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OPINION: Corruption, controversy and the fading of community in the 2022 Qatar FIFA World Cup

It is November 2022. Four years have passed, and whether the sport is called soccer or football, it is time to suit up in those national jersies and watch another FIFA World Cup — the only sporting event capable of uniting soccer fans around the world regardless of culture, language or time zone. There is nothing ordinary or bland about the World Cup, and in 2022 it is back more than ever amid controversy and criticism. The beginning of the 2022 Qatar World Cup originated in 2010, when FIFA ex-president Sepp Blatter assigned the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar, respectively, to the surprise of many. Belmont University junior and U.S. soccer fan Griffin Duffy was disappointed with FIFA's decision to choose Qatar as the host country. “It is an absolute joke,” said Duffy. “I think Qatar hosting a World Cup is a mockery to the sport of soccer/football.” This was the first time for these two historically non-soccer countries to host a World Cup as part of FIFA’s “mission” to expand the world’s game. Suspicions behind the legitimacy of the ballot quickly arose as to how Qatar, a country with zero World Cup appearances and an approximate 3 million population, managed to win the ballot to host soccer’s biggest stage. How fit was Qatar to host the one-month-long event with completely inadequate infrastructure and only two playable stadiums? This was quickly answered with plans to build several world-class stadiums. Migrants from Bangladesh, India and Nepal were employed and placed in unsafe work environments for multiple years, setting up the necessary venues to be used for four weeks. Yes — most stadiums will be dismantled after the four-week tournament. Thousands of these workers died at the workplace due to working excessive shifts in extreme temperatures. Amnesty International documented a lack of investigations by Qatari authorities on the scale of heat-related deaths. Over 15,021 non-Qatari deaths took place – of all ages and occupations – between 2010 and 2019, according to Official Qatari statistics. Roughly 2,100 workers have died in Qatar since 2010 with leading causes of death as heart attack, natural death, road accident, suicide, workplace accident and other causes, according to data collected by Nepali labor’s ministry. The debate further grew in 2015 when it was confirmed that due to the Middle East’s hot summers, the World Cup would be played in the winter for the first time. Therefore, if the temperature was too hot for the players in the summer, what about the heat the migrant workers were exposed to working on-site in the stadiums all year long? “The outcry is necessary because of how horrible it has been and how horrible the treatment of the workers has been,” said Belmont sport administration student Drew Sample. The U.S. men’s soccer team recently took the initiative before the opening of the World Cup, playing a pick-up game with workers with hopes of making an impact in the community. “I'm glad to see that although FIFA is trying to silence countries that are trying to speak out against this corruption and during the World Cup my national team is actually doing something about it and helping out these workers,” said Sample. “As a fan of that team, I'm able to celebrate because I know that they're also aware of what is going on.” The controversy does not end there. Blatter, who was cleared of corruption charges in July, told Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger of late that ‘Qatar is a mistake,’ ‘the choice was bad’ and adding that ‘it is too small of a country. Football and the World Cup are too big for it.’ 12 years after that questionable decision, the 2022 Qatar World Cup has slowly become, in every sense of the word, a big joke. “This is meant to be a celebration,” said Belmont political science professor Nathan Griffith. “A moment for the world to come together and celebrate a sport that most of the world loves.” Instead of being a celebration, this World Cup has become the root of worldwide debate. “FIFA is supposed to be coordinating between them (nations and federations), not dividing them up and pitting them against each other to have to overcome FIFA,” said Griffith. “FIFA caused that problem rather than solving it.” The Denmark national team attempted to make an impact by wearing jerseys with the message “human rights for all” only to be later banned by FIFA. However, the logos present on the Danish jersey were darkened and made red, making them invisible to the human eye. FIFA also threatened to sanction captains who would wear the “One Love” armband. The German national team placed their hands over their mouths in a team photo ahead of its match against Japan in protest to FIFA’s attempts of silencing. Belmont sport finance professor Robbie Matz highlighted the peculiarity in the buildup of this World Cup. “A lot of the issues have been kind of at the forefront for a long time,” said Matz. “And I feel like there's not as much focus on the actual soccer that's happening at least when I kind of look around and see what news is being written.” Professor Griffith echoes Matz’s stance. “The problem is that all of that surrounding the World Cup is a reminder of the worst in us, and it's hard to celebrate the best in us when it's busy being tainted by the worst of us,” Griffith said. This year’s World Cup is the most expensive ever with a total cost of $220 billion to the benefits of few and at the expense of many — fans, communities and thousands of lives sacrificed for the world’s No. 1 sport. “The game is strong enough to come back from that damage that doesn't excuse them doing the damage,” said Griffith. As fans of the beautiful game, there is not much we can do to bring change to this World Cup. But as the sport overtakes the planet this month and beyond, only an aware, united soccer community can fight corruption, hostility and injustice. PHOTO Courtesy of FIFG - This article was written by Federico Pravettoni

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