Controversies overshadow excitement for FIFA World Cup in Qatar

The FIFA World Cup 2022 starts on the 20th of November in Al Khor, Qatar. A first for the tournament, considering that all previous World Cups have started in either May or June. The prestigious tournament falls right into the middle of major European competitions, which are usually finished when international tournaments roll around. However, the choice is an unavoidable one: summer months in Qatar can reach up to 50 degrees Celsius.

This is but one of many criticisms directed at organizer FIFA for allowing the tournament to be hosted in the country. The first allegations of bribery and corruption during the country selection process appeared in 2011, just a few months after Qatar was elected as the host. Despite being branded as a country with “high operational risk” by FIFA itself, the Middle-Eastern country beat the United States, South Korea, Japan and Australia during the election.

“We believe the focus on the World Cup can create pressure on the government to implement promised labour reforms and improve the situation of migrant workers.”

Over the last decade, Qatar has received global criticism over human rights abuses, specifically regarding migrant workers. A report by The Guardian in 2021 estimated that 6500 workers have died since 2010. Even though state leaders have improved their living situation somewhat, “human rights abuses persist on a significant scale today,” says the latest report of Amnesty International.

Belgium also played its part in the organization of the tournament. In 2016, the NGO criticized the construction company Besix for ignoring malpractice by its subcontractors during the construction of the Al Janoub stadium. Since then, the company has made improvements. Besix was later praised by Amnesty’s Belgian director, calling it an example for worker’s rights in Qatar.

Safety concerns

There are also worries about the safety of visitors, as it is illegal for men to be homosexual in Qatar. Human Rights Watch reported several arrests of the LGBTQ+ community in September. But according to Peter Bossaert, CEO of the Royal Belgian Football Association (RBFA), the country “has guaranteed that non-heterosexual people will be safe”. “Walking hand in hand is possible, but we also ask Belgian fans to use their common sense,” he said to VRT.

All these issues have toned down the excitement of Belgian football fans, who are showing less interest in this World Cup. Because it takes place during winter, barely any big screens or fan zones will be set up in the country. Some bars in Brussels have even decided to boycott the tournament by refusing to broadcast the games.

Fewer than 1000 Belgian fans have bought a ticket for a match so far. The country is expecting up to two million visitors, not even close to the five million tourists that Russia received during the 2018 World Cup, another controversial location.

The Belgian government will send a smaller delegation than is customary for a tournament of this size. Thirteen out of fourteen sponsors of the national team will not send employees to Qatar. The Belgian Red Devils will also wear a bracelet during the tournament as part of the ‘One Love’ campaign against discrimination and injustice.

A complete boycott, however, is off the table. NGOs and the RBFA see the tournament as a way to enforce change in the country. “We believe the focus on the World Cup can create pressure on the government to implement promised labour reforms and improve the situation of migrant workers,” states Amnesty International. ”A boycott will not help the workers in Qatar.”




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