By Amal Hanif
Intending to make a mark on the world stage and build its presence globally, Qatar has splurged astronomical amounts of money to host the world’s greatest soccer event. In 2010, Qatar won the bid to host the 22nd edition of the FIFA World Cup, beating the United States, Australia, Japan, and South Korea. Ever since, the tiny, oil-rich country has spent the past 12 years transforming the entire piece of land.
It would not be an overstatement to describe this world cup as a historical one. From a Muslim country being granted this opportunity for the first time to numerous surprises given by the Qatari Government, various occasions have undoubtedly left the world stunned.
To a certain extent, Qatar deserves to be appreciated. It has taken an unwavering stand to safeguard its values, especially when these values contradict ubiquitous modern-day norms. This stance is assuredly a big deal.
As the country opened its doors to fans from diverse backgrounds, it emphasized that visitors should respect Qatar’s cultural and religious values. Primarily, Qatar has taken a firm position against LGBT as it is prohibited and punishable by up to seven years in prison. Some hotel rooms refused accommodation to same-sex couples. Rainbow-coloured items were confiscated outside stadiums. Players may face sanctions for donning the ‘One Love’ armband. In an interview, the official ambassador of this year’s tournament, Khalid Salman, called homosexuality a ‘damage in the mind’.
Qatar even managed to ban alcohol at all match venues, except for the corporate suites. Forty-eight hours before the tournament began, the ban on beer came as a bolt from the blue. The decision left fans astonished. It further complicated FIFA’s $75 million sponsorship deal with Budweiser, who has been an official World Cup sponsor since 1986.
The emirate has been making significant attempts to break stereotypes about Islam. From inaugurating the World Cup with a powerful verse of Surah Al-Hujurat to posting English translations of Ahadeeth of Prophet Muhammad (sa) around Doha, they have made efforts to promote the true, positive image of our peaceful religion. The Katara Cultural Village Mosque is a centre for fans who wish to discover Islam.
While Qatar deserves appreciation for its efforts to preserve its religious and moral principles, some paramount concerns must be addressed. After all, the World Cup is merely a game, lasting less than a month.
The overriding issue is the human cost: the case of the migrants who worked their fingers to the bone preparing for the World Cup. Hundreds of thousands of workers from Nepal, India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan were tasked to construct infrastructural projects. Investigations revealed that thousands of migrant workers toiled in the scorching heat and temperatures of 45C for up to ten hours daily, leading to multiple deaths.
Additionally, it was not until September 2020 that Qatar finally ended its Kafala system and introduced a ‘non-discriminatory minimum wage’. Report findings reveal that at least 6,500 South Asian workers died in Qatar in the past decade since it won the bid. Roughly 12 migrant labourers have died every week since 2010. That exposes Qatar’s negligence and failure to protect its 2-million-strong migrant workforce, which is the backbone of its economy.
As Muslims, the sanctity of human life and justice is as important as upholding one’s principles. Similarly, while half of the world plunges into poverty, spending extravagantly on worldly distractions depicts our skewed priorities.
Qatar has invested between $220-300 billion, making it, by far, the most expensive World Cup. In 2017, Qatar’s finance ministry announced they were spending $500 million weekly on infrastructure to host the event. This expenditure included importing American grass seed, expanding airports and roads, building seven more state-of-the-art stadiums, launching a rail network, and sorting out accommodation for over a million spectators. A significant question arises: is it worth it? The tournament is only expected to inject $17 billion back into Qatar’s economy. Post World Cup, what will this infrastructure be used for?
Doesn’t Islam hold us to account for every penny spent and any human life that perishes due to our delinquency? The greater the resources bestowed by Allah (SWT) Al-Ghani, the higher the accountability for all: individuals, societies, and countries.
Qatar, a country with one of the highest GDP per capita in the world and backed by the third-largest natural gas and oil reserves, could build opportunities for the entire Muslim Ummah under its own set of conditions and scrutiny. It can offer a lifeline to the ailing Islamic economy across the globe. Suppose these billions of dollars are invested in human development rather than an event. In that case, it can build the future of Muslims as one block, as they once were.