Keep the World Cup in Qatar even if it bought its way in
Instead of having amassed soft power,
Qatar confronts multiple threats to its World Cup hosting rights.
2015/06/05 Issue: 8 Page:
James M. Dorsey
US and Swiss investigations into corruption in FIFA and the awarding
of World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar are likely to force Qatar to provide
chapter and verse about its bid rather than allow it to stick to its tired
reiteration that it did nothing wrong, will cooperate with any and every
inquiry and that allegations against the Gulf state are rooted in racism.
Former Qatari prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani
responded to the latest FIFA crisis as it related to Qatar by saying that it
was “not fair” and based on Western Islamophobia and racism towards Arabs. No
doubt, debate about the Qatari World Cup has been burdened by sour grapes,
envy, ulterior motives, prejudice and bigotry.
That, however, does not distract from real issues Qatar needs to
confront and the multiple threats it faces. Those threats have been magnified
as much by external factors as by Qatar’s own handling of affairs.
To be sure, Qatar, unlike other Gulf states, has since winning the World
Cup engaged with its critics. It has granted human rights and trade union
activists access and worked with them to develop standards for working and
living conditions for migrant workers. Qatar also cooperated in drafting
proposals for a significant updating of the kafala sponsorship system that puts
employees at the mercy of their employers.
Nonetheless, Qatar failed to capitalise on credibility it built with its
failure to demonstrate sincerity by translating words into deeds. It further
squandered credibility in a series of inelegantly handled incidents, including
the repeated detention of foreign journalists. Making things worse, Qatar has
recently tightened the screws on its critics.
All of that, coupled with the FIFA crisis, means that Qatar’s reputation
even before the dramatic announcement of legal proceedings was tarnished by
repeated allegations of vote buying and the labour issue.
As a result, for a country that has proved to be a shrewd financial
investor, Qatar’s return on investment in soft-power instruments, such as the
World Cup, designed to position it as a progressive ally of world powers in the
hope that they will come to the aid of the wealthy Gulf state in times of
emergency, has proven to be abysmal.
Instead of having amassed soft power, Qatar confronts multiple threats
to its World Cup hosting rights. Those threats have raised the spectre of Qatar
ultimately being deprived of its hosting rights.
Yet, even though millions of documents obtained by the Sunday Times
suggest that Qatar bought the World Cup, it ultimately is not the core issue.
Even if it did, Qatar, like Russia, played the game the way it is played in
FIFA. England lost its 2018 World Cup bid for the simple reason that it
insisted on largely walking a straight and ethically and legally correct line.
Hamad’s dismissal of the allegations as racist may ring hollow in
failing to confront the substance of the allegations but it does forebode the
geopolitical fallout and regional outcry were Qatar to lose its World Cup
Moreover, a Qatar under fire by legal authorities against the backdrop
of a failed soft-power policy could either stiffen its back, decide to walk
away from the tournament or be more inclined to attempt to repair suffered
Qatar’s engagement with its critics and promulgation of standards that
comply with international labour norms hold out the promise, despite Qatar’s
failure so far to act on its lofty pledges, of the Gulf state’s tournament
being one of the few World Cups to leave a legacy of change. That is far more
important than seeking retribution for wrongdoing in an environment in which
wrongdoing was the norm.
M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International
Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, co-director of the
Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Würzburg and the author of the
blog The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer and a forthcoming book with the
James M. Dorsey