“Dortmund instead of Doha, that would have been courageous,” said Thomas Beschorner in the sports committee of the Bundestag, which discussed the men’s soccer World Cup next winter on Monday. The economist regretted that a boycott of the Fifa tournament was never properly considered. According to Beschorner, an alternative World Cup for the European football nations would have “contributed massively to the reputation of football”.
Can a major sporting event like the World Cup be held in a country that disregards human rights and is ruled by an authoritarian regime? Five months before the World Cup in Qatar, which exceptionally won’t start until the end of November due to the high temperatures in the desert state, the sports committee of the Bundestag wanted to know from experts.
In addition to the economist Beschorner, professor of business ethics at the University of St. Gallen, the members of the Bundestag also asked representatives of trade unions, Amnesty International and of course the German Football Association (DFB) for an assessment of the upcoming desert World Cup.
Beschorner’s analysis was devastating. “Democratization processes through major sporting events do not actually take place, there is no scientific evidence for this,” emphasized the scientist with a view to earlier events, for example in Russia or China. Rather, such major sporting events would support authoritarian regimes and give them international prestige. He gave a clear rejection of hopes for the liberalization of corresponding states, arguments for this were only “of anecdotal evidence”.
The hearing in the Sports Committee is to be welcomed, but is now late. Now you are in “repair mode”: The safety of homosexual fans, athletes, coaches and officials in Qatar must be ensured – homosexuality is prohibited in Qatar. In addition, the extremely high CO₂ emissions of the World Cup and compensation payments for the families of deceased guest workers on the stadium construction sites should be discussed, demanded the economist.
The situation of guest workers on stadium construction sites has been an issue for years. It is estimated that more than 15,000 of them have died since 2010. Enormous heat, exploitation, inhumane housing and a lack of workers’ rights are central here, as Katja Müller-Fahlbusch from Amnesty International said. Although there were some legal reforms after 2017, it was “unique” in the region. But: “The implementation of the reforms is inadequate,” says Müller-Fahlbusch.
The so-called “kafala” system, a kind of guarantee model that makes migrant workers enormously dependent on their Qatari guarantor, has by no means been abolished – contrary to the government’s assurances. “We see reforms of the kafala system, but no resolution,” said Müller-Fahlbusch.
The approximately 2.2 million migrant workers, who make up around 79 percent of Qatar’s population, still have no right to unionize. While Qatari workers are allowed to join unions, the migrant workers would only have a kind of committee. But neither strikes nor wage negotiations are possible. And because the committee can only be set up with the consent of the employer, Müller-Fahlbusch considers it a “toothless tiger”.
“The World Cup has become a catalyst to present Qatar as a global brand,” says Sebastian Sons, researcher at the Center for Applied Research in Partnership with the Orient (CARPO) in Bonn. The ruling family around Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani used the tournament as a “strategic instrument to present itself as an irreplaceable partner to the international community on the levels of partnership, profiling and platform,” says Son’s report.
Not only the planned gas deliveries from Qatar show the increasing relevance of the country in geopolitics. Qatar maintains a “talk with everyone” strategy, and talks about the Iranian nuclear deal with the United States recently took place in Doha. In the course of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine, Germany must now ask itself geopolitical questions: “How do we deal with authoritarian regimes? How do we make ourselves more resilient in the future?”
The conclusion of the experts was serious. Accordingly, the DFB is facing intense months. “In terms of sport, athletes and fans, one could have imagined a different decision,” says the association’s statement to the sports committee.
Nevertheless, a boycott is out of the question, emphasized Secretary General Heike Ullrich. The migrant workers would also repeatedly reject this step during talks in Qatar: “They feel that we are on their side with it.” The situation is continuously monitored, and the future German hotel will also be constantly checked for compliance with occupational safety measures. One hopes for a “sustainable change”, for example for a fund to pay compensation to migrants in Qatar, for example in the case of missing salaries.
Meanwhile, Ullrich is also announcing visible measures for the tournament: “I firmly assume that the teams will set an example.” Talks are being held with the German national team. The European associations are also aware of their responsibility in Qatar. With regard to the rights of sexual minorities, they want to promote acceptance. Ullrich has already indicated how cool the host could react to this. “Everyone is welcome in Qatar, but you are also asked to respect the country’s culture,” said the official.
“Of course, just announcing that everyone is welcome is not enough,” said Luise Amtsberg, member of the Greens in the Bundestag and human rights commissioner of the federal government. The consular department will be strengthened during the World Cup so that homosexual fans can be reached “round the clock”.
“As things stand at present, awarding the World Cup to Qatar must certainly be seen as a mistake,” commented Philip Krämer, sports policy spokesman for the Greens parliamentary group and deputy chairman of the sports committee. It is now the task of politics to achieve “sustainable changes for better standards in human rights and occupational safety” and to support the “processing of injustice that has happened”.
“A World Cup host who is committed to the sporting ideal of international understanding must unequivocally declare that it will no longer offer terrorists a platform, shelter or freedom from criminal prosecution,” said Krämer. “Threats of annihilation against Israel” must also come to an end.
Michael Brand, spokesman for human rights for the Union faction, also criticized the awarding of the World Cup to Qatar. He called the hopes for long-term improvement “naive and wrong”. Germany’s influence is too small: “The truth is: We are not at all the spearhead of change.”
For the future, economist Beschorner suggests changing the view of Fifa. The football association must be seen as a “world political, also geopolitical player”, the status as a non-profit organization in Switzerland must be dropped. For the current World Cup, however, much comes too late. “We don’t have to expect a high level of social acceptance of the upcoming World Cup,” says Beschorner’s report.
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