By Joemar Yubokmee

Cartoon by Brandon Jon Delos Santos
The ongoing iteration of the FIFA World Cup is something everyone should watch closely, not because of the historic upsets instigated by Asian countries against more favored opponents but due to the plethora of controversies that surround the event. More than the bribery and corruption case that implicated FIFA officials that were allegedly paid by Qatar to secure hosting rights in men’s soccer, the World Cup is a shiny façade that masks disenfranchisement, exploitation, and violence toward Qatari women, the LGBTQ+ community, and the workers.

The selection of Qatar as the host of the 2022 World Cup issue is just the tip of the iceberg. In 2010, Qatar wasn’t equipped with enough infrastructure, hotels, and stadiums to cater to the millions of fans that would attend the mega sports event. Given Qatar's low native population, the country relied on a large number of migrant workers who were subjected to harsh working conditions in a desert state.

Most migrant workers’ freedom of movement is restricted as their passports are withheld. If they want to leave the country to go back to their family, they must secure a permit from their employers. Most of those working in the construction zones are banned from going to malls on their days off, so they gather in the Musherib neighborhood of Doha with essentially nothing to do. Moreover, their quality of life is so poor that they are cramped in a small, garbage-littered room like a pack of sardines in a can.

If these working conditions are not enough, an investigation by the Guardian found that more than 6,500 workers have died in Qatar since 2010 due to workplace accidents, car crashes, suicides, and diseases caused by the extreme heat. The grand stadiums where thousands of avid spectators will be visiting, serve as a cemetery for these oppressed workers.

These workers, mostly from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, and India, have no choice but to accept the difficult living conditions because, for them, sending money to their families back home is more important. Their mobility rights are so restricted that they cannot look for better jobs because their visas are tied to their employment. It’s either these harsh conditions or no job at all. Stop working or go home.

Human rights issues continue to persist in Qatar to the point that they have become the norm. Qatar’s penal code criminalizes sexual activity outside of marriage to the extent that even victims of rape, abuse, and molestation are prosecuted. Homosexuality is treated like a disease so much that those advocating and clamoring for what are supposed to be basic and intrinsic rights are made to attend conversion therapy and experience harassment and even imprisonment.

During this tournament, the Qatari ambassador for the World Cup emphasized that homosexuality is harmful to the mind. "The most important thing is, everybody will accept that they come here. But they will have to accept our rules," said Ambassador Khalid Salman, a former Qatari national team player. This did not fare well with the football community with seven national team captains from the Netherlands, England, Switzerland, Belgium, Wales, Denmark, and Germany deciding to wear the one love armband to protest the same-sex relation laws prevailing in Qatar but the FIFA will be imposing sanctions, and wearing the band could result in a fine or a yellow card.

This unprecedented, coercive, and appalling decision of the FIFA to penalize those who speak for equality and stand against discrimination is a massive setback for a sport that is supposed to champion inclusion. Yielding to the pressure exerted by the Qatari government sets the LGBTQ+ community in Qatar a thousand steps back because the nations that were thought to bring liberal and progressive ideals failed to deliver them to a country whose conservative views led to discrimination and physical abuse of those who simply chose to love. It is a setback simply because those who had the avenue to speak up for those silenced by conservative laws and culture are unable to do so.