A year later, the World Cup in Qatar still feels the heat of scrutiny
The eight stadiums – all located within a 30-mile radius of Doha – are now largely complete. The 2022 World Cup was preserved after neighbours’ hostility, corruption investigations, and concerns over worker abuse were repelled. A clock will now be unveiled on the waterfront of the Corniche in the Qatari capital on Sunday to countdown to a year until the match kicks off.
Expect another 12 months of pressure from rights groups – fueled by player protests – and resentment from some World Cup organisers.
“Qatar has been treated unfairly and has been scrutinized for a number of years,” Nasser Al-Khater, chief executive of the organizing committee, said on Saturday.
However, this scrutiny has led to improvements in labor laws under the weight of criticism of working conditions since $200 billion in infrastructure upgrades to the country were reported after a FIFA vote in December 2010.
“You take it in the context of the region, I think Qatar is a pioneer at the moment with all the reforms that have been made, whether it comes to labor standards, residency standards, or the introduction of a minimum wage,” Al-Khater told reporters.
In some cases, it was the World Cup organizing committee that introduced changes to the country as a whole, but enforcement of laws and conditions facing workers – particularly in the sweltering summer heat – remain a concern for groups.
Qatar did not provide full details and data on deaths of migrant workers, particularly from South Asia, who are relied upon to build infrastructure across the country. Amnesty International has highlighted the need for deeper investigations into the causes of deaths, the lack of the right to form unions, and the need for all companies to comply with more recent laws that say workers should be allowed to leave their jobs without employer permission.
“There are criticisms,” Al-Khater said. “There is work to be done. However, there is a lot of progress but unfortunately this has not been recorded in reports such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.”
Twelve countries, plus Qatar as the host nation, have secured qualification for the 32-team tournament so far. Denmark said that its training package in Qatar will contain important human rights messages, ensuring that the tournament is characterized by the players’ activity.
Construction work began to fade.
“All the eight stadiums for the World Cup have been completed,” Al-Khater said.
Seven stadiums are now ready to host matches, with stadium 974 built using so many shipping containers that will open later this month for the Arab Football Cup which is a test event for the World Cup.
It is a 40-minute drive north of the 80,000-seater Lusail Stadium, which will host the final on December 18, 2022 but is not match-ready. And near the Losail International Circuit where Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton said ahead of the inaugural Qatar Grand Prix on Sunday, the country still had “a long way to go” to ensure equality.
Hamilton wears a rainbow helmet in Qatar to draw attention to anti-LGBTQ+ laws that World Cup organizers are suggesting not apply during the tournament.
“We welcome everyone to come to Qatar and have a great time at the World Cup,” Al-Khater said. “They can come and enjoy their time here without fear of any kind of repercussions, and there is absolutely no difference in people’s (sexual) orientation, religion, creed, or race.”
Al-Khater said any couple could share a hotel room.
“I don’t know if that’s a wrong idea,” he said. “I don’t know where you know, where you get this from. I mean, anyone is free to stay in a hotel, whether with their friends or with their partner.”
The challenge for supporters remains to bear the costs of the trip. Although it is a World Cup that does not require flights between matches, the demand for accommodation could extend in the small Gulf country. What helps fans is that they can stay in neighboring countries, including the United Arab Emirates, after they lifted the economic, diplomatic and travel boycott of Qatar this year that had been in place since 2017.
“The ultimate goal is for the World Cup to be successful, and you can only be a successful World Cup when there are fans,” Al-Khater said. “So this has been taken into account to make sure there is ample accommodation and accommodation available for all budgets.”
Fans will be traveling months later than usual for the World Cup. Opening on November 21, 2022, with the final on December 18, remains controversial as the major European leagues finish their start dates for a season that was disrupted for the first time by the World Cup.
Qatar made a bid to host the World Cup under FIFA’s terms in the usual June-July period, with the schedule changed only after the vote. The largely discredited FIFA executive committee that voted by a majority for Qatar has brushed off concerns about the heat.
This vote remained under the cloud of corruption.
An investigation commissioned by FIFA highlighted the unease of investigators looking into Qatar’s methods of winning the vote, but concluded that there was “no evidence of any improper activity by the dossier team”. But US attorney Michael Garcia found that some of Qatar’s actions “may not have met the criteria” required by FIFA.
New allegations of wrongdoing emerged last year when US prosecutors revealed new details about alleged bribes paid by Qatar in exchange for the vote. The indictment alleges that Nicolas Leoz, then-president of CONMEBOL, and ex-president of the Brazilian Football Confederation Ricardo Teixeira, took bribes to vote for Qatar.
In response to a question about the allegations that emerged in the US District Court in Brooklyn, Al-Khater said: “All these investigations have shown us that Qatar has been acquitted of all the allegations against it.” “So whatever you’re referring to, I categorically deny it.”
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