East-West Divides Reappear As Qatar Faces Intense Criticism Over FIFA World Cup Finals
So, which came first? The chicken or the egg? Such a question may also be asked of the latest version of FIFA’s increasingly tawdry World Cup Soccer Finals, where Western criticism from both political and intense media coverage has begged the question: Which came first? Qatar applying to host the World Cup, or FIFA awarding it?
The question is entirely relevant in terms of understanding the criticism a host nation has received in welcoming 32 national teams and their supporters to the Middle East. This isn’t good enough. That isn’t good enough. It’s too hot. There’s no beer. Security is tight. The aircon is too loud. The Qatar team are rubbish. No gays are allowed. Western media attention has been remarkably one-sided in picking the entire event completely apart. It’s a bit like being invited to your friend’s house for a party, accepting the invite then spending the entire time denigrating them. ‘The wallpapers dreadful’; ‘I don’t like the canapes’; ‘Where’s the champagne’, ‘Why weren’t my mates invited?’, ‘The beds too hard’ and of course, ‘the weathers awful’.
I am tempted to ask whether ‘Western values’ now include ‘the ability to complain too much.’
Sadly, it appears so. The collective West appears to have taken an intense dislike to Qatar, when all it has been attempting to do is to navigate the world of extreme and bipartisan views.
But let’s take a step back in time, to 2010 in fact when the Executive Committee of FIFA made the collective decision to award Qatar the World Cup in the first place. As the Netflix documentary ‘FIFA Uncovered‘ – released (coincidentally of course) just prior the Qatar Finals were due to take place and points out, the entire shebang appears to have been financially corrupted. Some Exco Members allegedly took bribes, many in the millions of dollars. So, who were these men? Were any of them Qatari by chance?
Actually, no. In fact, the FIFA Exco that awarded Qatar the 2022 World Cup included 9 European Nationals, 4 Latin & Central American Nationals, 4 African Nationals, 3 Asian Nationals, and one US National. Of these 21 citizens, 17 were from G20 countries. That’s right. It was representatives from the world’s largest nations who voted to hold the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The very same countries who are largely beating the nation up about their hosting of it. Which begs the question: if you didn’t rate Qatar as a host nation in the first place, why then give it to them?
Concerning the furore about the local organisation and prices, one should remember that this is a FIFA event, and they have had twelve years to prepare. As regards the constant barrage of criticism, lets take these in order:
Yes, I use the acronym facetiously as it appears to get longer and longer as minority sexual behavior groups continue to be added. I can’t remember all the letters. In my view, what goes on in the bedroom between consenting adults is both none of my business and neither do I care. I am, however, becoming annoyed at how much I am constantly reminded that I should care, deeply. Why? It makes no difference to me. I employ gay staff; I have gay friends. There is no personal issue. I also feel that there are perhaps more pressing groups of individuals I should be standing up for. The best thing I can do for the gay plus community is – incorporate them, without fuss or prejudice into my daily life. In terms of helping people, I support charities in Africa for orphaned children. I sent money to Ukrainian refugees (and got huge amounts of criticism for doing so, by Ukrainians, because I sent it from Moscow). I support charities like Care For Children. I do my bit. I don’t really need to be constantly reminded of my moral obligations to ‘stand up for ‘trans people’ (even though an increasing number are emerging, post-op, suggesting it was all a mistake). So…where are the ‘Care For Children’ armbands?
As for Qatar, every country has its own identity and culture, and some are more conservative than others. Qatar is among them, and homosexuality is illegal in the state. However, FIFA knew that when awarding the World Cup to them. Should gay people feel threatened, or discriminated against by that, the obvious solution is not to visit. When a guest in someone else’s country, it is polite to respect their customs. As an expat now for nearly 40 years, this is a creed that has both stood me in good stead and allowed me to develop my own appreciation for other cultures. Visitors to Qatar should – and I believe are – doing exactly the same. More impolite fool then, the Western media for whipping up storms of protest from back home and targeting Qatar’s conservatism and beliefs – from the comfort of their own armchairs.
As to the real reason Qatar wanted the World Cup – that is totally about Sovereignty and ensuring a global audience recognizes the name. Because tiny Qatar has long been coveted by nearby Saudi Arabia, with recent attempts to convert it to becoming a virtual vassal state. Does ‘Smaller state being beaten up by a larger rival’ ring any bells?
Qatar has a population of slightly under 3 million, of whom an astonishing 10% are in fact Qatari’s and the remainder all expatriates. Much criticism, and rightly so, has been afforded the issue over worker rights and in particular the contract workers sent in to construct stadiums and other related infrastructure. Working conditions are allegedly often appalling, and management of them highly demanding. However, key to understanding this – and the Qatari’s remain partially culpable – is the human worker contract trade throughout South Asia – and the companies that operate these. Qatar’s issue has been its lack of management expertise and oversight – there are simply not enough locals with the relevant expertise to provide oversight and HR due diligence. Again, FIFA should have been aware of this. The result has been the sub-contracting of the required labor to the largest regional players. Many of these are run by Indian and Pakistani contractors, who operate under what can be less than perfect labor rights and regulations within their respective countries. A great deal of legislative work needs to be done to improve the Indian, Pakistani and other South Asian labor laws. Poor labor management, the treatment of overseas workers and the non-payment or withholding of monies is not uncommon. It is a very common problem throughout the Middle East and South Asia in terms of worker rights when they are contracted abroad – not citizens of the country where they are engaged and with no local rights, they are instead at the mercy of the contractor. I don’t wish to let Qatar off the hook here, as better oversight should have been put into place – as mentioned as issue for FIFA as well. But the real villains here are the South Asian, primarily Indian and Pakistani contractors who dominate the worker trade. Investigations should begin there with calls for increasing labor law protection in the countries where the workers come from, rather than pointing the finger simply at Qatar.
The upset about this is also somewhat ridiculous. A last-minute change to remove beer tents – actually Budweiser beer, the watery American beverage who stole the name from the far-superior Czech beer, and with the case still ongoing – may have been inconvenient, but its hardly global news. Firstly, it’s a frankly awful beer, secondly, it’s not the original brew, and thirdly – many Football Stadiums around the world, including Europe, are also not permitted to sell alcohol during games.
The last minute decision given by the Emir of Qatar, was interesting in that he felt that as Qatar was welcoming supporters from around the world, many of whom are not used to seeing alcohol on sale, coupled with the apparent ability for (Western) fans to get drunk, it would be best not to provoke any scenes and to enable all factions to enjoy the game – sober. Six Muslim countries are participating: Qatar, Tunisia, Senegal, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Iran. All will bring a large supporter contingent to the event. Very few will attend the Fan Zones, where Budweiser is available.
The resulting Western media barrage of criticism was telling, and effectively saying: ‘Western supporters like to get drunk at football matches and that is our right’. Well actually no, it’s loutish and selfish behavior, with a tendency to turn violent. Non-alcoholic beers are available – I’ve been drinking Heineken’s version – it’s pretty good. In evening temperatures of 26 degrees, it’s also probably not a bad medical idea to forgo the alcohol a bit and instead just hydrate. Soft drinks and numerous varieties of water are all easily available, although I did smile when the Ecuadorian supporters, 2-0 up against Qatar, began singing ‘Queremos cerveza!’ (We want beer). No doubt they caught up with something rather better than Budweiser later on as they celebrated their victory.
Symptomatic Of An Emerging East-West Divide
Looking deeper though, the attitudes concern me. Much of the West has been incredibly divisive concerning the Qatar event, picking up on just about everything to throw verbal stones at the 2022 World Cup Finals. It is, in turn, a form of journalistic and political hooliganism and it does not bode well. While the recognisably tarnished FIFA President Gianna Infantino urges the world to celebrate the world’s greatest game, it appears his words are not really being heard.
When what should be a global event starts being pilloried for attempting to cater for everyone, and the rights of the minority views are shouted the loudest, it saddens me. Kipling’s poem ‘The East is East/The West is West’ is often misquoted in terms of ‘Never the twain shall meet’ however in Qatar those misquoted words underline what a dangerously partisan, East versus West world we have now become. I worry for what this may mean in future times.
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