The FIFA Men’s World Cup begins in Qatar tomorrow.
There have been wide-ranging concerns about the event, including over the host country’s human rights record, use of migrant labour to construct stadiums and facilities, and the circumstances of its selection as host.
Here’s what you need to know.
Qatar is a small country in the Middle East, bordering Saudi Arabia. Its citizens are some of the richest in the world, largely because of its oil reserves, which bring in billions of dollars in exports annually.
However, most Qatari residents are not citizens. It has a large migrant workforce, often working in poor conditions with minimal pay.
Qatar has been ruled by the same family for over 150 years, and its laws are shaped by a highly conservative form of Islam.
Questions over Qatar’s suitability to host the World Cup began almost immediately after FIFA granted hosting rights to Qatar and Russia (who hosted in 2018).
There have been many allegations that members of the voting panel accepted bribes. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice charged three media executives in connection with the decision, and FIFA has banned several key figures from football, including former FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who last week said it was a “mistake” to award the event to Qatar.
The Qatari Government itself has not been directly implicated in bribery and denies any improper behaviour to secure the rights.
Australia, South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. also bid for the tournament. The Australian Government spent $45 million on its bid, which had high-profile support from then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Hugh Jackman, Cathy Freeman, and Paul Hogan.
Australian officials believed they were strong contenders to secure the rights but were blindsided when they received only one vote.
Once Qatar won the rights, concerns grew over its treatment of migrant workers hired to build the multiple new stadiums, hotels, training facilities, airports, and roads needed to execute the tournament.
Human Rights Watch says workers were required to pay fees to work, had rights heavily restricted, and were forced to work in temperatures above 45˚C. There have been many reports of heat-related deaths.
Qatar has also been criticised for its treatment of the LGBTIQ+ community. Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, and punishable by imprisonment for up to five years. Employment and immigration laws allow discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Earlier this month, a Qatari World Cup ambassador called homosexuality “a damage in the mind” and said LGBTIQ+ visitors during the World Cup would have to “accept our rules”.
The event has drawn international criticism including accusations FIFA is enabling ‘sportswashing’ – the use of its sport to improve Qatar’s international image amid human rights concerns.
There have been some calls to boycott the event and criticism of participating celebrities including ambassador David Beckham and performer Robbie Williams.
Last month, the Australian men’s soccer team became the first participating team to issue a statement condemning Qatar’s human rights record.