Torn About Watching The Qatar World Cup? Read This First

Human rights issues in Qatar have led to calls for football fans to switch off – so should you?

The 2022 FIFA men’s World Cup is about to kick off – and Qatar is hosting.

The prestigious once-every-four-years event sees teams and their supporters from around the world flock to the host country, to join in their shared love of football.

But, this year’s host is becoming an obstacle to many fans, commentators and competing nations alike. Famous faces like former footballer David Beckham will be attending, whereas athletes such as Tom Daley have condemned it publicly.

And many regular football fans are now asking the question: should we be watching it at all?

Here’s all the facts so you can make an informed decision about whether to tune in or out this year.

Why is Qatar such a controversial host?

The Middle Eastern country has been heavily criticised for its record on human rights and questions around how it ended up as the World Cup’s host.

Fans in Germany at a football match hold up a banner reading "Boycott Qatar".
picture alliance via Getty Images
Fans in Germany at a football match hold up a banner reading "Boycott Qatar".

LGBTQ+ rights

LGBTQ+ rights have been suppressed in the country for years. Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, and could lead to seven years in prison. All LGBTQ+ people have been criminalised, with sexual activity between men potentially resulting in the death penalty.

While Human Dignity Trust reports that it’s rare for these punishments to be enforced in recent years, there are still incidents of discrimination and violence against LGBTQ+ people.

In 2013, the Qatar government claimed everyone was welcome to attend the World Cup. However, it recommended not participating in public displays of affection because they were “not part of our culture and tradition”.

Two weeks before the game kicked off, a former Qatari footballer and current ambassador for the event, Khalid Salman, described homosexuality as “damage in the mind”.

Migrant workers’ rights

Migrant workers also struggle in Qatar, despite making up 95% of the country’s total workforce. They face wage abuses, and their legal status is linked to a specific employer. This means leaving a job without your boss’s permission is considered a crime.

TIME magazine previously reported that thousands of migrant workers died during the construction work for the World Cup’s stadiums, due to the extreme heat and poor working conditions.

Women’s rights

Women need permission from their male guardians to marry, study or travel abroad, work for the government or receive some reproductive health care. A woman could lose her husband’s financial backing if she refuses to have sex with him.

Extra-marital sex is also punishable via flogging and up to seven years in jail – for the woman.

Men walk past a FIFA World Cup trophy replica outside the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium in Al-Rayyan on November 12, 2022.
Men walk past a FIFA World Cup trophy replica outside the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium in Al-Rayyan on November 12, 2022.

Voting rights and freedom of expression

Only those who are originally Qatari or can prove their grandfathers were born in the country can vote.

Freedom of speech is also suppressed, according to Amnesty International, after a new law was introduced in January 2020.

It announced imprisonment for “anyone who broadcasts, publishes, or republishes false or biased rumours, statements, or news, or inflammatory propaganda, domestically or abroad, with the intent to harm national interests, stir up public opinion, or infringe on the social system or the public system of the state”.

Bribery accusations

Claims that Qatar bribed Fifa officials started shortly after its successful bid back in 2010, where it beat the US.

Sepp Blatter – Fifa president until 2015 – dismissed claims back in 2014, saying accusations of corruption was “very much linked to racism and discrimination”.

Blatter was later banned for illegal payments amid different corruption allegations in 2015.

According to a New York Times article last updated in October 2021, the US Department of Justice has since confirmed that representatives working for Qatar bribed Fifa officials to secure hosting rights.

Money was paid to five members at the top board (from both Qatar and Russia, which had its own bid going on for the 2018 World Cup).

Qatar has denied any allegations of acting improperly, according to the NY Times, although a Fifa document from 2019 did allude to the bribery scheme.

More than half the people involved in the votes for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments have been accused of wrongdoing (though not all have faced criminal charges).

Illustration: Chris McGoniga/HuffPost; Photo: Getty Images

So, does it make a difference if you choose to watch?

Well, this is a complicated question to dissect, but it essentially boils down to money.

If (significantly) fewer people watch the tournament this year, there’s a chance Qatar and Fifa would earn less.

How does Fifa make money?

Fifa is a non-profit. Around 95% of its revenues come from selling TV, marketing, hospitality and licensing rights related to the World Cup, according to its website.

Most of its expenditure then goes back into developing football around the world.

Fifa also does not give the host nation any money before the games begin. Infrastructure costs are paid for by host country – Qatar has already spent billions of dollars to prepare, using money accumulated from investors in the 12 years since its successful bid.

However, after the tournament Qatar will likely to be eligible for the World Cup legacy fund. This is when the non-profit awards a host nation. For instance, it gave South Africa $100m (£85m) for education, health and humanitarian projects back in 2010, after hosting that year’s World Cup.

This year, Fifa is expected to make an estimated £5bn from the tournament, according to Amnesty International. During the last World Cup in 2018, Fifa made more than $4.6bn (£3.92bn) in revenue.

In 2021, a non-World Cup year, Fifa reported it made $766m (£653m).

Fans of Brazil gather at the Corniche Waterfront ahead of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 on November 14, 2022
Ryan Pierse via Getty Images
Fans of Brazil gather at the Corniche Waterfront ahead of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 on November 14, 2022

How could fans have an impact?

If people boycotted this year’s tournament en masse, there would be consequences for both Qatar and Fifa.

Between 2015 and 2018, 49% of Fifa’s revenue came from TV rights alone, It sells the rights to broadcast the games to TV stations, broadcasting institutions, so the games and related events can be broadcast.

Obviously, these stations give Fifa money before the games start, so a decline in viewership will only have an impact later – and not necessarily directly on Fifa, especially as huge bidding wars have already taken place to secure the rights to broadcast it.

21st Century Fox paid more than $400m (£341m) to Fifa for the TV rights in the end, beating ESPN. The BBC and ITV will cover it in the UK, although for an undisclosed amount.

Facebook’s parent company Meta also offered millions to Fox for highlight rights.

In licensing rights for 2015 to 2018, Fifa made $600m (£512m) – that’s 114% more than its previous cycle, through royalties, brand licensing contracts.

But the value of its revenues is so high because it has the largest fan base of any global sport. If this significantly diminishes over the course of the season, it will be intensely affected.

This means Fifa could risk causing upset among those who paid such sums to stream the matches if they don’t attract large audiences.

Because Qatar had already attracted a lot of investment in the infrastructure, it’s arguably too late to have a direct impact on the country.

And, match tickets still in high demand, from France, Germany, the US, England, Mexico, Argentina, France and Brazil – so Qatar is still likely to make a fair amount from tourist interest.

This year’s tickets were the most expensive yet, according to the FSA.

As of October 17, 2.89 million tickets had already been sold, according to Fifa.

Is there an argument in favour of watching?

Former footballer and current commentator Gary Neville defended his decision to work in Qatar during the World Cup as a commentator.

Speaking on BBC’s Have I Got News For You, he said: “My view always has been, you either highlight the issues and challenges in these countries, and speak about them, or you basically don’t say anything and stay back home, and don’t go. And I’ve always said we should challenge them.”

Fifa has also suggested that having the tournament in the country will help progress human rights in the country, with Qatar having made small steps to change since agreeing to host the World Cup.

For instance, in December 2020, the country agreed to allow rainbow flags (representing LGBTQ+ pride) at the tournament.

But, for many people that still doesn’t go far enough to suggest real reform.

Some countries could still be supporting Qatar because it is already important on the world stage. US President Joe Biden officially made Qatar a non-Nato strategic ally, having offered to host negotiations with radical groups (including the Taliban) to push for conflict resolution in recent years.

In terms of international relations, Qatar is also as powerful as Australia or the US with liquefied natural gas production – a more precious commodity now fossil fuels are limited due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

But, again, being a powerful trade partner doesn’t justify a catalogue of human rights’ abuses.

Who has already switched off?

London will not host fan zones or public screenings of matches, nor will Paris or other French cities.

The BBC previously quoted the mayor of Lille, who described this year’s World Cup as ”nonsense in terms of human rights, the environment and sport”.

The UK’s Labour Party will be boycotting it too, while Brewdog, the official sponsors of the entire event, have described themselves as the “anti-sponsors”.

Their advertising campaign calls it a World F*Cup, with posters which read: “Football’s been dragged through the mud, before a single ball’s been kicked in. Let’s be honest: Qatar won it through bribery. On an industrial scale.”

It will still screen the tournament in its bars, but will send all of its revenue to fighting human rights abuses.

Meanwhile, the Danish team will wear “faded” logos on their shirts because maker Hummel “does not want to be visible in tournaments that cost lives”.

Australia’s team made a video raising worries about the “suffering” of the migrants and LGBTQ+ in Qatar – eight of the team’s players want to wear a rainbow armband.

The Swiss team also released a video announcing its squad which included a gay couple holding hands, apparently in defiance of Qatar’s LGBTQ+ stance.

What does Qatar say?

On October 25, the state’s ruler Seikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani spoke to the legislative body and said Qatar had been facing “an unprecedented campaign that no host country has ever faced”.

“We initially dealt with the matter in good faith, and even considered that some criticism was positive and useful, helping us to develop aspects that to be developed.

“But it became clear to us that the campaign was continuing, expanding and including fabrication and double standards, until it reached a level of ferocity that made many question, unfortunately, reasons and motives.”

According to The Guardian, one Qatari official also said: “The UK media is the worst. Everything gets twisted. We are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.”

Working conditions have allegedly improved, with outdoor work prohibited between 10am and 3.30pm from July until mid-September, a minimum wage.

Another official said: “There is a danger other Gulf states are going to look at how Doha has been rewarded and ask is it worth following suit.”