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Wednesday, February 8, 2023


[Criticism of Qatar Hosting the World Cup]


The World Cup in Qatar has been the subject of criticism in some media.

Their articles repeatedly say that Qatar has a poor human rights record, it treats foreign workers poorly, discriminates against LGBTQ persons, and more. Some persons will be quoted, so as to have a veneer of ‘independent’ comments. The comments would however be entirely predictable, given the choice of the commentators.

I had four thoughts about such articles on Qatar.

First, such articles are often quite sensational, but skinny on the facts underlying the allegations. I found that the reports also usually omit the steps which Qatar says it has taken, on several fronts, including improving the welfare of the workers. Qatar has put out its record, introduced reforms. Foreign workers go there, because they believe that they get better opportunities than what they have at home. One doesn’t usually get to read about these things. Objective reporting has been in short supply.


Second, to come to some sensible conclusions, it will be relevant to compare the situation in Qatar with that in other countries.

There are many countries with foreign workers. Is the situation in Qatar worse than in many other places, particularly in comparison with countries where much of the criticism comes from?

The US, for example, is said to have around 11 million illegal immigrants, many of whom perform jobs that Americans don’t want to do (Pew Research Centre – link below). The context is slightly different in that the US Government is not officially sanctioning the import of these workers. Nevertheless is it fair that that these workers get exploited badly? They are vulnerable, without basic legal rights, proper health care, may not even get paid properly. Could Government agencies do more to prevent this situation or at least improve the situation? There are similar situations in Europe too. How much attention do these workers get from the media?

Third, there is more than a hint of cultural superiority, when Qatar gets criticised for having norms and values which are different from Western norms and values. Qatari norms and values are consistent with its religious beliefs, and are similar to that of many other Gulf countries. The norms and values were there, when Qatar was first chosen to host the World Cup.

Fourth, many Governments and businesses have been courting Qatar, for years, for its wealth and resources. Governments and businesses from where much of the criticism against Qatar is coming from. This year, countries have been making a beeline to Qatar to ask Qatar to supply gas, because Russian gas supply has been restricted. Some have even asked Qatar to break its existing contracts to other buyers, so that they can get the supplies – i.e. they want Qatar to break its contractual obligations so that they can benefit. They also want Qatar’s billions of dollars in investments, and want to sell arms to it – which is lucrative for the sellers. Those who want Qatar’s gas, and its money (so that their people can be comfortable in the winter, and richer overall) should reflect on whether it is principled to at the same time deliver sermons on Qatar’s values and norms? But often it’s easier to moralise, but keep such moralisation cost-free, keep mum about their countries getting benefits from Qatar.


Apart from a handful of opinions (links below), the general discourse in the West, on Qatar hosting the World Cup, has avoided these questions.

It smacks of hypocrisy. Virtue signalling. With racial undertones.

Qatar is a young nation (independent since 1971), with a small citizen population (around 300,000). It does not have the leverage, on the world stage, of larger powers. That makes it an easy, cost-free target for criticism.

Russia did not face the same hostility, when it hosted the last World Cup in 2018. There are many other countries with records which can be criticised (not that the criticisms will always be justified). They have hosted major sporting events, without receiving such biased coverage.

This is not just “whataboutism”. It is about questioning what the true motives are for targeting Qatar, while keeping relatively quiet about others. It raises questions – are the critics really as concerned about the underlying issues? Or is there a large dose of sanctimonious hypocrisy allied with a disregard for the facts.

It will be interesting to see if the media applies similar scrutiny to future hosts of the World Cup, and other sporting events.

Image source: K Shanmugam on Facebook and Johnny Harris on YouTube

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