Well, there it is!

Tony Richardson reflects on the recently ended Qatar World Cup.


The World Cup in Qatar has come to an end. Rightly, many people said it should not happen. It clearly came about through corruption in what must be one of the world’s most corrupt organisations.

Of course the same can be said of most long-established sports organisations.

Money clearly spoke: more than 200 billion pounds were spent to build seven stadiums in a tiny country that couldn’t really use one. But that country has massive gas reserves and, because of that, an immensely rich elite.

This has been years in the making. Qatar has a population of less than 3 million, with only 350,000 of those being Qataris. The rest, who have few rights, service these. So, when FIFA says it brought the World Cup to an Arab country, it really means as the plaything of an elite, to go with its yachts and mansions in London and Paris.

This elite went about buying top European clubs. When Messi and Mbappe were handed their Golden Ball and Golden Boot awards, they were given to them by their boss, the owner of Paris St. Germain football club (PSG).

The oil-rich states have worked to gain world acceptance from leaders such as Macron by buying his weapons. In order to get the populations to accept them, they have been using sports-washing, which often involves massive fees for boxers, golfers, racing drivers, and footballers.

The fact that these are invariably autocratic dictators means nothing to those who get this money.

But in the run-up to this competition, there was a campaign. NGOs had shown that the migrant workers who built the stadiums were paid a pittance, if at all, and that an estimated 6,000 died. What was not shown was that they came in huge numbers because they were destitute. What we are looking at is a world where imperialism and climate change are taking away people’s futures.

How many of the footballers who rightly attempted to protest will continue responding to this world situation? One of the major reports in the UK media was about two England footballers bringing back a cat they had adopted in the hotel!

The other big issue with the regime is the treatment of LGBT people. When the Olympics and other major events take place, the organisers demand the right to control the situation. What was Qatar’s commitment? It had complete control; security took Wales fans’ hats off them because they were in inclusive rainbow colours. FIFA suddenly banned captains of teams from wearing armbands in solidarity with LGBT rights; this was enforced by threatening discipline against the players. At least the German team all put their hands over their mouths in protest. So this protest petered out.

TV stations at first produced coverage of the migrants’ and gay rights’ issues. This soon diminished, and the organisers got what they wanted: a mainly sports-washing tournament. This involved the emotions that football is capable of stirring up. They were fortunate in the storylines that developed: a successful superstar nearing the end of his career competing against the other best player in the world, and an African or Arabic-speaking team reaching the quarterfinals or semifinals for the first time.

There were two standout political stances: the entire Iranian team refused to sing their national anthem in solidarity with the mass movement. Although they were later forced back into line, it was a powerful symbol.

Then there was the issue of Palestine. There was very little coverage of this in the UK media, a little in France, but it was massive in the Middle East. There were Palestinian flags everywhere, particularly among Tunisian fans. The Moroccan team even had it at the centre of their team photo after beating Portugal. There was a pro-Palestinian demonstration along the main street. People in Qatar who were opposed to the Abraham accords took their only opportunity to protest with this demonstration and by organising the distribution of Palestinian flags.

Then there were the Israeli journalists who couldn’t get interviews as soon as they mentioned where they were from. One person interviewed made it clear that the accords were only with the leaders, not the masses. Remember that Morocco also signed the accords.

There is an excellent discussion of this, by writers on Palestinian football on the Balfour Project website. This article also deals with the history of Palestinian football.

Both authors argue that while this will not result in changes for Palestinians, it will help them feel less alone.

Where do we go from here? The Guardian, which has done a good job covering migrant workers’ conditions, had a report on the massive protest in Buenos Aires to greet the homecoming team today (Wednesday, 21st), as well as an extensive article reporting from inside the migrant workers’ camps outside Doha. They are desperate people who are unable to watch football. Migrants are exhausted, working, in some cases, unlimited hours, living in tiny accommodations, and making very little money. Add to this the women who work as domestic servants as well as slaves. Their story of abuse and exploitation goes on.

As far as the World Cup is concerned, the next one in 2026 will be mainly in the US. As one of the Palestinian writers says, “Will there be protests at the fact that the US has more people incarcerated than any other country?” There is massive exploitation of undocumented workers and a lack of abortion rights. Watch this space.

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