The FIFA World Cup in Qatar: geopolitics, money and double standards

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The fact that top-class sport including world football is dominated by big money and power interests is no surprise to anyone. But with the World Cup in Qatar, this has reached a new stage.

The awarding of the World Cup to the Gulf state by FIFA in 2010 was a scandal at the time. Qatar is a country which has no football tradition. It has 3 million residents, but only one in ten of these is a Qatari citizen. The country’s unbearable heat made the usual summer schedule for the tournament impossible. Moreover, it is ruled by a despot who does not even allow rudimentary forms of democracy.

A fireworks display is seen outside Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, during a ceremony prior to a World Cup, group A soccer match between Qatar and Ecuador, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

It was clear that huge sums of money changed hands and massive political pressure was exerted behind the scenes to bring about the decision. But Qatar was not exceptional in this regard. The awarding of the World Cup to Germany (2006), South Africa (2010) and Russia (2018) were also overshadowed by bribery and corruption.

Since the World Cup was awarded to Qatar, huge commercial deals have been concluded. FIFA alone expects revenues of $7.5 billion, $1 billion more than at the last World Cup in Russia. Qatar has invested over 200 billion dollars in the World Cup and infrastructure: $8 billion in eight modern, air conditioned stadiums, $16.5 billion in 140 hotels with 155,000 beds, $36 billion in a new metro and $20 billion in airports, ports and motorways.

These projects were built by a huge army of workers from Asia under slave-like conditions of exploitation. Twelve-hour shifts and a seven-day work week in sweltering heat, indescribable accommodations, starvation wages, often withheld for months, confiscated passports and a ban on changing jobs were common. According to a report by the British Guardian, 6,750 workers from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan have died in Qatar in the ten years since the World Cup was awarded. Amnesty International calculated that more than 15,000 foreign citizens of all ages died between 2010 and 2019. In 70 percent of these cases, the cause of death was unknown.

Meanwhile, according to a local representative of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), whose salary is paid by the Qatari government, conditions have improved somewhat. A statutory minimum wage of 1,000 Riyal (€230) per month is now in force—in one of the richest and most expensive countries in the world!

Western companies have benefited greatly from the construction boom. The German planning office Albert Speer und Partner drew up the masterplan for the World Cup and the drafts for the eight football stadiums. Albert Speer, who died in 2017, is the son of Hitler’s architect and arms minister.

Qatar is also a sought-after investor. The sheikdom owns numerous real estate and luxury hotels in Britain, France and Germany and is a major shareholder in Volkswagen, RWE, Deutsche Bank, Lagardère, Vivendi, Veolia, TotalEnergies and other leading companies. The sheikdom has also purchased the Paris Saint-German football club and has made it the strongest team in France by acquiring expensive world-class players such as Messi, Neymar and Mbappé. Bayern Munich, the current champion of the German Bundesliga, is sponsored by Qatar.

Since the imposition of sanctions against Russian gas and oil, Qatar has also become a leading liquefied gas exporter. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Minister for Economic Affairs Robert Habeck and other international politicians made a pilgrimage to Doha this year to secure LNG deals.

Geopolitical objectives

Even more important than commercial interests for the imperialist powers are the geopolitical goals they are pursuing in Qatar. The small state in the middle of the disputed, energy-rich Gulf region is an important political and military base for them.

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