This week saw England’s first win at the Qatar World Cup. The 6-2 victory against Iran is the glimmer of hope England needs after our previous loss at the Euros. This World Cup is 12 years in the making and has been controversial in the sporting world since its announcement. Even the days leading up to the World Cup were filled with turbulence. From the last-minute ban on the sales of alcohol in the 8 stadiums to the threat of booking captains wearing OneLove armbands. Additionally, the BBC did not broadcast the opening ceremony due to an apparent previously scheduled program.
One question on many people’s lips is how Qatar was allowed to host the World Cup. With their treatment of women, migrant workers, and the LGBTQIA+ community, it is fair to ask why a country with these values can host one of the most acclaimed sporting events. Since Qatar was revealed as the host, there have been accusations of bribes being used to secure the placement. The allegation of the £3 million bribe to Fifa officials was cleared after a 2-year investigation, yet many remain sceptical.
If not purely for the country’s values, the landscape is not suitable for a summer World Cup, with temperatures reaching highs of 45C during the summer. 2022 Qatar World Cup is the first tournament not during the summer. The World Cup had to be moved to November for milder temperatures. A further argument that could be used against Qatar’s original bid to host would be Qatar not aligning with the drive towards sustainable energy. Fifa has stated that Qatar 2022 will leave a larger carbon footprint than any other World Cup.
The Stadiums That Stole Lives
To be able to host the tournament, Qatar has had to build 8 stadiums and additional accommodations to host the predicted 1.5 million fans flocking to watch the football. Thousands of workers were subjects to long days in extreme temperatures when building this infrastructure. Qatar officials reported that between 2014-2020 there were 37 deaths of labourers working on stadiums, with only 3 reported as ‘work-related’. This figure has primarily been contested.
The International Labour Organisation has reported this figure as a gross underestimate. They have estimated that 50 foreign labourers building Qatar’s World Cup infrastructure have died in 2021 alone. A further 500 have been seriously injured, and 37,600 have sustained mild to moderate injuries. The question of the treatment of migrant workers and Qatar’s history of human rights is a significant contributing factor in the outrage of their hosting the tournament. A response to these human rights abuses has been that some European cities have refused to stream the upcoming football matches as public protest and opposition to Qatar hosting.
Is Hosting the World Cup a Bad Investment?
Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup is predicted to have generated 1.5 million jobs in sectors such as real estate, construction, and hospitality. Hosting countries seeing a profit from World Cup is unlikely. Hosting countries pour billions into building infrastructure and putting on a good show, yet only some see their investment returned. The influx of tourists in Qatar may create a short-term boost for the economy. It may cement Qatar as a potential tourist destination in the future.
Findings show that economies and businesses see a boost depending on a country’s performance rather than if they host. One of the few examples showing a hosting country seeing a profit was Russia in 2018. Reports show that hosting injected £10.8 billion into the Russian economy. In this case, Russia is the outlier. Unfortunately, the social and economic impact of England’s hosting in 1966 is not in records. However, we can look at the effects of England’s progress far in the tournament on businesses and the economy.
Hosting Isn’t Everything, Winning Is
The University of Surrey produced research stating that it is a success in the World Cup that significantly improves GDP growth. When looking at England’s success, look no further than the 2018 World Cup, where England reached the semi-finals. Coinciding with a UK heatwave, which, paired with a dream of football coming home, meant football fans flocked to the pubs. This trend was also present in last year’s Euros when England reached the final. Although a tournament in a Covid society, England’s place in the final still led to a boost in sales.
If we are to be as successful in this year’s World Cup, it is not a promise that we will see the same increase in sales in pubs and within hospitality and retail. The 2022 World Cup is the first that falls within winter months, where people are less likely to watch games from a once overflowing beer garden. It is frankly too cold and dark to muster the same support in pubs as its sunnier predecessors.
GlobalData has reported that compared to the 2018 World Cup, the UK has seen an estimated decrease of 19% in retail and 10% in hospitality spending. Additionally, compared to the 2021 Uefa European Football Championship, a 41% reduction in retail spending and less than half the hospitality spending. The boost UK businesses need and hope the World Cup would provide seems less and less likely.
Which Country Does Have a Clean Sheet?
When looking into the injustices perpetrated by countries, it begs the question of which countries are, in fact, worthy of hosting the World Cup. The last host of the World Cup was Russia in 2018, a controversial host both then and now. Banned from 2022’s World Cup due to invading Ukraine, they hosted in 2018, just 4 years after annexing Crimea. Iran is still participating in this year’s tournament, the team that England defeated 6-2. An argument can be made about whether Iran should have been banned for their contribution to the Ukraine war. Not only this, but they are also currently cracking down on protesters, with other countries viewing protest as a right.
If we open the conversation on who is worthy of hosting, we must then turn towards own history of Empire. It seems no country is without an immoral past, although Qatar’s does stand firmly in the present. Would it indeed be the World Cup if nations participating are unable to have the chance to host?
Should We Ever Just ‘Focus on the Football’?
There has been a call to action. Fifa president Gianni Infantino recently requested that World Cup teams ‘focus on the football’. Qatar’s slogan for the 2022 World Cup is ‘Now is All’. Both statements ask players, countries, and viewers to focus on the present – on the game – rather than questioning and protesting the current tournament. They are asking us to enjoy the sport rather than challenge the rights of the hosting countries’ inhabitants.
Many companies have publicly taken a stand against the hosting country. The BBC chose not to broadcast the Qatar opening ceremony and instead streamed a monologue by Gary Lineker. Describing this tournament as ‘the most controversial World Cup in history and a ball hasn’t even been kicked yet’, and arguably it may be. Many of us would prefer another country to host. However, is it not hypocritical for the BBC to condemn and refuse to show the opening ceremony on the one hand and then, on the other, have rights to the opening match? This virtue signalling causes us to question their message and intentions given they make money to broadcast and report on the tournament.
This World Cup blurs the lines. If the World Cup is truly global, countries that don’t adhere to universal values should also be able to host. Is the World Cup international if not all fans can feel safe and celebrated in the hosting country? One thing that this World Cup has shown is that it is about more than the sport itself.