Qatar World Cup, not just about the football

Dave Kellaway has compiled an anticapitalist A to Z guide to the upcoming world cup football tournament in Qatar.



The Australian team were the first to collectively protest Qatar’s human rights record. Here is their video, made by 16 of their players: 


David Beckham, who has previously spoken out in support of LBGTQ rights (he did photo shoots for Attitude magazine), has shamefully accepted the Qatari riyal and is reportedly being paid $10 million for an ambassador role.

The Three Lions Pride supporters group has denounced this decision and decided not to attend the tournament in solidarity with Qatari gays. Joe Lycett, the TV personality who identifies as pan sexual, has released a video condemning Beckham and showed the 10K – a grand for each of Beckham’s millions – he would be donating to Queer groups in Qatar


The decision to assign the World Cup to Qatar was a completely corrupt process. Qatari money flowed into the pockets of the FIFA executive committee’s members. Sixteen out of twenty-two of the committee’s members have left over alleged corruption or bad practises. Platini, the former French football star, willingly went to Qatar after a little tete-a-tete in the Elysee Palace with another corrupt politician, Sarkozy, the French president at the time. Although similar examples of corruption have happened before, this was the most blatant. Even the former FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, has since said the decision to award the tournament to Qatar was a big mistake, although his reasoning had more to do with it being a too-small country.

Cantona – the former Manchester United icon and actor in one of Ken Loach’s movies – spoke out early against the Qatar world cup:

I will NOT watch the Qatar World Cup. Thousands of workers have died building the stadiums… The decision to let them host is all about money and there will be NO lasting legacy


The Danish team wanted to wear a black shirt with a Human Rights for All slogan for training. FIFA has slapped them down.


The environmental impact of the tournament is negative, despite claims to the contrary from the Qatari authorities. Stadiums will have energy-guzzling air conditioning. They will need 10,000 litres of water per day to keep the pitches in good shape. Much of the water in Qatar, like in the other Gulf states, comes from desalination plants. These have a negative effect on the marine environment and use fossil fuel energy to power the facilities. For a country with a relatively small population, all these stadiums and facilities are going to become mostly white elephants with little future use. Examples of this already exist from the Olympic experience, such as in Athens.


Soccer fans have also protested the World Cup in Qatar. Apart from the pride fan groups, some Welsh fans have said they have no intention of going – despite the fact that the Welsh team very rarely makes the finals of this tournament. Kevin Ashton is quoted in a Guardian article:

The apparent assurances that certain laws – such as those regarding displays of public affection – might be relaxed during the tournament almost make things worse. Basically they’re saying they do have laws that aren’t consistent with most other countries and we’ll go back to it once everyone’s gone

German fans across the top league also staged mass protests just recently. Opinion polls show a majority of English fans are critical of having the World Cup in Qatar.

A small number of fans – around 40 or so in a number of countries—have taken Qatari money to become fan ambassadors. They get free transportation, a place to stay, and spending money so that they will say nice things about the tournament and take action on social media if anyone says something bad about it.


Under the state’s Penal Code of 2004, “sodomy” and homosexual activity are illegal, with anyone found to have broken the law facing up to seven years imprisonment. The Qatari government has tried to stop the protests by saying that gay supporters are welcome and that public displays of affection won’t be punished. However, there are no signs that the repressive laws will be changed. Qatari World Cup ambassador Khalid Salman stated just a week ago that homosexuality is “damage in the mind” and haram according to Islamic rules.


It is not just gay or labour rights that are very limited or repressed in Qatar, but human and democratic rights too. Women are very much under the control of men, their fathers, husbands, or brothers. As in most Gulf states, there is no democratic political system either. Feudal-like royal families rule the roost. International capital and powerful capitalist states like the US and Britain are quite happy for this system to continue.

The majority of sovereign oil and gas profits are routed through London or New York. Qatar and other Gulf states buy very expensive military systems and are firm allies of the imperialists. Corporate capital uses the Gulf states as a regional hub for their companies, and places like Dubai or Qatar have become playgrounds for the rich too. Luxury goods produced in the West find a ready market there.


Gianni Infantino is the president of FIFA – football’s international governing body. He recently sent a letter to all the national governing bodies, insisting they focus on the international soccer tournament instead of pushing the sport “into every ideological or political battle that exists.” This was too much for even cautious bodies like the English FA, which voiced disagreement. 

The reality is that sports and politics can never be separated – from Hitler’s 1936 games to the black power salute by US athletes on the podium in 1968 or the way in which both the Russian and Chinese governments tried to keep politics out the international tournaments they organised in recent decades.

Infantino even left Switzerland to live in Doha last year. Even the infamous Sepp Blatter thought this was too far. He said:

“How can you retain any independent FIFA view if you are ensconced inside the host state?”


Jordan Henderson, the Liverpool and England player, has spoken out against the Qatari regime. His manager, Jurgen Klopp, is not going to Qatar. Normally, most top managers would be at the World Cup scouting players and networking.

K and L

The kafala system helped keep the migrant workers – who form the vast majority of the working class in Qatar – under the control of their bosses. It meant you had to get the permission of your boss to leave and find another job. This was reformed as part of the political response Qatar has been pressured to make because of the publicity around the World Cup and labour rights. The minimum wage was also raised to 1000 rials (£250) a month, which is still not much.

Conditions for the hundreds of thousands of women who work in domestic service remain dire. There are many cases of physical and sexual abuse, and it is still hard for them to switch jobs. Employer protests forced the Kafala reforms to be watered down after a few months. Monitoring the “reform” also limits their real implementation:

One worker from Uganda said: “[The reforms] are a good move, though they are long overdue. The bad thing is that no one monitors the implementation of laws here and many workers don’t know the laws, so employers can easily cheat them.”

Despite the latest reforms, Qatar has yet to address a series of other issues facing workers. Hundreds of workers continue to die each year of unknown causes, but the government has failed to commission research into their deaths. Trade unions remain outlawed and the majority of low-wage workers continue to pay illegal recruitment fees to secure their jobs, leaving many in debt bondage.


Beth Mead was the standout star of the triumphant English women’s team at the Euros tournament. She is openly gay and in a relationship with fellow Arsenal forward Vivianne Miedema.

She has spoken out against the world cup saying:

 “money talks” but Qatar’s stance on human rights is “the complete opposite” to her own beliefs. It’s not something I will be backing or promoting. It’s disappointing in the sense that there’s no respect on a lot of levels, even though it’s a game of football,”


A lot of the migrant construction workers who built all the stadiums and infrastructure in Qatar are from Nepal. Salaries are so low and jobs so scarce in Nepal that even the terrible conditions and small salaries are worth putting up with in order to accumulate funds to send back to their country. A particular issue for Nepalese workers has been the number who have died as a result of the excessive heat in Qatar compared to what they are used to. One of the problems for human rights organisations has been getting accurate figures on the deaths. The Qatari authorities often put “death by natural causes” on the documents and do not investigate the working or living conditions as factors.

Since 2011, 6500 workers involved in the World Cup construction have died. In other words, nearly two people die every day. No trade unions are allowed in Qatar.


Opposition to the Qatar World Cup appears to be stronger than for previous World Cups in Russia or China.

Trying to win an actual boycott by national teams is extremely difficult. National associations, players will not turn down the money, vacate the stage, or not play for their country.

I remember being involved in Argentine solidarity in the 1970s when the World Cup was staged there while the bloody Videla regime that had massacred tens of thousands of leftists or trade unionists was still in power. One difficulty was that a large part of the oppositional left (the Montoneros) opposed the boycott. It may be worthwhile to organise boycott campaigns up to the point that there is a chance of winning some countries over.

Getting fans not to go and winning personalities over to refuse to go as pundits is doable, as we have seen in Qatar.

It is possible to organise protests even if the World Cup will inevitably go ahead. Political campaigning in France has led to several big cities cancelling planned fan parks where people watch games on big screens.

Inevitably, millions of people will watch the games and support England or Wales, which means that socialists have a chance to raise the issues of gender, gay oppression, worker exploitation, and the lack of democratic rights.

Starmer and the Labour party are also officially not going to Qatar (see T for Tories below for their response)


The #PayUpFifa campaign is worth fighting for, despite Qatar’s labour minister calling it a publicity stunt. The secretary general of Amnesty International, Agnés Callamard, has called on Gianni Infantino to break his silence on the creation of a workers’ compensation fund of $440 million (£370m) – equal to the player prize money pool. Neither Qatar nor FIFA want to accept responsibility. FIFA has talked about funding a workers’ migrant centre and lobbying Qatar to reform its laws. We could campaign for national associations to donate their share to the fund.


Qatar is more an expression of transnational corporate capital and the key imperialist states than a national entity. There is a totally segregated labour market between jobs for indigenous Qataris and the huge migrant working class.

Adam Hanieh had done a lot of work explaining the nature of these states, particularly in his book, Capitalism and Class in the Gulf Arab States. A more recent article critiques the “Rentier State Theory” in favour of analysing it in terms of its integration in the key processes of international capital and imperialism.


The World Cup generates massive revenue. FIFA pockets a large part of the TV and advertising revenue. Despite the difficulties of getting to Qatar and the reluctance of fans from some countries, there will be hundreds of thousands of extra tourists. Mass culture and sports are not an afterthought to capitalist accumulation and profit-making, but rather an essential component. The likes of Coca-Cola and the other big sponsors and advertisers wring their hands and make some pious comments about improving democracy and human rights. Their profits could easily pay for the money that the Amnesty campaign wants to give to workers.


People have characterised operations like the Qatar government’s World Cup operation as “sports washing.” Certainly, the spectacle aims to distract our eyes and attention from the realities of Qatari society. However, such terms could give the impression that it is just an ideological process. As Barney Ronay (who has done excellent work on this issue) has pointed out in a Guardian article, the World Cup is primarily an expression of military might and hard sports power. It generates revenues and business and reflects Qatar’s integration into the imperialist system. Britain and Qatar have a joint air force squadron.

David Squires has produced a brilliant cartoon strip telling the story of how one worker in Qatar fought back and was detained.


As one might expect from a Tory party captured by the hard right their MPs and leaders have collaborated with the Qatar regime

Foreign secretary James Cleverly was criticised after telling gay football fans they should be respectful in Qatar, which criminalises their sexuality, when attending the World Cup.

He suggested they show “a little bit of flex and compromise” and be “respectful of the host nation.” Labour called the comments “shockingly tone-deaf”

Tory MPs like Alan Cairns have set up a group to foster good relations with Qatar. Obviously, this has nothing to do with freebie trips organised by the Qatari government. Transparency International has revealed how much effort has been made by the Qataris to lobby MPs. £200,000 has been lavished on MPs in the last 12 months alone. Tory MP David Mundell accepted hospitality worth £7,473 from Qatar for a trip last October.


Unions are not allowed to function in Qatar. Small changes to the Kafala system or the minimum wage have less of an impact than having proper unions that can negotiate significant improvements in working conditions. We can campaign inside our unions for the right to unionise in Qatar. Union campaigns in the developed West could demand that their companies stop investing in Qatar unless certain conditions are met.


Choosing Qatar as the venue for the World Cup raises the cost to $220 billion, compared to the estimated $5 billion cost of holding it in Germany.Such a sum could be used for any number of more socially or ecologically useful things.


England women’s player Lotte Wubbon-Moy has said she will be supporting the men’s team at the World Cup but will not be watching.

From the Athletic:

Several recent cases in Qatar have seen the victim of a sexual or physical assault accused of extra-marital sex instead of receiving physical and emotional support.

This crime carries a prison sentence or, if the defendant is Muslim, the prospect of flogging — being beaten repeatedly with a stick or whip.

Flogging is prohibited by international human-rights law and is considered to breach the UN Convention against torture.

Rothna Begum, a women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, tells The Athletic: “At any major sporting event, the risk of sexual violence increases greatly.


The great Barcelona and Spanish footballer Xavi has joined Beckham as a Qatar ambassador for the World Cup.


Youth in the Gulf states like Qatar, particularly young underemployed or unemployed graduates, provide one potential threat to the stability of these regimes. The resources of the regime allow them to provide the Qatari youth with a comfortable lifestyle, but movements can develop that focus on reforming the political process and winning rights for oppressed people. During the Arab Spring, this demographic played a significant role in the movements. The difficulty here is the completely segregated labour market. Over 80% of the population is non-Qatari, so linking up with other movements is more difficult.

The Iranian movement around women, life, and freedom may have a contagion effect throughout the Middle East. Iran plays against the English team in the group stages, and some Iranian footballers have already expressed solidarity with the movement.


1998 World Cup winner Zinedine Zidane has insisted that the world should forget the controversies and focus on football ahead of the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

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Dave Kellaway is on the Editorial Board of Anti*Capitalist Resistance, a member of Socialist Resistance, and Hackney and Stoke Newington Labour Party, a contributor to International Viewpoint and Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres.

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