Will Qatar really host the 2022 FIFA World Cup?

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Instead of enjoying a few beers and a barbecue, it is likely that English fans watching the 2022 FIFA World Cup will be accompanied by mulled wine and a Sunday roast. The reason for this: the tournament is the first instalment scheduled to take place through November and December, instead of June and July, due to Qatar’s climate.

Its uniqueness is not only due to the playing dates. Qatar is the first Arab country to win the right to host the tournament. At face-value, this seems a good outcome; a predominately Islamic nation is, at last, hosting a global sporting event. Yet, when the finer details are considered, it is clear that there are some underlying issues with the decision to award Qatar the 2022 World Cup.

Just as with the proposed 2018 Russian edition, the tournament has come under scrutiny amid corruption allegations. Newspapers such as The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian have reported that African and Trinidadian officials were paid unthinkable sums to help swing the voting in Qatar’s favour. Former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner, who hails from the Caribbean island, has since been banned from all football-related activity for life. Interestingly enough, in March 2014 Mr Warner was found to have received almost $2m from a firm linked to the Qatari winning bid. Grant Wahl, in his article for Sports Illustrated titled “Sorry Soccer”, also spoke about such claims, asserting that “two reporters for The Sunday Times testified that a ‘whistle-blower’ within the Qatari World Cup ’22 bid team told them that two other FIFA ExCo members, Jacques Anouma of Ivory Coast and Issa Hayatou of Cameroon, were paid $1.5 million each to support Qatar’s bid.” The said “whistle-blower” initially proceeded to deny such allegations, before admitting that she had only done so under pressure from the Qatari government, heightening suspicions about the authenticity of the vote.

The decision to change from a “summer” to “winter” tournament is being heavily criticised. This is mainly because domestic competitions, which typically run from July to May, will be affected due to the World Cup not taking place in the off-season as is usual. As a result, numerous federations have complained. The Australian Football chairman Frank Lowy said that if a disruption to the country’s A-League season occurs, they would consider “seeking compensation from FIFA”. Furthermore, the FA executive chairman Richard Scudamore said that England too would consider taking legal action against football’s governing body. Both assertions suggest hostility towards the tournament, perhaps showing that FIFA committee member Theo Zwanziger was fair in saying “the decision [to award Qatar the tournament] was a blatant mistake”. However, hosting the tournament in winter will inevitably protect both players and fans. Qatari temperatures in July usually peak at 42C, as opposed to 25C in December. If the tournament was played in summer the risk of dehydration would hence be severe. The quality of football could also prove poorer due to increased fatigue amongst the players – owing to a combination of high temperatures and humidity.

Most of the tournament’s proposed stadiums are yet to be developed and thus there is concern over whether the builds will be completed in time. Qatar has attempted to address this worry by employing thousands of migrant workers. Yet, following an extensive investigation into worker conditions by The Guardian, it seems that many employees are effectively being treated as slaves. The report claimed that some are denied food, not paid and have basic identity papers taken away. Even worse are the mortality rates. Since 2010 an estimated 1200 workers have died on the project, and projections show that by the time the tournament takes place the total number of deaths could be close to 4000.

One of the planned stadiums for the 2022 World Cup

So is a World Cup in Qatar beneficial? On the one hand, it emphasises the diversity which the tournament looks to promote, but it may have only been awarded the rights to host through scandal. The decision to play in December will protect players from fatigue and heatstroke, yet could cause disruptions to domestic leagues. With the English and Australian FAs already showing hesitance towards the format, it will be interesting to see if more countries follow. If enough express distaste, perhaps the first “winter” World Cup will not take place in winter after all. Maybe it could even be moved from Qatar.