HomeOpinionWhy I’m Boycotting the World Cup in Qatar and So Should You

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Dan Friedman

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David Burke

OPINION: Howler’s love of soccer and excitement about an upcoming World Cup bears in mind that this year’s tournament is different—in how it got to Qatar, in how Qatar has prepared for it, and in what all of it has proven once and for all about the “stewards” of our game.

While we are still unsure about how to approach the tournament, Dan Friedman knows what he’s going to do. Here, one of our favorite writers makes a powerful case against passively participating in the 2022 World Cup.

A Heartbreaking Decision To Boycott Staggering Genius 

By 2011, when credible accusations of bribery were leveled at the game’s administrators, we already knew that the Qatar World Cup bid stank of fraud and abuse. Little had changed by 2015 when Drew Magary succinctly called on the USMNT to boycott the competition: “I am a sports fan, which means that I am willing to put up with a lot of corrupt jackassery from my owners and commissioners and college presidents. It’s baked right into the system. But come the fuck on. This is insane.”

I’m not one for self-denial and I’m not calling for every tainted organization to be banned, but when, as predicted, it has taken more than 6,000 unnecessary deaths to make the FIFA Qatar World Cup – that’s a step too far. 

Yes, I’ve watched Premier League teams owned by Putin’s henchman and by an absolute feudal monarchy, yes I’ve watched the Champions League sponsored by the climate change department of Russian despotism and I came of soccer-age watching a World Cup in Argentina presented by a regime that had just staged a military coup over the democratically elected government. Not to mention, like a generation of soccer-lovers, I adored Red Star Belgrade in the 1980s only to see their employees and fans turn into the most heinous European murderers since the Nazis. But even though my team, England, may finally end over 50 years of hurt by winning a World Cup and even though more countries are playing—including arguably the best players and teams in history—I have made the heartbreaking decision that I cannot, in conscience, watch.

On human rights grounds, I object to a FIFA World Cup in a country that criminalizes the LGBTQ+ community and treats women as second-class citizens. On the grounds of justice, I object to Qatar’s “successful” bid leading to major FIFA officials being barred from football but not the bid’s defeat. On footballing grounds, I object to the granting of the bid to a country that has the population of Birmingham, England, but with three fewer elite soccer clubs and four fewer stadiums. And the crass lie of a summer tournament in 120-degree heat sticks in my craw. The authors of the bid dared us to disbelieve them because a winter World Cup would never have been approved. They affirmed the dates in the face of questioning and reiterated their fantasy of air-conditioned stadiums, only to renege once the bid was accepted.

But really, it’s the spilled blood that caused Magary’s anger and leads to my breaking point. The world has known for years that this tournament would cost thousands of lives—for long enough, in fact, for governments, teams and sponsors to change the venue. Magary cited a 2014 report estimating that up to 4,000 migrant workers “will die before the start of the World Cup in 2022.” In February 2021, the Guardian compiled government sources that showed that “Qatar has embarked on an unprecedented building programme, largely in preparation for the football tournament in 2022,” during which time “[m]ore than 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died.”

And for what? A sportswashing event that will make the abusive emirate of Qatar look cool and the old male presidents of FIFA rich. Come the fuck on. This is insane.


In 1978 I was allowed to stay up late and watch the games at the World Cup in Argentina.

It was a glorious treat, with ticker tape on the pitches and everywhere, hundreds of boys juggling balls at half time, the great Dutch team getting handily beaten by plucky Scotland, and all the exotic European and South American players we never used to see. Yes, the country was ruled by a military junta and yes the 6-0 victory over Peru seemed highly suspicious, but I was a little, football-mad boy and, if my elders and betters had said it was OK, then who was I to complain?

Over the 44 years since then I have watched hundreds of hours of World Cup finals matches in mildly obsessive fashion. For many years I was a student and a teacher so I could dedicate summers to watching group matches. Mostly I camped out at home in England or on the U.S. East Coast to consume games, but memorably, I watched the 1990 England-Cameroon game on kibbutz, the 1994 Brazil-Italy final in Hong Kong, the 1998 England-Romania game in a pub in London after Saul and Caroline’s wedding and the England-Sweden game in 2018 in a car park at Yellowstone National Park. 

So, I’ve watched every single Mundial since 1978 but I’m boycotting this one and, frankly, I don’t understand how anyone can click the TV remote to the FIFA World Cup without getting blood on their own hands.

That’s because, as Magary put it, “Qatar’s World Cup infrastructure is being built using Moses-era slavery practices.” In 2013 — nine years ago — we already knew that the Qataris would use migrant workers in a way that would kill them. If the Qatari organizers presided over 4,000 deaths on their way to building infrastructure that would never be used again — even that would have been more than the terrorists killed on 9/11. The figures are not exact, because the numbers are under-reported and reflect total deaths of migrant workers—not just those working on the World Cup infrastructure. But it seems clear that 18 months ago, over 6,500 migrant workers had died “in Qatar since it won the right to host the World Cup 10 years ago.” 

The total number is probably greater; the vast majority were involved in FIFA World Cup-related projects; since early 2021 more have died. At what number do we begin to object? How many people are you willing to kill to serve up your sport?

To build its World Cup infrastructure, Qatar has “expended” as many migrant workers as there are professional male footballers in England and the USA put together. Regularly in international football and every week in the English Premier League players take a knee because #BlackLivesMatter or, as the Premier League players said in a group statement released by the league, “as a symbol of our unity against all forms of racism.” Apparently, though, that knee only points west, not east. And, apparently too, #BrownLivesDontMatter to those players. 

Is it murder when you say that over the next 8 years you are going to build temporary stadiums using your system of indentured servitude (translation “modern slavery”) that will cause thousands of people to die? Is it murder if you exceed those estimated deaths by nearly half? Perhaps the listed partners Qatar Airways and QatarEnergy are already complicit partners, but from what sick place do corporations like Adidas and Coca Cola and VISA actually choose to become sponsors of Qatar’s mass graveyards? It’s not like the deaths were not predicted, counted, recounted, updated and noted through the years. No wonder my Coke tastes like blood and my Visa card looks like a tombstone.

In case you haven’t been watching this slow march downwards like I have, the Qatari bid should never have been chosen because it was, at best, mired in improprieties. Qatar is an unbelievably wealthy country, but it is not a fair, just place and FIFA is a stinking pustule of an organization. FIFA itself banned six officials including two of its 24-man executive committee for trying to sell their votes even before the final selection in December 2010. In the aftermath of the vote, any major FIFA officials including president Sepp Blatter and secretary general Jerome Valcke were convicted by courts or FIFA of bribery or gross ethical misconduct and banned from football. Eventually, a decade after the selection of the Qatari bid, The New York Times, reported that “the United States Department of Justice [said] that representatives working for Russia and Qatar had bribed FIFA officials to secure hosting rights for the World Cup.” 

Even as the guilty collaborators fell,
somehow the World Cup project continued.

The equivalent of more than 10 migrant workers have died every single week of the 625 weeks between that disgraceful vote on December 2, 2010, and the first game of the tournament on November 12, 2022. That’s 625 missed opportunities for FIFA to stop the killing.

How to Balance 64 Games With 6400 Deaths

FIFA had stated its reasonable desire to interrupt the traditional rotation between Europe and South America to develop new football markets. The U.S. World Cup in 1994 was an example as were Japan/Korea in 2002 and South Africa in 2010. Each of those were stable democracies with a significant population and a demonstrable enjoyment of football. Also, though the weather can be hot in Japan and Korea in June, the heat is comparable to a U.S. summer. 

A desert country twice the size of Delaware, with a population only about 3/4 the size of Los Angeles, a legal system that curtails women’s rights and criminalizes same-sex sexual activity (meaning that players and staff may not travel), Qatar has only one thing to offer. These fossil fuel billionaires, headed by their autocratic Emir, has no football market, no infrastructure, no human rights — nothing to offer except money. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the lure of that money, it seems, attracted many, including high-profile public “ambassadors.”

Furthermore, Qatar, which clearly stated before, during and after it won the bid, that it would host a summer tournament, regularly sees temperatures up to 120 degrees. In the scheme of things, lying about something which was clearly always a lie, pales into insignificance next to the thousands of deaths it has caused, but it is both a measure of the corrupt hosts and the corrupt FIFA organization that they were all happy to mouth the lie for as long as was politically necessary.

The beautiful game is played by hundreds of millions and adored by billions. Sadly, the global organization that claims to “effectively serve our game for the benefit of the entire world” is a corrupt shell happy to feast on the billions of dollars from sponsorship and bribes even when the cost is blood. As Magary put it all the way back in 2015, “[t]his has to be the moment where we look at a corrupt sports entity, and say, “What … are we doing? We can’t do this.” What we can do, together, is join in a boycott of the World Cup and its sponsors.

Howler

Contributors

Dan Friedman

Dan Friedman is the only Yale PhD to have served on Sacha Baron Cohen’s writing staff and he’s the only qualified soccer coach to have been an executive editor at the Forward. He is a writer and digital consultant whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Review of Books. Dan’s twitter.

David Burke

David Burke is a street artist from Oakland, California. Operating under the alias of Hungry Ghost, his work can be seen on public walls and in galleries across the West Coast. He is currently a professor at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

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