Causes and consequences of a possible withdrawal of the world cup in Qatar

By Nicolas Wattelle, MEDEA Institute

The World Cup 2014 in Brazil starts in less than a week, and yet all eyes are on the 2022 World Cup which will be held in Qatar. The reasons are the many scandals that are associated with the assignment of this global event to the Arab Emirates.

Several questions came to mind following the vote of the Executive Committee of FIFA in favor of Qatar in december 2010. Firs of all, how can one play football in a country where temperatures reach 50°C? The answer of Qatar is that they will completely close and cool the 3 stadiums which are already in place and the 9 to come. This, on its turn, raises questions about its environmental impact.

Moreover, why should a country like Qatar, which national team is 101st on the FIFA ranking and never participated in the tournament, be elected to host a World Cup? The day following the FIFA’s decision, tabloids such as « Sunday Times » and « Sun », immediately spoke of corruption. Some even accuse directly to N.Sarkozy, at that time French president, to have asked M.Platini, president of UEFA, to vote in favour of Qatar. On the 1st of June 2014, the « Sunday Times » accused Mohamed Bin Hammam, former vice-president of FIca and former president of the Asian Football Confederation, to have payed a bribe of 5 million dollar to high placed international football representatives for their support to Qatar. An investigation against the Qatari responsible was already running during these allegations, for which he has been suspended for life from FIFA. On the 3rd of June, 2014 (2 days later), the « Daily Telegraph » confirmed, without any proof, a meeting between M.Platini and M.B.Hamman in 2010 and that the latter supposedly influenced the president of the UEFA to vote in favour of Qatar.

© AFP. The former president of the Asian Football Confederation, Mohammed Bin Hamman, with the president of the FIFA, Joseph Blatter, has been accused of corruption. 

Particularly worrying are the working conditions of laborers, who are mostly for South-East Asia, in the country with the highest GDP per capita (110,000 dollar/year) in the world. More than one hundred workers died since the beginning of the constructions: 450 laborers from India (official number of the Indian embassy) and 200 Nepalese immigrants die every year. The British newspaper « The Guardian » still considers Qatar as a slave state and estimates the number of deaths by the beginning of the next World Cup on 4000. This scandalous situation puts the emirate in the spotlight of numerous Human Rights organizations. Human Rights Watch, among others, continually denounces the serious abuses suffered by migrant workers in the country, speaking of « exploitation » and « misery » of migrant workers. But despite the many denunciations, the Al Thani dynasty still seem unwilling to implement the necessary reforms.

© REUTERS/Stringer. Workers on a construction site in Doha on the 18th of June 2012.

These scandals could therefore have serious consequences for Qatar. Especially if, as are claiming more and more people, the World Cup will be withdrawn from the country.  The Al Thani dynasty, which focuses on soft power by investing in diverse sectors (sport, media, art, etc), causing worldwide influence, could lose influence due to the withdrawal of the World Cup. In order to compensate its lack of military power, Qatar needs such an event to position itself vis-à-vis its eternal rival, Saoudi Arabia. Moreover would the withdrawal of the event be unfortunate for the migrant workers, who, despite their current working conditions, could use this event to improve their rights, often forgotten in the Gulf countries.