv] Delaney, M. (2022, April 2). Tantalising World Cup draw adds first layer of gloss to Qatar’s morally bankrupt tournament. [Article]. From The Independent: https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/world-cup-draw-qatar-2022-sportswashing-b2049518.html

[xxxv] Reiche, D. (2014, December 18). Postponing democracy: Qatar’s modernization attempts fail without inclusive political institutions. [Article]. From An-Nahar: https://www.annahar.com/english/article/199010-postponing-democracy-qatars-modernizationization-attempts-fail-without-inclusive

[xxxvi] Astorri, F. (2013, April 22). Qatar sentences man to 40 lashes for drinking alcohol. [Artikel]. From Arabian Business: https://www.arabianbusiness.com/qatar-sentences-man-40-lashes-for-drinking-alcohol-498986.html

[xxxvii] Batha, E. (2013, September 28). Special report: The punishment was death by stoning. The crime? Having a mobile phone. [Artikel]. From The Independent: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/special-report-punishment-was-death-stoning-crime-having-mobile-phone-8846585.html

[xxxviii] Committee to Protect Journalists. (2014, September 17). New cybercrime law could have serious consequences for press freedom in Qatar. [Article]. From: https://cpj.org/2014/09/new-cybercrime-law-could-have-serious-consequences/

[xxxix] Dorsey, J.M. (2015, April 5). Qatari Promises of Labor Reform Ring Hollow Amid Revived Corruption Allegations. [Article]. Geraadpleegd van The Huffington Post: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/qatari-promises-of-labour_b_7209936

[xl] 2017 World Freedom Index. From: https://www.worldfreedomindex.com/

[xli] 2021 Democracy Index. From: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy_Index

[xlii] 2021 World Press Freedom Index. From: https://rsf.org/en/ranking_table

[xliii] Farand, C. (2018, June 11). Fifa accused of greenwashing in World Cup carbon offset scheme. [Article]. From Climate Change News: https://www.climatechangenews.com/2018/06/11/fifa-accused-greenwashing-world-cup-carbon-offset-scheme/

[xliv] Country overshoot days. From: https://www.overshootday.org/newsroom/country-overshoot-days/

[xlv] Booth, R. (2015, November). ‘We will be ready, inshallah’: inside Qatar’s $200bn World Cup. [Article]. From The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2015/nov/14/qatar-world-cup-200-billion-dollar-gamble

[xlvi] Herald Sun. (2016, March 25). Qatar forced to offer free tickets and flags to football ‘fans’. [Article]. From: https://www.heraldsun.com.au/sport/football/qatar-forced-to-offer-free-tickets-and-flags-to-football-fans/news-story/cab8fbf7548c167fdf616435500741a3

[xlvii] The Guardian. (2014, December 17). Qatar hires migrant workers as ‘fake sports fans’ to fill up empty arenas. [Article]. From: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2014/dec/17/qatar-migrant-workers-fake-sports-fans

[xlviii] The Local. (2015, January 16). Qatar ‘buys’ noisy Spanish handball fans. [Article]. From: https://www.thelocal.es/20150116/qatar-handball-team-buys-noisy-spanish-fans

[xlix] Amnesty International (2020). Reality check 2020: countdown to the 2022 World Cup. Migrant worker’s rights in Qatar [PDF]. From: https://www.amnesty.org/en/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/MDE2232972020ENGLISH.pdf

[l] Pattison, P. (2020, March 16). Qatar World Cup: report reveals 34 stadium worker deaths in six years. [Article]. From The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/mar/16/qatar-world-cup-report-reveals-34-stadium-worker-deaths-in-six-years

[li] Pattison, P., McIntyre, N., Mukhtar, I., Eapen, N., Bhuyan, O. U., Bhattarai, U. & Piyari, A. (2021, February 23). Revealed: 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since World Cup awarded. [Article]. From The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/feb/23/revealed-migrant-worker-deaths-qatar-fifa-world-cup-2022

[lii] Kelly, A., McIntyre, N. & Pattison, P. (2019, October 2). Revealed: hundreds of workers dying of heat stress in Qatar each year. [Article]. From The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/oct/02/revealed-hundreds-of-migrant-workers-dying-of-heat-stress-in-qatar-each-year

[liii] Pattison, P. (2019, October 7). Sudden deaths of hundreds of migrant workers in Qatar not investigated. [Article]. From The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/oct/07/sudden-deaths-of-hundreds-of-migrant-workers-in-qatar-not-investigated

[liv] AD Sportwereld (2022, March 31). Ronald de Boer gelooft niks van 6500 WK-doden in Qatar: ‘Ze zijn allemaal op een hoop gegooid’. [Article]. From: https://www.ad.nl/buitenlands-voetbal/ronald-de-boer-gelooft-niks-van-6500-wk-doden-in-qatar-ze-zijn-allemaal-op-een-hoop-gegooid~a33ea53b/


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