FIFA World Cup is currently going on in Qatar, which indeed is the first Arab and Muslim country to host this global mega event. Although Qatar is a country of just three million, mostly expatriates from South Asia but it will welcome around three million visitors for a month. An estimated five billion worldwide will watch the games. But this World Cup is likely to be the most controversial soccer tournament in FIFA’s history. Even before this global sports event could see the light of day, it was caught in the storm of several controversies as the Kingdom of Qatar is making every effort to Islamise the sporting tournament.
Two days before the inaugural match, the Qatari officials took a shocking U-turn. It was announced that fans wouldn’t be allowed to drink beer at any of the eight stadiums reserved to host the World Cup matches. It was a complete reversal of its earlier stand. Shockingly, FIFA remained a mute spectator and has virtually kneeled before the Qatari Government. It didn’t oppose the unilateral reversal of Qatar’s liberal policies and banning alcohol.
It must be added here that earlier, FIFA arm-twisted Brazil to change its federal laws to lift the ban on alcohol. The football-crazy nation of Brazil enacted a ban on alcohol sales after violence erupted in its stadiums because of intoxication. But in 2014, FIFA pressured the hosting country Brazil to lift the liquor ban.
It’s a globally accepted belief that sports should be free from other controversial activities. But contrary to this belief, Qatar has misused this event to push its Islamic agenda and has shown its blatant conservative Islamic ideology in the most explicit form possible. Doha has extended a red-carpet welcome to Zakir Naik, the controversial Islamic preacher who is banned by several countries, Apparently, they have asked the hate monger to deliver religious preaching throughout the competition.
In addition to this, Qataris have shown total disrespect for the beliefs and practices of other faiths. Jewish organisations have said that Qatar has backtracked from the promise of offering kosher food to visitors at the 2022 FIFA World Cup. According to The Jerusalem Post, Qatar will not allow any cooked kosher food to be sold or offered to visitors. As per a report, Doha did promise to allow Jewish prayer services during the games but has backed out now, claiming they could not ‘secure’ this type of activity and proceeded to ban it completely. It is also a great challenge for foreign visitors to practice their faith openly. Qatar allows non-Muslim religious practices only in designated areas like Doha’s Religious Complex and not in public spaces.
Controversies overtake inauguration
How Qatar got FIFA World Cup 2022? There are allegations that Qatar used bribery to win the FIFA World Cup bidding process. No one knows exactly how much money Qatar has spent on their 2022 World Cup bid, but The Guardian estimates the amount to have been slightly less than $200 million in public funds. Any private money that was spent is simply untraceable.
Islamic Propaganda: This is the first time in the history that the most popular sporting event of the world is going on in a Muslim country. After the issue of alcohol consumption, LGBT, now the matter of promoting Islamic extremism is at the centre point. At every stride from hotels to the stadiums, the event organisers have ensured that message of Islam is delivered in a mild manner. In an article, the Pakistan-based Urdu-language pro-Taliban daily Roznama Ummat examined the Qatari government’s preparations for da’wah “The training of 2,000 volunteers for da’wa of the religion at the mega event has been completed who will deliver the message of haq [truth] to the spectators coming from all over the world via different means. Ten vehicles will be deployed for the da’wa work and ten special camps will be installed [for da’wah-related goals]”, it writes.
Halal Rules : Scripting a new Islamic chapter in football history, Qatar seems to be hosting the first-ever Halal World Cup as the Islamic country issued Sharia guidelines for fans. Spectators have been urged to respect Qatar’s legal and cultural norms, including its restrictions on drinking, drugs, sexual activity, and attire.
Human Rights Violation : According to a campaign group that has calculated the toll taken on those who have built the World Cup‘s infrastructure, more than 6500 labourers have died and 24,000 labourers have suffered human rights abuses in Qatar. The findings of the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre were published on April 1, 2022. According to another report by Human Rights Watch, thousands of migrant workers in Qatar have not received financial compensation or any other adequate remedy for serious labor abuses suffered while building and servicing infrastructure for the FIFA World Cup.
Terror Funding : Qatar has been known to be a permissive environment for terror financing, reportedly funding US designated foreign terrorist organisations, such as Hamas, as well as several extremist groups operating in Syria. ……In Qatar, there are three buckets: Terror financing by the Government; terror financing done in Qatar through their own citizens that their government may not know about; and terror financing in Qatar that the Government knows about but does nothing to stop. – United States Congress sub-committee ASSESSING THE U.S.-QATAR RELATIONSHIP, JULY 26, 2017, Serial No. 115-55
Discrimination against women: Women in Qatar must obtain permission from their male guardians to marry, study abroad on Government scholarships, work in many Government jobs, travel abroad, receive certain forms of reproductive health care, and act as the primary guardian of children, even if they are divorced.
Questionable Attendance Figures : The World Cup attendance figures announced by Qatar, have raised eyebrows amid questions over their legitimacy. Qatar is very desperate to put on a good show having spent billions on stadiums and infrastructure and kicked off the World Cup against Ecuador.
All Khor’s Al Bayt Stadium was the venue for the game, which was won comfortably by the South American nation. The stadium holds 60,000 fans, yet the official attendance figure for the game was 67,372, despite visible sections of empty seats throughout the coverage.
Ticketing issues meant many were denied entry and the stadium had visible pockets of empty seats. Yet the attendance figure at Khalifa International Stadium was announced at 45,334, despite the stadium’s official capacity being 40,000.
The FIFA World Cup 2022 ceremony opened with recitations of verses from the Quran. This has happened for the first time in the history of football world cups. The Government of Qatar is organising Islamic exhibitions to introduce the world to Islam. They have even changed muezzins of mosques and replaced them with those with beautiful voices. Microphones are put in stadiums for Azan. Dress code restrictions for the spectators coming from outside Qatar have also been imposed. And the murals of Hadiths are being displayed on the streets of Qatar in a bid to introduce the incoming fans, from all over the world, to Islam.
Undoubtedly, Qataris undertook great efforts to push their political and religious agenda in this FIFA World Cup. But they didn’t pay enough attention to the security arrangements, which is a must for hosting any global event. That’s why the governments of Israel, Germany, Norway, and France have issued stern safety and data security warnings to their citizens travelling to Qatar. Israel, which has no formal diplomatic relations with Qatar, launched a campaign urging visitors to downplay any visible Israeli presence and Jewish identity by hiding symbols such as Israeli flags or Stars of David. As they can be an easy target for many extremist and Jihadi outfits which have permanent offices in Qatar.
Qatar’s government has ties to extremist groups, including Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the Taliban, and Hamas. Qatar is currently harbouring multiple sanction-designated or wanted individuals, including former Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, current Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, several al-Qaeda financiers, and members of the IRGC. Although these individuals have been publicly sanctioned by the United Nations or are the subject of INTERPOL arrest warrants, they can live with impunity and in luxury within Qatari territory. Qatar has also supported Al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Muslim Brotherhood, and Syria’s Al-Nusra Front through direct money loans, shady ransom payments, and supply transfers.
Qatar’s role as the tournament’s host has been the subject of international criticism because of its ties to international extremists and terrorism. But despite this, petrodollars and energy resources are ensuring that Qatar remains an indispensable ally of the West. Yet, the international community will watch the FIFA World Cup with a sense of deep disquiet, even horror.