Many people are wondering how a small Gulf country with little football history ended up hosting the sport’s biggest event, which is currently underway in Qatar.

Qatar became the first host nation to lose the tournament’s opening match, losing 2-0 to Ecuador on Sunday. The nation had never played in a World Cup tournament before, let alone hosted one.

It took the nation 12 years to make its World Cup debut, during which time Qatar’s status as host nation sparked controversy within the football community and beyond.

Football World Cup
Football World Cup

‘New lands’

In 2010, Qatar was chosen ahead of bids from the United States, South Korea, Japan, and Australia to host the 2022 World Cup.

It encountered a number of challenges during the bidding process because FIFA, the governing body of football, raised concerns in technical reports. These included the region’s extreme heat during the summer, when World Cup tournaments are typically held, and the absence of any existing infrastructure.

Even though the reports called Qatar’s bid “high risk,” the country still won the final round of voting with 14 votes to eight from the United States.

At the time, Qatar promised to make the world “proud of the Middle East” as the first country from the region to host the tournament, while then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter welcomed the prospect of football’s showpiece event going to “new lands.”

“I’m a happy president when we speak of the development of football,” he said.

Twelve years later, Blatter is more critical.

Earlier this month, he told Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger: “Qatar is a mistake … the choice was bad.

“It is too small of a country. Football and the World Cup are too big for it.”

Blatter said FIFA amended the criteria it used to select host countries in 2012 in light of concerns over the working conditions at tournament-related construction sites in Qatar.

“Since then, social considerations and human rights are taken into account,” he said.

With a population of three million, smaller than that of Connecticut, Qatar has invested billions in its football infrastructure in preparation for the 2022 tournament.

Football World Cup
Football World Cup

However, there are still concerns regarding how Qatar obtained the right to host the World Cup.

In a statement to CNN, Qatari officials called the US Department of Justice’s claim that high-ranking officials accepted bribes as part of the voting process to select Russia and Qatar as the tournament hosts for the 2018 and 2022 events “false.”

For a number of years, the DOJ has been looking into allegations of corruption in international soccer, including FIFA. More than two dozen people have been found guilty, and some cases are still pending.

In April 2020, FIFA issued a statement in which it stated that it “supports all investigations into alleged acts of criminal wrongdoing regarding either domestic or international football competitions and will continue to provide law enforcement officials investigating such matters with full cooperation.”

“FIFA is closely following these investigations and all related developments in the legal processes ongoing in the United States and other parts of the world.

“It is important to point out that FIFA has itself been accorded victim status in the US criminal proceedings and senior FIFA officials are in regular contact with the US Department of Justice.”

US prosecutors gave FIFA the status of a victim because they thought the world governing body of football had been almost taken over by a few corrupt people.

Human rights criticism

Prior to the World Cup, Qatar’s human rights record was also in the news, particularly in relation to the well-being of migrant workers.

Seven new stadiums, new hotels, and expansions to the country’s airport, rail networks, and highways have all been built in preparation for the World Cup, despite the country’s lack of infrastructure when it was given the hosting rights.

Amnesty International says that this has made Qatar’s migrant workers, who make up 90% of the workforce, more important.

Human rights criticism
Human rights criticism

Beginning around 2010, numerous traveler laborers have separately confronted deferred or neglected compensation, constrained work, extended periods in sweltering climate, boss terrorizing, and a powerlessness to give up positions occupations as a result of the country’s sponsorship situation, common freedoms associations have found.

However, Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) said the health, safety and dignity of “all workers employed on our projects have remained steadfast,” with “significant improvements” made around workers’ rights.

The International Labor Organization has noted Qatar’s labor reforms, such as a non-discriminatory minimum wage, which Qatar is the first country in the region to implement. FIFA president Gianni Infantino also stated to CNN Sport’s Amanda Davies that he has observed “great evolution” in Qatar’s labor reforms.

In the years leading up to the World Cup, Qatar’s state-backed discrimination against LGBTQ people has also been criticized.

In the country, men-to-men sex is against the law and can result in up to three years in prison. A Human Rights Watch report that came out last month documented instances of Qatari security forces arbitrarily arresting LGBT people and giving them “ill-treatment in detention” as recently as September.

A statement issued on behalf of the SC and distributed to CNN stated that the nation was committed to “an inclusive and discriminatory-free” World Cup and cited the country’s hosting of hundreds of international and regional sporting events since winning the competition in 2010.

“There has never been an issue and every event has been delivered safely,” the statement read.

“Everyone is welcome in Qatar, but we are a conservative country and any public display of affection, regardless of orientation, is frowned upon. We simply ask for people to respect our culture.”

The decision to stage the World Cup in November and December rather than June and July, as is typical, is perhaps the most obvious indication that this tournament differs from others.

LGBT people
LGBT people

Although temperatures are still expected to rise above 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) later this week, the switch has been forced by Qatar’s scorching summer heat.

Other changes to the tournament’s structure have been made more recently.

On Monday, captains from seven nations were informed that they would receive yellow cards if they wore armbands advocating for inclusion and opposing discrimination. FIFA made the announcement on Friday that no alcoholic beverages would be sold in the stadiums.

“All 32 captains will have the opportunity to wear this armband” during the World Cup, FIFA stated earlier on Monday, announcing that it had brought forward its “No Discrimination” campaign, which also features a branded armband.

FIFA’s hardware guidelines express that “for FIFA last contests, the skipper of each group should wear the commander’s armband given by FIFA.”

The legacy of this World Cup will only become clear over time, but if the past few days, months, and years are any indication, it is likely to be complicated and contentious.

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