Photo: Lars Baron (Getty Images)
We’re all in agreement that holding the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is a bad idea, right? Like, historically bad, since both the oppressive heat and the lack of infrastructure make the tournament such a logistical nightmare that it has to be played in December, with an entire city created from scratch to host the final. Add that to the country’s human rights abuses and restrictive laws on queer people, and the whispers of corruption in the bidding process for 2022 necessarily turn into shouts. Why the hell else would they host a tournament here?
Current World Cup host Russia is weirdly kind of getting a pass on its problems—most disturbingly with its complicity in the kidnapping and torturing of gay men in Chechnya. But the general unfamiliarity of Qatar to most soccer fans means that there aren’t many positive public images to balance out reports of horrific working conditions at World Cup construction sites, or the general fear that LGBT people could get thrown in jail if they travel to cheer for their national teams.
USA Today’s Martin Rogers knows that the next World Cup is a tough sell, and for some reason, he wants to change your mind about Qatar. Here’s the opening of his column today that’s mostly indistinguishable from a Qatari tourism ad:
Etch it onto your bucket list. Tell everyone you are going. Start saving up the pennies. Be ready when the sales period for game tickets opens.
Because the next World Cup is likely to be the most fan-friendly that we’ve seen for a long time, perhaps ever.
What “fans” could you possibly be talking about? Probably not women. Certainly not gay fans. In my humble opinion, if you are a queer soccer fan heading to Qatar for the World Cup, you are taking some wildly unnecessary risks. Representatives of Qatar have said that LGBT people will be safe in Qatar “as long as they are abiding by the local and civil law.” But when that same law bans the existence of those people, that statement feels like some pretty scary bullshit.
Rogers knows you might be worried, however, especially about some teensy little cases of repression here and there.
Yes, it is very possible that you have heard some not very nice things about Qatar. One, that it has oppressively brutal heat. Two, that you can’t get a beer there. And three, that some of its politics and policies are a little on the repressive side.
Those are my concerns, in exact order of importance.
Qatar’s human rights record towards migrant workers has been far less in the news lately, but the nation does not get a free pass. It is proper and correct that the impending arrival of the World Cup will lead to more scrutiny of Qatar’s claims that it has significantly improved the plight of its immigrant population.
Will it really lead to more scrutiny? With major sponsors continuing to support the event, and the dates for the tournament officially set, it seems like, if anything, Qatar 2022 will soon feel more and more normal. Sure, it falls on journalists, in particular, to hold FIFA and Qatar accountable, but someone else with a column in a national newspaper will do that, I guess.
Whether potential visitors are satisfied by that is up to them. Whether they are prepared to have a decision on visiting the World Cup affected by it is also a personal matter. It is an unfortunate reality that it would be possible for sports fans around the world to find humanitarian or social reasons of conscience to skip most of sports’ biggest recent events. If we are being truly honest, you can include in that the World Cup and Summer Olympics that will be on American shores before the next decade is up.
Far be it from me to get all patriotic—even though as a (white) queer person I enjoy far more advantages in America than I would in Qatar—because if Rogers wants to argue that American injustices like the mass incarceration of black men or the separation of migrant families at the Mexico border are enough to disqualify the U.S. from hosting major international events, he can go ahead and try it.
But what’s more interesting to me, based on the argument Rogers actually does put forward, is his reference to “humanitarian or social reasons of conscience” as the excuse people will use to avoid Qatar. Those words betray this all-too-common worldview that sees politics as basically a game, with maybe the ability to affect your income but little other impact on your day-to-day life. The migrant workers who built Qatar’s stadiums won’t be able to go to World Cup games—a lot of them are dead, anyway—but even for fans with the privilege to travel there as tourists, the decision not to enter a country where you know you are outlawed, where you have to hide core aspects of your identity, isn’t something that can be waved away by peppy PR copy.
Rogers shows off even more how comfortable he is, literally everywhere in the world, with the final paragraph (emphasis mine):
And if you care about politics but not to the point of letting it curtail your life’s experiences and if having the chance to see the best play matters and you don’t plan on winning the lottery in the next four years, Qatar might just have what you are looking for.