Sunday, December 05, 2010

Should we be happy that Qatar won the World Cup bid?

As soon as the announcement that Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup was made, I tweeted that I had "no clue how I feel about this". A few days and articles later, I think I have a clearer assessment. There were so many pro and con arguments made that it was quite difficult for me to filter out the pettiness and fake pride. But all in all, the discussion centered around 4 main issues that I will briefly describe.

Human rights: Some claimed that Qatar does not deserve to host the World Cup because they have a lousy human rights record, and even called on its boycott. Homosexuality is illegal. Gender equality is far from achieved. And it is illegal to drink in public (I don't know why people use this argument here.) The counter-argument, well-made by Brian Whitaker, is that things are not as bad as described and to be fair, homosexuality was illegal in the UK when they hosted the World Cup in 1966. Now of course the last statement is no excuse and I personally have zero tolerance for any kind of discrimination, be it sexual preference, gender or race. But it seems to me like a double standard to be using Western moral criteria in this context. Just because Qatar has not reached the level of development that Britain has, it should not preclude it from participating in international activities. If this really was a big deal to the world, why not stop all diplomatic ties with Qatar, or at least stop buying their gas?

Environment and sustainability: This is a very relevant issue for me and it was the first thing I thought of when I heard that the Qataris were bidding. I mean seriously, sports in 50 degree weather! Do we need more air conditioning in our world? And what are they going to do with all those new stadiums? What a waste! I guess that's a pretty good argument, on the surface of it. But you know what? Cold countries use underfloor heating in their stadiums. So what's the difference? And Qatar has promised carbon-neutral technology, as well as modular stadiums that will be given to developing countries after the tournament. Now whether they actually fulfill this promise or we end up with another Masdar initiative is besides the point. We are not in a position to judge.

Corruption: I am not gonna go too deep into that. So far all I am getting is hearsay with no conclusive evidence on what actually happened. Do I think some Qatari officials used back-doors to get this vote? It's very likely. But I believe that this is purely a FIFA problem. If they want to improve their reputation, they need to re-evaluate the way they process their bids. Maybe even give a justification of their final selection, instead of simply announcing a name.

Political stance: Now this is the trickiest one, at least for someone like me, who takes things very personally. Qatar's political manoeuvrings have been less than principled, especially in the past few years. Qatar is home to the Arabic satellite TV station most critical of the west, yet it hosts a US military base on its soil. It gives unwavering support to Hizbullah and plays the peacemaker in times of trouble, but has diplomatic relations with Israel and is not too shy about it. It claims to be home to all Arabs (in competition with Saudi Arabia) but has the audacity to shun an entire population of Arab Jordanians because of petty differences with their King. Who still does collective punishment these days? Oh right...

So basically, and in short, Qatar hosting the World Cup is not a sign of the apocalypse. It is not the worst thing that ever happened to football or the world. I say, good for the Qataris. But as a conscientious Arab woman, I say this: It means nothing to me.


Lowfields said...

The principal issue I have with Qatar's success isn't actually any of those listed above... although they are all reasonable concerns.

My problem is that Qatar is a place for whom hosting a World Cup has precious little to do with the development of football – it's simply an month-long opportunity to make a lot of money, to promote a nation, and to stroke the egos of the ruling oil sheikhs.

Qatar is a not a country with a football community able to actually benefit from any new facilities – something they have admitted in the plan to give the stadia away the minute the final is played.

Qatar is not home to thousands of players or coaches seeking the structures and facilities to help develop life-changing careers in the sport. We won't suddenly see an influx of Qatari pros to the Premiership or La Liga in 2028 – not when they have to give citizenship to Africans to even field a team.

The current national side, currently ranked outside the top 100, isn't one that deserves a free pass into the world's biggest tournament.

Qatar is not a place where urban neighborhoods need to be rejuvenated or employment opportunities created.

Qatar isn't a place that merits the economic boost of 500,000 international fans, nor somewhere with the attractions to appeal to them.

Qatar's temperature will be 50 degrees in June 2022, with a humidity in the 90s. Are teams meant to stay indoors for four weeks? Are the fans supposed to go shopping when the games aren't on?

I could go on... but basically, there's no long-term benefit to football, in Qatar or around the world, in holding the World Cup there.

It's a terrible, terrible decision.

Khaled said...

I'm sorry to say, but as much as people try to rationalize, many of the negative sentiments towards Qatar's winning bid seem to me to be yet again a result of the inflated sense of western cultural superiority. I remember when people started complaining about South Africa's vuvuzelas. Sure, they were annoying for me and for most people who were watching the cup, but two weeks into the tournament when I had already gotten used to the buzzing sound, I couldn't believe people were still tweeting that FIFA should ban the trumpet. One tweeter said it best when he said, "The only thing more annoying than vuvuzelas is people who are still complaining about how annoying vuvuzelas are."

And here we go again. Suddenly everyone and their mother has their own list of arbitrary standards every country has to live up to host the world cup. But none of these standards are relevant. In the end, what matters is that the Qataris want to host the cup and made a compelling case to do so: carbon-neutral stadiums that will be given away to developing countries sends a pretty awesome message that FIFA has not surprisingly welcomed.

Sure, Qatar has many problems it needs to resolve, but it is clear that it IS trying to move forward and letting them host the world cup cannot but have a positive effect on social and political progress in that country. Because of that alone I'm very happy for them.

Sireen said...

I agree with Khaled that the reason some have deemed Qatar not World Cup worthy is due to cultural bias. It is true that Qatar may not benefit economically from hosting the world cup; its urban neirbohoods do not need development and the country is not in need for new facilities. However, other developing nations benefitting from the stadiums counts for quite a bit in my book. I believe that the benefit for Qatar is mostley social. With the exception of thr UAE, the Gulf Region is one that is closed for most of the world, and Qatar opening up its gates to bring in the world is perhaps most beneficial for its locals. Its own Sheikha Mozah was pitching for the cup - something unheard of in most Gulf nations. I understand Qatar's disappointing track record for human and women's rights (I grew up in Saudi and suffered greatly because I'm a woman) but let's not dismiss a step in the right direction.
Let's not penalize Qatar for its size, temperature, or lack of financial need. I personally I'm happy that my region will be hosting my favorite sports tournament for the first time ever.

And I (arab woman, amateur player and an avid fan of football) for once, feel like I actually have a fair chance to see a live game. How's that for a reason to be happy Qatar is hosting the World Cup!