FIFA hosts not worthy

Credit: Braden Kelner/Forum Editor Credit: Braden Kelner/Forum Editor
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Sepp Blatter, president of the world’s soccer governing body, gave a speech in 2010 at the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) headquarters in Zurich, on both the physical and cultural space that soccer had traversed, according to FIFA’s official website. He evoked the fundamental ideals that the World Cup and the Olympics are based on — world peace and acceptance of diversity.

Blatter’s speech also preceded the announcement of the host nations of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. The two winning nations could possibly be two of the worst locales for hosting soccer’s premier event.

Russia, which recently came under fire for its policies against homosexuality, will host the World Cup in 2018, while Qatar will host the World Cup in 2022. To a discerning soccer fan, Russia barely makes more sense than Qatar. Russia has a promising young crop of players, along with some competitive European club teams like Zenit St. Petersburg, CSKA Moscow, and Anzhi Makhachkala.

What does Qatar have? Blatter says that FIFA chose Qatar because of plans to extend soccer culture into the region. Although an admirable goal, there were three key questions asked when Qatar was announced, and all of them are still hot topics for debate. These three topics point to FIFA’s puzzling behavior and question FIFA’s goal of soccer development.

The first topic is climate. Simply put, it’s pretty hard to run around for 90 minutes in 122˚F weather.

So why did FIFA pick such a harsh climate, other than to encourage FIFA spirit in the region? Many critics, such as U.S. national team star Eric Wynalda, immediately pointed to Qatar’s oil reserves and the capital that comes along with them, and of course, the bulging pockets of FIFA voters, reported ESPN.

Oil money, however, is a common factor in European soccer. The Telegraph says that Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the half-brother of the United Arab Emirates’ president, has spent nearly $1.5 billion on Manchester City — an English team — in player transfers, wages, and stadium expansions.

Furthermore, whistleblower Phaedra Al Majid came forward and accused FIFA voting members of corruption and bribery, according to The Guardian. Her case was soon denied and knocked aside, with Al Majid herself making a U-turn and denying any wrongdoings by Qatar agents. Considering Qatar’s surprising bidding victory and mountains of money, as well as FIFA’s general operational and financial opaqueness, it does not take much imagination to speculate about a large-scale corruption scandal.

The last issue is one that Russia shares, as host of the 2018 World Cup and the 2014 Winter Olympics. Qatar and Russia do not provide suitable political, social, and religious environments.

The 40,000-plus seating stadiums all look amazing, but Qatar is a tiny nation-state. In fact, Qatar is so small that in 2010 it would not have been able to handle the massive influx of fans and tourists just because it did not have sufficient hotel space, said FIFA in its 2022 FIFA World Cup Bid Evaluation Report: Qatar. FIFA said in the bid book that with the stadiums, labor costs would be astronomical — amounting to approximately $3 billion — even when considering Qatar’s mountains of money. A large majority of the workers will come from Asia and will endure harsh working and living conditions, possibly triggering human rights violations, says the Human Rights Watch. Imagine the 122-degree weather and then picture the overcrowded migrant-worker “labor camps” — as Human Rights Watch labeled them — which have no air conditioning or ventilation.

Qatar also outright bans any homosexual activity. Blatter said that “gay fans should refrain from any sexual activities” during their stay, reported BBC. BBC said that Qatar was one of 79 member nations that sanctioned extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions on the grounds of sexual orientation during a United Nations vote. Bear in mind that the Olympics, and by extension, the World Cup, only started to encourage sportsmanship, international cooperation and equality for all.

All of this behavior — including Qatar, Blatter, and FIFA’s behavior — points to the worrying fact that the nature of FIFA, the International Olympic Committee, and the internationalist spirit in the world of sports is changing.

The beauty of soccer is its simplicity and wide appeal. A ball is all that is needed to start playing. Soccer has come such a long way and has broken many barriers, but now it is time to break new ones. Soccer is supposed to be a source of hope to humanity, discipline, and respect, as Blatter says in the welcome text of the Sepp Blatter Foundation website. International sporting events highlight diversity and the acceptance of different races, religions, and political alignments. But looking ahead in 2022, FIFA seems to be centering itself around wealth, flair, and a complete disregard for its fundamental purpose of bringing different people together under the banner of soccer and its spirit.