The FIFA World Cup is a stage for nations to showcase their unique brand of football ideology, combining cunning and craftsmanship with power and pace, all brought together through simulated formations and tactics.
This optimistic rendition of the world’s most-watched sporting event is the idealistic fantasy of a pure mind that sees football as the events that happen solely within the stipulated 90-minute time frame.
The promise of money, power and influence is found in abundance in football and certain individuals, associations or even countries will always seek to realize the immense potential that the three great vices can offer.
But delving deeper and burdened with the cost of knowledge, football also becomes inextricably linked to massive real-world struggles by citizens and those in power that permeate the art of football.
The international excitement surrounding the awarding of the hosting rights to the world’s greatest sporting spectacle to the Middle Eastern nation has several perspectives to contend with.
World football’s governing body FIFA could officially cite as the reason behind their decision to award their flagship tournament to the Qataris that the region’s first-ever World Cup will boost the reach and quality of football in the Middle East. It will also help the peninsular Arab country to tapping into the region’s rather underutilized talent pool and market potential.
But the truth might be anything but as simple as a naïve person might have you believe.
And the biggest reason football pundits have pinpointed for Qatar’s bid to host the country, and one that’s being heard around the world, is the opportunity for Qatar to sportingly redeem its reputation as a tough Middle Eastern nation with ultra-conservative ethics by bolstering its so- This so-called “modern” view has evolved and improved over time.
The wheels to bring the glorious trophy to Qatar were set in motion well before the voting process to decide the World Cup venue. By this time, Qatari officials had already met with leaders they needed to meet and the palms that needed lubricating were lubricated to ensure a smooth process.
But many things still needed to be done to fulfill the colossal commitment of hosting the world’s greatest showpiece. Especially in a desert region.
A high-quality infrastructure for hosting football matches had to be developed or renovated. The roads to the site had to be laid, and most importantly, the accommodation for the fans and travelers who flock to the nation in droves. Put simply, Qatar not only had to build stadiums, but also ensure the presence and availability of the ancillary facilities and amenities that go hand in hand when trying to organize a multi-country festival, to play the role of a gracious host.
And so, Qatar began the mission to develop the most advanced super stadiums, equipped with cutting-edge technology to host the games through the eyes of the world. And while it’s gratifying that they’ve done an excellent job on the infrastructure front, there’s talk that they’ve paid in time, money, oil, and much more torturous blood.
The much-discussed “kafala” system is nothing new in the Middle East. It’s a practice that’s been going on for several decades and no one has turned a blind eye to it, despite apparent awareness of the subpar treatment of migrant workers employed under the system.
Lay people seeking remuneration to meet their personal needs in Third World countries are flocking to the Middle East with the promise of a better income and possibly a better standard of living.
But the evil of the kafala system lies in the fact that employees who land in the desert-dominated region have their passports and IDs taken away by their employer until the task at hand is finished, in exchange for being provided with an uninhabitable, overcrowded apartment becomes rooms, unbearable working hours and worst of all, the lack of a way out.
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Pot Calling Kettle Black
However, when other Middle Eastern nations direct human rights abuses against World Cup hosts Qatar, it is, to put it bluntly, a case of pot calling the blackjack.
A trade embargo was imposed on Qatar several years ago when diplomatic ties between the World Cup hosts and other MENA countries (namely Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain) collapsed. Existing suppliers and vendors have had to do business with the help of third countries like Kuwait, which did not choose sides in the feud.
Saudi Arabia cited Qatar’s financing of terrorism as the reason for the boycott of the World Cup hosts.
This coincided with the time when the majority of MENA countries decided to dig up Qatar’s dirty laundry by drawing attention as brightly as possible to the deaths of migrant workers employed on stadium construction projects. A move aimed at tarnishing the nation’s status in the eyes of the world ahead of the most anticipated and first-ever FIFA World Cup in the Middle East.
To be honest, there were variations on the kafala system in at least one of the four nations that embargoed Qatar.
Does this mean the world must wait for said country to host a global event before its neighboring rival nations begin to unveil the dark secrets in the underbelly of the seedy Arab region?
Modern versus traditional
The kafala system and the deaths of migrant workers aren’t the only issues troubling the upcoming World Cup even before a kick of the ball.
The Islamic areas of the Middle East are proudly or notoriously (depending on how you look at it) conservative. Although opposition to societal change varies from nation to nation, the region’s strict adherence to Sharia is well documented and difficult to change.
The rights of the LGBTQ+ crowd who flocked to the country during the tournament later that year caused quite a stir as they challenged the region’s rudimentary belief system.
Organizers have stated that fans traveling to the World Cup, regardless of their nationality, race, origin, preferences and choices, will be welcomed with open arms, much to the relief of the football-loving population.
But there seemed to be mixed signals when the same organizers mentioned that if fans fraternized in a way that contradicts their belief system, they would not be able to carry the flag or be in charge. When they refused to change the fabric of their society based on the moral codes prophesied in the Islamic texts.
Fans traveling to the World Cup were urged to refrain from overt displays of affection in public spaces to avoid offending the religious sensibilities of the indigenous people.
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Sharia prohibits alcohol. And a major concern for the football-mad crowd, so used to watching matches with a pint of beer or alcoholic beverage of their choice in hand, was that they might not be granted liquid courage.
Bear the digression in mind as it sheds some light on the magnitude of the scenario. South African cricket legend Hashim Amla famously refused to wear the brand logo of a company that produces alcohol because he firmly believes in Islamic principles. Word on the street is that he was fined for every game he wore a jersey without the sponsor’s logo. Indeed, the brilliant hitter made up for it with all the Man of the Match and Man of the Series awards he managed to win in his prime.
Alcohol consumption is not permitted in public places, although a small cushion has been provided for traveling fans who are reportedly allowed to consume alcohol in fan zones set up to mark the tournament. Other hospitality spaces are also allowed to serve alcohol to expatriates and it has been announced that beer will also be available at the venue. But it remains to be seen how this partial implementation would hold up against age-old traditions and antiquated ways of thinking.
However, in a recent development, a source familiar with the matter mentioned that the sale and consumption of alcohol is only permitted when entering and exiting the stadium and not during match time or inside the stadium.
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Amid multiple calls to move the World Cup overseas, Qatar have continued preparations as planned, promising a fresh new experience.
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