WHEN news first broke out that Qatar was chosen as the next host for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, many rejoiced at the fact that one of the most well-known sports events in history would be held in the Arab world for the first time. But that was not the case for some observers and media outlets from the West, who decided instead to launch an aggressive boycott campaign against the Gulf state.
Ever since the tiny but rich Arab nation of Qatar won the bid to host the event back in 2010, the country has been at the receiving end of criticism regarding workers’ rights and alleged shortcomings in Qatar’s compensation money. But many critics have turned a blind eye to the progress made by the Gulf state in the last couple of years.
But there were some notable exceptions. The Federation of African Journalists has not only backed Qatar to successfully host the 2022 World Cup ever since last year, but it has also noted with dismay the efforts made by the United Arab Emirates to deliberately manipulate journalists organisations in Africa to issue public statements or campaign against Qatar’s bid.
Rights groups have credited Qatar with improving its labour laws over the years, such as by adopting a minimum monthly wage back in 2020, and for largely dismantling the ‘kafala’ system, which was preventing workers from changing jobs or leaving the country without the explicit consent of their employers. As of now, Qatar is the first and only country in the Arab Gulf region to reform this archaic system. But apparently this isn’t enough for the Western hegemons who have invested so much of their time and effort into refusing to acknowledge that the Gulf state has made any significant progress in this regard.
The unprecedented campaign to boycott the first Arab nation to hold the tournament is long past its expiration date. Ironically enough, many of the critics who are now engaged in discrediting Qatar stood completely silent when Russia hosted the 2018 World Cup, despite the country being accused of annexing Crimea back in 2014. Can the said critics be accused of double standards or are they simply attacking Qatar because it’s an Arab nation?
A not-so-subtle coordinated attack
Back in 2019, it was revealed that Sir Lynton Crosby, a prominent Australian political strategist, was paid £5.5 million to work on a campaign to cancel the 2022 Qatar World Cup. The leaked plan showed how Crosby’s firm, CTF Partners, would focus on efforts to delegitimise the Qatari government and put pressure on FIFA to ‘restart the bidding process’ and award the World Cup to another country. In turned out that the entire thing was orchestrated by Qatar’s regional enemies – Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
But this coordinated boycott campaign goes well back to the early 2010s. A New York Times articled posted in 2014 reported that ‘an unlikely alignment of interests, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Israel’ is seeking to depict Qatar as a terrorist state, in hopes that the country will eventually lose its role as a host for the 2022 World Cup. To achieve this, UAE hired an American consulting firm, Camstoll Group, staffed by several United States Treasury Department officials who pressured journalists to write articles critical of Qatar’s role in terrorist fundraising.
The Camstoll Group was formed on November 26, 2012. This controversial consulting firm, listed as a registered foreign agent, has been staffed by former senior officials in both the Bush and Obama administrations, with most having a background as neoconservative activists. Two of the Camstoll principals, prior to their Treasury jobs, worked with one of the country’s most extremist neocon anti-Muslim activists, Steven Emerson.
Steven Emerson is the founder and executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT), which claims to be ‘one of the world’s largest storehouses of archival data and intelligence on Islamic and Middle Eastern terrorist groups.’ What most people don’t know, however, is his views against Muslims. He sees Islam as an inherently violent and antagonistic religion and boasts a history of fabricating evidence that perpetuates conspiracies of radical Islam infiltrating America through Muslim civil rights and advocacy organisations. He’s precisely the man you need if you want your boycott campaign against an Arab country to succeed
Based on the evidence at hand, this murky anti-Qatar campaign has been fuelled by Qatar’s regional enemies, with some Western help. The racist undertones of the campaign point to an organised effort to completely discredit the Gulf state, despite Qatar being one of the most liberalised Arab states in the region.
Moreover, it should be pointed out that Western arrogance could be playing a big role in this boycott campaign, because many think that Qatar does not have football in its culture. However, Qatar has pumped billions of dollars into football, through its purchase of Paris Saint Germain and its sponsorships of Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Has anyone called for the boycotts against these clubs? Certainly not. And if any did, they would be ridiculed, and justifiably so.
The World Cup has only ever been held in Asia once before – in 2002 in Japan and South Korea – despite the continent having tens of millions of football fans that glorify the sport just as their Western counterparts. But instead of welcoming the opportunity to expand the football family and shine a spotlight on the many things that unite us, the critics have in turn decided to slander the Gulf state, in hope that the competition would be relocated somewhere else. Maybe somewhere closer and, perhaps, more European?
The scrutiny and the criticism against the Gulf state is outdated at best, or malicious at worst. Qatar has proven, above all else, that it’s ready to host the 2022 World Cup. The host country has repeatedly shown that it can listen to criticism and reform its labour laws, thus becoming the first Arab state in the region to do so. We should congratulate them and just hope that their model will also inspire all the other countries in the region, like Saudi Arabia or the United Arab States, to follow in their steps.
Qatar is ready to open its doors for the 2022 World Cup. But can the West embrace the unifying aspects of football or will it continue to display its racist tendencies against a part of the world that it still doesn’t understand?
Steven Ross is a US-based freelance journalist