In December 2010, amid allegations of corruption and bribery, Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup by FIFA. In the twelve years that followed, debate has been hot and heavy. Fans, pundits, and officials on both sides have celebrated and condemned the tournament’s hosts, with discussion about migrant worker deaths, cultural values, and discrimination at the forefront. Daniel Woods explains why he thinks that it is a significant decision.
FIFA has repeatedly said that Qatar will be a World Cup for all, where the strict laws on LGBTQ+ people, women, and general cultural differences would be relaxed as the nations of the world converge in the Gulf State. Gianni Infantino – the current president of the organisation – went as far as to say “Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel a migrant worker.” to display the football regulatory body’s empathy in response to various human rights criticisms.
However, only two days before the World Cup, Qatar has done something entirely unexpected: reneging on a promise to FIFA and banning alcohol in stadiums. In FIFA’s official statement on the matter, the World Cup governing body confirmed that after “discussions between the host country and FIFA” a decision to ban all alcohol sales in and around the perimeter was finalised.
The rank hypocrisy is evident, with alcohol still being available inside the hospitality boxes that cost around £20,000 at the lower end of the scale, but the wider issue is the sudden U-turn on promises to both FIFA and supporters.
“If you can’t watch football without alcohol maybe you need to consider that you have a drinking problem” is another commonly levied criticism
It is easy to stereotype those who are upset by this development as drunken hooligans, the classic English caricature, seen as fat, bald, drunken, and aggressive. “This is another country’s culture,” supporters of the decision may say that “If you can’t watch football without alcohol maybe you need to consider that you have a drinking problem” is another commonly levied criticism. These arguments appear to hold weight, but quickly fall apart when confronted with the genuine issues at the heart of the situation.
It goes in direct conflict to a previous statement by the Head of Communications for the World Cup committee, who was recorded as saying: “When it comes to alcohol, hospitality is part of our culture, even if alcohol is not. So, it will be in the places where the fans will gather, but not openly on the streets.”
The official fan guide to the World Cup promises that “ticket holders will have access to Budweiser, Budweiser Zero, and Coca-Cola products within the stadium perimeter” and the tournament is officially sponsored by the alcohol company Budweiser.
Qatar has the power here, not FIFA
To suddenly go back on all these promises, to show that the host nation is willing to fly flagrantly in the face of what they have promised to fans – FIFA and sponsors alike – shows that really, Qatar has the power here, not FIFA. There has been no on-record confirmation of a reason for the alcohol ban.
News broke, FIFA released a terse statement, Budweiser tweeted and deleted “awkward…” and that is it. Suddenly, banning a sponsor’s product with no give justification has sent ripples across the already signed on sponsors for this World Cup. According to The Guardian, if Qatar does not compensate it may directly affect Budweiser’s £63 million contract with FIFA.
To the average fan, this may seem trite, but it shows a radical departure from previous assertions Qatar has given to the footballing world. The culture was widely the same back in 2010, when the nation was awarded the World Cup, and for years the host country has promised that they will be accommodating to all cultures.
The move is best understood as a power play
This departure from that messaging came from nowhere. The move is best understood as a power play, thought to have originated through Jassim bin Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the Sheikh with the biggest hand in the actual day to day running of the tournament, and quickly made official. In response, the Football Supporter’s Association put out a salient statement, remarking that, “If they can change their minds on this at a moment’s notice, with no explanation, supporters will have understandable concerns about whether they will fulfil other promises relating to accommodation, transport or cultural issues”.
If the promises given to and by FIFA have been broken here, where else might they be broken? Can LGBTQ+ fans still feel safe in a World Cup with an ambassador who has stated that homosexuality is a “damage in the mind” and that LGBTQ+ fans must “accept our rules” before being quickly cut off by an official?
Can reporters feel safe in light of this and the recent harassment of a Danish journalist by Qatari security forces? Can people hoping to keep their identities hidden feel safe after the EU data authorities felt moved to put out a warning about the World Cup App for visitors possibly spying on users?
Can anyone feel secure knowing that FIFA’s promises hold no weight?
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