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Paul Vallely: Qatar is not fit to host the World Cup

25 November 2022

FIFA cares more about money than human rights, says Paul Vallely


Iran fans hold placards before the start of the match against England on Monday

Iran fans hold placards before the start of the match against England on Monday

A CHANT of “bisharaf” rang around the ground when England played Iran in their first match in the World Cup in Qatar this week. It is a Persian word that means “dishonourable”.

It might have been directed at the England captain, Harry Kane, who had broken his promise to wear an armband in support of the gay people who are persecuted by the Qatari government, which brands homosexuality illegal. Or the target might have been the football authorities, FIFA, who outlawed the armband to kowtow to the sensibilities of their homophobic hosts.

Or it could have been aimed at the FA and the six other European football federations, who promised that their teams would wear the anti-discrimination armband, and then backed down when FIFA threatened to issue a yellow card to any player wearing it. Two yellow cards and you miss the next match. Footballing principles only stretch so far.

Of course, the chant was actually directed at the Iranian team, whose players had earlier visited the Iranian President, whose government has so far killed 450 girls, women, and men protesting against the theocracy’s repressive treatment of women (Comment, 4 November).

In the event, the Iranian footballers showed considerably more courage than their English counterparts, refusing to sing the Iranian national anthem in solidarity with the protesters. Iran state television cut off live film of the men, and muted the sound whenever the cry of “bisharaf” was heard. Iran’s footballers were risking something far harsher than a yellow card.

The stink of corruption surrounds the allocation of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. Switzerland and the United States launched investigations into bribery, fraud, and money-laundering when the tournament was given to Qatar in 2010. Some 50 individuals were prosecuted, of whom 27 pleaded guilty. Bribes were paid “on an industrial scale”, the Sunday Times Insight team reported.

The then FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, was removed from office, but events in Qatar today show that FIFA officials remain more concerned with pandering to their mega oil-rich hosts, and making money on a vast scale, than upholding the values of diversity and human rights to which FIFA is supposedly bound by its own statutes.

That’s why, just days before the tournament, FIFA was happy to acquiesce when Qatar reneged on its promises to allow beer to be sold in its football stadiums. It’s why they sat on the request for One Love armbands for several months, and only announced their banning on the morning of the first game.

It’s why the current FIFA president, the aptly-named Gianni Infantino, stood up at a press conference this week and stretched out his arms, saying: “You can crucify me. I’m here for that, [but] don’t criticise Qatar.”

The UK Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, told football fans travelling to Qatar to “respect the law” of the host country. But respect, he should have told the Qataris, has to be earned. A country that falls short on LGBT+ rights, women’s rights, and the rights of migrant workers paid as little as 35p an hour, should never have been allowed to host a World Cup. If FIFA cannot see this, it may be time for the nations to form an alternative umbrella organisation to run the competition.

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