The 2022 World Cup could have a significant impact on the future of football

The eruption of cheers down streets and the wave of flags of all colours are reminders of why football is called ‘the beautiful game.’ In a world divided by cultural and geographical barriers, football is the language that unites all corners of the globe. Where words lack, football is there to fill the void.

The stunning passes, tricks, and goals are an art fueled by passion and determination that fills the hearts of many. The quadrennial World Cup is a reminder of these joys and the power of a ball to unite a country. However, this month’s World Cup in Qatar is tainted with controversy due to corruption and human rights concerns.

The sins of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) became apparent in 2011 when then-Vice President Jack Warner gave envelopes of $40,000 to 25 members of the Caribbean Football Union. Warner said the cash was a gift from FIFA Presidental candidate and Qatari citizen Mohamed bin Hammam. However, this problematic transaction led to a 47-count indictment in 2015 accusing Warner and other FIFA members of $150 million in bribes.

The cash payments formed business relationships and rigged votes regarding host countries, such as an alleged $10 million bribe for South Africa to put on the 2010 World Cup. The suspension of two executive committee members before the announcement of the 2018 and 2022 world cup hosts awoke further bribery suspicions. Leaked emails in 2014 confirmed these concerns and suggested bin Hammam paid FIFA officials millions of dollars in bribes.

However, the controversy expands beyond corruption. Qatar is reliant upon a labour force of 90% migrant workers. Consequently, the lack of stadiums, highways, and hotels fell upon the shoulders of migrant workers. A 2021 investigation by The Guardian discovered more than 6,500 migrant workers died since 2010 to meet these demands due to workplace accidents, car crashes, and alternate causes such as heat and suicide.

However, Qatar insists only three people died at construction sites while the other 37 deaths are related to “non-work-related” activities. In addition, many countries are concerned by Qatar’s laws on sexuality. Their penal code criminalizes sex before marriage which can lead to the prosecution of rape victims. Furthermore, sex between men can be punishable by up to seven years in prison.

These tensions create a variety of questions that may shape the future of international football. Despite political tensions, many view the World Cup as a symbol of global unity. The abuses mentioned above beckon one to consider if the construction of international football upon the backs of migrant workers is worth the cost.

Furthermore, the tension between Qatar’s religious beliefs and western values creates the need to differentiate between human rights abuses and cultural opinions. This questions the extent to which the values of western nations should inform the religious beliefs of another country.

There is no doubt FIFA needs to adopt a more ethical framework. For better and for worse, a higher standard prevents countries with low socioeconomic circumstances from host participation. By extension, ethical standards could ban teams as punishment for their government’s abuses which presents the challenge of knowing where to draw the line.

The discussions inspired by these debates will set a precedent for the future relationship between sports and politics. With these controversies and questions in mind, the 2022 Qatar World Cup is a must-watch not just for upsets but also to witness the future of football.

Photo: Christopher Pike, Foreign Policy