Worker’s Rights, Hypocrisy, and Islamophobia: The 2022 Qatar World Cup in Retrospect by Zachary Abbas
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you. Indeed, God is Knowing and Acquainted.” – The Holy Qur’an – 13:49
From shocking victories to a tense final that went over double the initial time, it’s safe to say that the 2022 World Cup, hosted by the State of Qatar, was one of the most-watched events of the year, with beinSPORTS calculating a cumulative 5.4 billion views over the course of the tournament (https://www.beinsports.com/en/fifa-world-cup-qatar-2022/news/bein-sports-announces-record-breaking-cumulat/2011581).
Visitors to Qatar were greeted with billboards displaying hadith from the Prophet (saaws), enjoining good character and conduct. (https://www.siasat.com/qatar-displays-hadith-of-prophet-muhammad-ahead-of-fifa-wc-2448646/) The Opening Ceremony of the World Cup was the first to include Arabian traditional music, and also the first to include a recitation of a verse from the Qur’an (13:49), recited by entrepreneur and activist Ghanim al-Muftah.
The tournament, from very early on, showed that in other ways, too, it would not be a typical World Cup. Many teams which had qualified in previous tournaments were no longer in play, and teams who have traditionally been the favorites were very quickly finding their skill tested. In the first match of Group C, Saudi Arabia inflicted upon Argentina what many have called the most shocking World Cup upset so far, with two goals from the Saudi team coming as a response to Messi’s game-opening goal, ending Argentina’s 36-match unbeaten streak.
The precedence set by Saudi Arabia’s team continued, as teams from across the world rose above the expectations set against them to advance further than most commentators thought possible at the start, with Iran’s loss to England being soothed by their victory over Wales, Tunisia’s win against France, Japan defeating Germany and advancing, and Morocco’s victory over Belgium all coming as shocks.
Of course, no Muslim article about the World Cup would be complete if it didn’t mention Morocco’s magnificent performance throughout the tournament – being the first African and Arab nation to make it to the quarterfinals, marking as well the second time a Muslim state has done so after Turkey’s advance in the 2002 World Cup. The conduct of the Moroccan players – from their prostration in gratitude at the end of their victories, to their very lively celebrations that included their families, also went viral as clips that were replayed many millions of times.
Unfortunately, there were also several disappointing moments during this tournament. Hypocrisy from European news stations in their coverage of the tournament was very blatant, and the vitriol that many broadcasters spoke with did not bring people together, but instead helped to spread seeds of division and disunity.
Following Qatar’s winning of the rights to host the tournament in 2010, there has been criticism with regards to Qatar as a host, but this increased dramatically in the days leading up to the tournament. Many western tabloids and internet comments were quick to complain about Qatar’s lack of World Cup history, with the implication being that they don’t deserve to host it because they don’t have a long history of playing football. In fact, Wikipedia’s article for Qatar at the moment of publishing is very clear to point this out, mentioning that, “Qatar won their bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, despite never previously qualifying for the FIFA World Cup Finals.”
This has never been a requirement for hosting the World Cup, however, and is rather disingenuous to bring up in conversation. The country hosting the World Cup is always guaranteed qualification for the match. If Indonesia, which has not qualified for the World Cup since 1938, were to host the next tournament, they, too, would qualify. It’s being played in their country, after all, and the revenues and prestige from the tournament goes a long way in improving their team’s skills and potential abilities in future matches. The idea that a nation, in modern times, can’t host something or enter into it if they don’t have a long history of it is one that’s self-fulfilling – if Qatar can’t enter or host the World Cup because they don’t have a history of playing in the tournament, then how would they build up such a history?
Other commenters brought up the weather – that Qatar would be too hot to play in during the traditional World Cup period of June-July. This is a fair statement – Qatar responded by rescheduling the matches to November-December instead. This, in turn, triggered a wave of criticism that the tradition of the tournament was being messed with. Do we expect that the World Cup will always be held in a temperate north Atlantic climate? If, say, the World Cup were hosted in Australia, which was one of the nations bidding for hosting the 2022 World Cup, then June-July would be fair, as this is Australia’s winter season. If, however, the expectation is that the World Cup needs to be held in Summer, then this expectation automatically precludes half of the world above the equator line as potential hosts, and specifically excludes nations with warmer-than-average temperatures – all nations that, on average, are ones that are often entering the international tournaments for the first time. Moreover, how many players on European nations come from such nations? How many players in the history of the French team, for example, come from Ghana?
Social controversies also played a role in the storm of division that accompanied the World Cup. Very early on, the OneLove campaign by European teams to bring rainbow armbands to Qatar met disapproval from the Qatari government, with some teams, such as Germany, choosing to stage a protest in their respective matches, arguing that their freedom of speech was being violated by Qatar.
Homosexuality is outlawed in Qatar, which formed the basis of the campaign and subsequent protests. As quick as many of these nations are to protest another country’s laws regarding dress code, however, they are also in the process, or have already long passed and regularly enforce, hijab and religious dress bans in the name of preserving their own cultural and social mores, yet this defense somehow doesn’t apply to Qatar.
The OneLove armband controversy was very quickly eclipsed by outrage resulting from racism from European news stations. (https://www.aa.com.tr/en/europe/danish-tv-channel-apologizes-for-comparing-monkey-family-to-moroccan-footballers/2767097) Danish television channel TV 2 compared the Moroccan players celebrating their victory with their mothers to a photo of a group of monkeys hugging each other, with host Christian Høgh Andersen saying, “In continuation of the talk about Morocco and their families in Qatar, we also have an animal family gathering to keep warm…”
Comparisons between Africans and monkeys are one of the oldest known racist tropes, and this caused immediate outrage. The TV channel later apologized, clarifying that they had intended to switch segments to the photo and the host did not intend for any of the implications that many felt by his comments.
Nonetheless, more explicit Islamophobia occurred with German news station Welt comparing the finger-upwards gesture – a gesture people across the cultures, religions, and all over the world use to express monotheism, gratitude to God, and gratitude to the heavens – to sympathy for terror groups. (https://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2022/12/353128/german-channel-apologizes-after-islamophobic-comments-against-moroccan-players) They, too, issued a retraction – but comparing people celebrating to groups that have inflicted suffering upon the world and on our communities is irresponsible at best, and paints a target for political repression at worst.
Perhaps the most pertinent and fair criticism we as an American Muslim community can reflect upon are those of workers rights – that many workers are alleged to have died or been injured in the course of construction for the World Cup is an unspeakable tragedy. Others alleged poor working conditions, which are also a tragedy.
It is nothing less than a paramount responsibility of ours to ensure the safety of our common brother and sister in humanity before we concern ourselves with wealth. In a narration attributed to the Prophet (saaws), he is reported as saying, “Give to the worker his wages before his sweat dries.” (Ibn Majah 2443). While investigation is still underway on what conditions workers faced in the state during this period, it is nonetheless a good reminder that exploitation of peoples is never justifiable, and is one we should stand against if we aim to be true to our morals, and not fall into the hypocrisy that this article has criticized..
In many ways, however, these incidents and others like them did not detract from the joy many had with this tournament. Throughout the tournament, videos of strong solidarity – from the good character demonstrated by Husam Saffarini, who, seeing a tired woman with her two children after a match, offered to and carried the grandson of the Brazilian coach without realizing who he was (https://dohanews.co/brazil-coach-finds-palestinian-hero-who-carried-his-sleeping-grandson/), to the many videos of hospitality and international friendship between people, to the example set by the fans of Japan’s team in cleaning up the stadium following their matches, and yes, even the funny Arabic from the US Embassy in Doha (https://www.instagram.com/p/CllXZy8u5xO/?hl=en) – helped set a standard of unity and kindness that was, for many, a welcome breath of fresh air following the past two years of COVID closures and many canceled or affected sports tournaments.
For many, this World Cup was a success and celebration of the rest of the world, with all of the surprise victories, joyous celebrations and multicultural clips circulating like wildfire among areas traditionally called “the third world.” This tournament spoke of a greater vision than politics, bigotry, or football – one in which the people of the world can come to know each other and act righteously with one another, as the Quran has described.
And what a beautiful vision that is.