How to Fix the Dark Side of the World Cup
Today is the first day of the 2022 World Cup, held in Qatar. Yesterday, FIFA President Gianni Infantino defended his organization’s decision to award Qatar the right to host this event. Responding to critics who point out that Qatar is a repressive authoritarian state, Infantino avowed that “Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arabic. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled.” His assurances of solidarity with gay people might be more credible if FIFA hadn’t awarded its premier event to a state where gay sex is a crime, punishable by a sentence of up to seven years in prison. Qatar also severely restricts freedom of speech and expression, including enforcing “chilling” restrictions on foreign media organizations covering the Cup.
The issue of migrant workers’ rights is, I think, more complicated than sometimes depicted. Nonetheless, it is clearly unjust that the government makes it difficult or impossible for workers to quit their jobs and switch employers (albeit it has to be admitted that similar flaws also exist in some US work-visa programs).
The best that can be said for Qatar’s human rights record is that it it probably isn’t as bad as that of the host of the last World Cup: Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Like the world’s other great international sports event—the Olympics—the World Cup is all too often a propaganda showcase for repressive regimes, and also a cause of human rights violations of its own, such as the forcible displacement of large numbers of people to build stadiums. And, as with the Olympics, the World Cup often ends up with awful authoritarian host countries because of corruption in the international body that makes hosting decisions (in this case FIFA). That’s what happened in the cases of both Russia and Qatar.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Earlier this year, in the wake of the awful Beijing winter games, I outlined a series of reform proposals for the Olympics. Most are applicable—with minor modifications—to the World Cup, as well. Here they are, with a few modifications, relevant to the World Cup.
1. No public subsidies. Let the games be funded purely by private organizations and sponsors, as was largely the case for the successful 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. That way, no one has to pay for the games, except those who profit from them and the audience that voluntarily chooses to watch.
2. No forcible displacement of residents, private businesses, or civil society organizations. We can and should hold sports events without kicking innocent people out of their hom
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