Nov 21, 2022
Why the 2022 World Cup is so controversial Transcript
As the 2022 Qatar World Cup kicks off, questions surrounding a global corruption scandal, $200 billion spent to build an entire city, seven stadiums and more continue to embroil the tournaments. Read the transcript here.
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Tim McPhillips (00:00):
Why is there so much controversy surrounding this World Cup? The first World Cup ever in a Middle Eastern country, Qatar, has officially kicked off. And right now billions of fans are tuning in to see the biggest competition in the world’s most popular sport. But controversies brewing in Qatar began even before the tiny nation won the right to host the World Cup. Sports journalist Roger Bennett and Sam Stejskal helped us break it down.
Roger Bennett (00:24):
How does a World Cup end up being held in Qatar, a nation which is smaller than the state of Connecticut, where the temperature in the summer is 120 degrees, not fit for purpose in any way, shape or form? To understand that question, you have to know that football is governed by FIFA. The international body is meant to grow the game and safeguard the game. When the World Cup happens, it’s been compared to an eclipse which strikes the entire planet for a full month instantaneously, and that creates a deeply precious source of power and financial profit. And power and profit, as we see in every walk of life, draws often the darkest of humanity. And that is the case. And football fans, again, we know that football is corrupt.
Tim McPhillips (01:13):
Qatar won the right to host the World Cup through a bidding process, beating out countries such as Japan, Australia, and the United States. But according to the US Department of Justice, it was not all above board.
Sam Stejskal (01:24):
Qatar was awarded this World Cup in December, 2010. There was great controversy around that. There was a pretty wide expectation that the United States would win that tournament. And as we’ve learned in subsequent investigations, many of which were done by the FBI and the Southern District of New York, it wasn’t quite on the up and up. A lot of FIFA officials have been indicted for various bribery related offenses, taking bribes in this case. And the former president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, who was in charge of the organization back when Qatar was awarded recently came out and told a reporter that it was the wrong decision.
Tim McPhillips (02:02):
Blatter himself has been embroiled in accusations of corruption throughout his time as head of FIFA. And the DOJ alleges that representatives of Russia, who hosted in 2018, and Qatar, bribed voting FIFA members to support their then successful bids.
Roger Bennett (02:17):
So they set up a process, which has been described to me by a gentleman, Matthew Miller, who came on a podcast we did called World Corrupt, and looked at this very question. He said they set up the perfect mechanism if you want to set up a corrupt, brazen decision-making process. And to hear a gentleman that brought down mafia rings, that brought down narco rings across the world so that this was the most corrupt thing he’d ever seen. It must have made Tony Soprano spin in his grave.
Tim McPhillips (02:48):
Qatari officials deny these allegations of bribery. And 12 years later, the World Cup has kicked off in Qatar. But to do so, Qatar had to build well.
Sam Stejskal (02:58):
Everything in short. It’s remarkable. Here in Doha, you can’t escape the construction.
Tim McPhillips (03:04):
That includes seven new stadiums and a major rehabilitation of an eighth. It expanded its airport, built an entire new city, Lusail, a metro system to support it and more. Now, the total price tag has been tough to pin down, but some estimates put the figure at over $200 billion. But for those who have done the labor to build the facilities and prepare for the tournament, the price is much higher.
Sam Stejskal (03:27):
It was a massive, massive effort to build housing, to build infrastructure, to build stadiums. It’s mostly migrant workers. The population of actual Qatari citizens here is relatively small. I think it’s something over 75% of the overall population of the country is people coming here from other places to work, many of whom in construction jobs or security jobs or even administrative jobs to help run this tournament.
Tim McPhillips (03:54):
And the conditions that many migrant workers have reported have raised serious human rights concerns.
Sam Stejskal (04:00):
A lot of these people will be, their passports will be taken from them upon arrival in the country. They will not be returned to them until they finalize their contracts. It’s very arbitrary, and they’re basically under control of the person or employer or agency that holds their contracts. Sometimes they have to pay exorbitant fees just to get a job, at which point they’re paid very, very little. The housing conditions reported have been very, very bad in some cases. Tons of people cramped into tiny kind of squalid living accommodations, and there’s been a lot of deaths.
Tim McPhillips (04:36):
Figuring out exactly how many migrant workers have come to Qatar is difficult. The Qatari government says they have welcomed 30,000 workers, and that since 2015, there have been 37 deaths among workers building World Cup stadiums. And only three of those are work related. But these numbers do not include workers building non competition facilities such as transportation or hotels. And serious questions have been raised around how Qatar reports deaths. According to an analysis by The Guardian, who contacted Embassies of nations who sent workers to Qatar, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, at least 6,750 workers died building in Qatar since the World Cup was awarded. And Human Rights Watch indicates that that could be an undercount because not every nation that sent workers to Qatar was contacted.
Roger Bennett (05:24):
It’s an astonishing number. Qatar pushed back and said, “No, it wasn’t six and a half thousand. There were just three by our official record.” But that is a number that the teams are now grappling with. They are going to be forced to play the game of their dreams in stadia, which are literally soaked in blood.
Tim McPhillips (05:43):
Additionally, there are serious concerns around Qatar’s human rights record, where male homosexuality is illegal, and women are largely subject to male guardianship laws that require permission from their husbands to work, study and more. Those human rights issues have spurred protests from some of the attending teams.
Roger Bennett (06:00):
Australia are releasing a beautiful video.
Speaker 4 (06:04):
These migrant workers who have suffered are not just numbers.
Roger Bennett (06:07):
The whole team, 60 members of the squad, very, very articulately walking through their very fraught geopolitical and human rights issues. Denmark will be wearing a, for some games, a black kit, which is a jersey of mourning, so that they’re signaling that some of the European teams are going to wear gay pride on bands when they play football.
Tim McPhillips (06:29):
Now, the issues around this World Cup are serious, but they’re not unique to Qatar, this World Cup, or even just soccer. For example, China hosted the most recent Winter Olympics amid criticism of forced labor practices and mass detention of Uighur Muslims. And Russia hosted the 2018 World Cup four years after the annexation of Crimea, while backing separatists in Donetsk, Ukraine, and amid allegations of anti-gay purges in the Russian Republic of Chechnya.
Sam Stejskal (06:56):
You can buy influence by buying teams in soccer, and that’s what we’re really seeing with this World Cup. It’s an attempt to sports wash and improve the image of Qatar through a major global event, maybe the biggest global event from a sporting perspective. They’re not going to come away from this tournament with everyone being their biggest fan, but they are going to come away from this tournament with certainly increased awareness for a country that’s smaller than the state of Connecticut.
Roger Bennett (07:21):
It’s a pattern that goes back to ancient times, bread and circus. And by the way, this is not a new thing for FIFA. If you look at the history of the World Cup, this colossal tournament, 1930 Mussolini used it as a total propaganda. The first World Cup, I remember watching as a tiny kid, 1978 Argentina, the military junta used the World Cup to try and present a modern and attractive face. To a large degree, that is why we’re going to watch this World Cup through a split screen. We have to hold both the wonder when that whistle blows of what’s happening on the field, but never, never forget what’s happened off it to provide our entertainment.
Tim McPhillips (08:05):
For the PBS News Hour, I’m Tim McPhillips.