Miguel Poiares Maduro is Dean of the Católica Global School of Law. He is also Associate Professor and former Director of the EUI School of Transnational Governance. Alberto Alemanno is Jean Monnet Professor of EU Law at HEC Paris and founder of Good Lobby. Viola von Cramon-Taubadel is a Member of the European Parliament and recently proposed a World Anti-Corruption Agency for Sport. Joseph Weiler is the Jean Monnet Chair at NYU. Jamil Chade is an investigative journalist and writer from Brazil.
Everyone knows why this World Cup is being held in Qatar – money.
That’s the only reason why the tournament was awarded to a tiny city-state that not only has no footballing tradition, but also has the worst imaginable natural conditions to host it. And despite the many scandals that have plagued the event – from corruption to human rights abuses – the International Football Association (FIFA) has stood firm in its 2010 decision to host the World Cup in Qatar.
His argument? The tournament has improved things for the country and its people – and will continue to do so. But, is this really the truth?
For autocratic regimes, hosting major sporting events like this has one primary goal: to attract political capital at home and abroad. While autocrats hope to gain popularity at home as they continue to quash dissent, they also hope to showcase their country on the international stage and attract world leaders, celebrities and businesspeople. And while it’s true that the event also exposed Qatar’s human rights abuses, only a minority – albeit a growing one – of the world’s population will actually pay any attention.
For all of these reasons, autocratic regimes are so eager to host major sporting events and are willing to pay a fortune for it—in other words, it’s “sports laundry.” And ultimately, such events only further consolidate the regime.
FIFA rightly argues that as a global organization it must be able to deal with very different regimes and stakeholders from many different cultures. At the same time, it claims to be free from any political influence and to be organized democratically and consistently along a set of values and principles that protect human rights and prohibit any form of discrimination
It is therefore reasonable to expect that both the mapping of its events and their operation will be done in a manner consistent with these values. While it is conceivable, given the global nature of football, that even non-democratic regimes could be given the right to host football events, no state should be given the right to organize a World Cup for violating the principles that FIFA proclaims to uphold
FIFA now has one human rights policy which each host country is required to commit to – but this becomes just another example of window dressing if the organization shows no real commitment to implementing this policy.
After it became clear that Qatar could have been awarded the World Cup, FIFA should have continued the investigations of the public prosecutor’s office and its own ethics committee. What it did instead was bury the report to avoid a kickback.
Then, when Qatar started building stadiums and other World Cup infrastructure, FIFA should have insisted that workers’ rights be protected. instead it declined any responsibility towards these workers.
FIFA is also committed to its fans. While supporters in Qatar do not have the right to be treated as if they were in their home country, according to FIFA’s own policies, they should not be discriminated against on the basis of race, gender or any other reason. Instead, FIFA has urged them, particularly women and the LGBTQ+ community, to conform to Qatari rules
Of course, FIFA cannot bring about regime change in any country hosting a World Cup, but it must ensure that its event – from start to finish – takes place in accordance with its own values and principles. FIFA requires the introduction of host nations special tax rules for the World Cup. Why can’t it do the same for workers’ or fans’ rights?
The inconvenient truth here is that FIFA sold its own rules and values for money. And there’s not much to do at this point to save FIFA from itself. However, there is still something that can be done to take this event from a sports wash to a sports calling.
For one, we must urge our leaders to stay away. While they may need to maintain state ties with Qatar, they shouldn’t turn a blind eye and contribute to the sports laundering that is currently taking place.
We should also demand that football officials and athletes care – for the workers who have died during the preparations for the World Cup and for the women and LGBTQ+ people who are being discriminated against during the World Cup.
During EURO2020, athletes were able to show their solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement by kneeling at the start of the games. Now they have to show in Qatar that they are ready to take a stand when it’s actually more difficult. They should kneel in support of Women’s Lives Matter or in memory of the workers who died, and captains (and their FAs) should defy the illegal FIFA ban and wear the rainbow armband.
Finally, as fans, we too should show that we care – not only by demanding this of our athletes and officials, but also by taking our own initiative and, most importantly, demanding real reforms from sports organizations so that they stop doing this be instruments of sportswear.