The Qatar FIFA World Cup Controversy, Explained


Ahmad Bin Ali stadium. Image courtesy of Forbes via Getty Images.

When Qatar was awarded the 2022 FIFA World Cup back in December 2010, there were already various concerns surrounding the country’s suitability for hosting and the questionable fairness of FIFA’s World Cup bidding process. Now, as the World Cup is underway, the controversy has come to a head. 

Qatar as a host country has come under fire for several reasons. Since Qatar seemed like a poor choice given its lack of major infrastructure, strict cultural norms, and extreme weather conditions, questions were raised about how the nation managed to secure the 2022 World Cup, leading to accusations of bribery and corruption. Last month, former FIFA president Sepp Blatter even told Swiss newsgroup Tamedia that he regretted the decision: “It was a bad choice. And I was responsible for that as president at the time.”

As such, many raised concerns about the lack of infrastructure, stadiums, and hotels that would be needed to host a major sporting event. This meant that construction work would mainly fall on migrant workers from Africa and Southeast Asia, who were often deceived by employers and forced to endure abuse and abysmal working conditions (via US News). Qatar’s Kafala system, which gives employers heavy control over their employees’ visas, makes it near impossible for workers to dispute unfair labor practices or to even return home safely. These workers were essentially trapped working in these conditions, which led to an undetermined number of deaths. Official Qatari statistics state that 37 people have died working to make the World Cup possible, and 34 of those deaths were considered unrelated to the job. However, external analyses have estimated that thousands of migrant workers have died since the 2010 decision, though the precise causes of death remain inconclusive. 

In addition to the controversy around migrant workers, Qatar has also been lambasted by human rights organizations for its treatment of women and the LGBT community. Human Rights Watch even published a 42-page report on the matter. Homosexuality is effectively criminalized in Qatar; sexual relations between men are punishable by up to 7 years in prison, and men who “entice” or “instigate” other men to commit acts of “sodomy or immorality” could face up to 3 years in prison (via NPR). LGBT Qataris are also subjected to conversion therapy and harassment by both authorities and the general population. In addition to this, Qatar’s penal code criminalizes extramarital sexual relations, which has led to the prosecution and stigmatization of rape victims.