It’s as if The Onion had been engaged to write a sarcastic paean to the corruption and stupidity of FIFA, the world governing body for soccer, and come up with the most improbable story imaginable. The tiny Arab emirate of Qatar outbid the United States, Japan, Australia, and South Korea for the right to host the 2022 World Cup championship.
How they did it is still something of a mystery. Two members of FIFA’s executive committee were suspended after being caught in a sting operation by a British newspaper that had reporters posing as lobbyists, promising cash in return for their votes, but it would be near impossible to bribe enough members of the board to win the right to host the World Cup.
More likely, it hinged on the $100 billion that Qatar is promising to spend on infrastructure prior to the tournament. This includes:
* $25 billion rail network
* $20 billion on new roads
* $11 billion new airport expected to open in 2012, with capacity to handle around 50 million passengers a year
* $5.5 billion new deep water seaport
* $1 billion crossing linking new airport with mega-projects in northern part of the capital, Doha
Plus, Qatar has promised to build nine new stadiums and renovate three others at a cost of another $3 billion.
Western construction and material supply companies are absolutely licking their chops at the prospect of this tiny duchy of a country tossing around that kind of green. Given the connections of FIFA members to the largest corporations in the world, you see why bribery would be a waste of time. The real dough is had by getting on the good side of the amir and his family, who own everything of value in the country and will dole out contracts for that $100 billion in spending. Granting them the most prestigious sporting event in the world is a good start toward grabbing a goodly share of King Solomon’s riches.
But really … Qatar? Like most nations of the world, they are soccer mad, but there are barely enough native Qatarians to fill one stadium, much less 12. There are three times as many foreign workers in Qatar than there are native born citizens, but they will probably not be allowed to attend any of the games.
Why? It seems that FIFA has chosen a World Cup host who tolerates virtual human slavery. From the CIA Factbook on Qatar:
Qatar is a destination country for men and women from South and Southeast Asia who migrate willingly, but are subsequently trafficked into involuntary servitude as domestic workers and laborers, and, to a lesser extent, commercial sexual exploitation; the most common offense was forcing workers to accept worse contract terms than those under which they were recruited; other conditions include bonded labor, withholding of pay, restrictions on movement, arbitrary detention, and physical, mental, and sexual abuse.
Yes, but the amir is working diligently to fix this problem — sort of:
[T]he Government of Qatar does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so; in February 2009, Qatar enacted a new migrant worker sponsorship law that criminalizes some practices commonly used by trafficking offenders, and it announced plans to use that law effectively to prevent human trafficking; punishment for offenses related to trafficking in persons remains lower than that for crimes such as rape and kidnapping, and the Qatari government has yet to take significant action to investigate, prosecute, and punish trafficking offenses; the government continues to lack formal victim identification procedures and, as a result, victims of trafficking are likely punished for acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.
The amir certainly doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to fix the problem. But then, he has 12 years to reform the labor situation before Euro-sensibilities regarding working class Pakistanis and Indians are piqued by their plight.
No matter. If human trafficking doesn’t bother you much — it certainly doesn’t worry FIFA — how about Qatar’s financing of terrorism? Or harboring terrorists? This is a snippet from an IMF report on terrorist financing in Qatar:
(A)n interdepartmental committee has been established to coordinate Qatar’s efforts in the implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1267 and the international conventions on the fight against terrorism, but its mandate does not cover UNSCR 1373; no authority has been granted the powers to designate terrorists; and there is no legal basis for freezing under the relevant UNSCR. … It also appeared that, on one occasion, the authorities offered safe harbor to a person designated under UNSCR 1267. No actions were taken with respect to this person’s funds and other assets. (Page 10.)
The preventive measures for financial institutions in the domestic sector fall short of addressing a vast majority of the customer due diligence elements of the international standard. … The current obligations do not prohibit the opening of anonymous accounts or accounts in fictitious names. There are no direct requirements to determine whether a person is acting on behalf of the customer nor to identify and verify the beneficial owner of the account. The requirements for ensuring that customer documentation, information, or data are kept up-to-date are inadequate. Requirements for addressing enhanced due diligence for higher-risk categories are incomplete. There are no measures in place addressing politically exposed persons and cross-border correspondent relationships. There are no provisions covering the risk associated with new or developing technologies. (Page 11.)
So they have terrorist coddling going for them too.
There are the usual issues that you find in any Arab country with virulent anti-Semitism, polygamy, and an attitude toward women that fits right in with the emirate’s 14th century mode of governance. There is no elected legislature. The people are subjects, beholden to the capricious whims of a potentate with three wives and 24 children. There is a “Municipal Council” where some members are elected, but the reality is that all power is in the hands of the amir, a nice enough fellow who is apparently considered a “progressive” in the Arab world but is still an autocrat.
What really beggars belief is that FIFA failed to take into account two crucial factors in their decision: the climate and Qatar as a tourist destination for Westerners.
As for the latter, just what is there to do in Qatar? This is from the official tourist site:
Tourists can explore the natural environment of Qatar by taking an exciting desert safari, relaxing at the many beaches and pools or just enjoying their favourite sport, be it bowling alleys, tennis, snookers, billiards, golf courses, or ice skating rinks. There is something for everyone in this wonderful place.
No doubt the British football hooligans are salivating at the thought of starting poolside fights or breaking up a bowling alley or two. There are good restaurants but alas, no drinking allowed except in exclusive hotels and clubs.
In fact, Qatar would do well to vastly expand the number of venues allowed to serve alcohol, or come 2022, soccer fans will be rioting because they won’t be able to get a beer or three. It’s going to be like tailgating at a football game where brats are outlawed. Americans wouldn’t sit still for that, and I doubt the boisterous Euro-football fanatics will be satisfied with citrus juice or iced tea.
They will need something cold to drink because the weather forecast for July 2022 will be sunny and hot. Temperatures will be at 110 degrees or above, which will give a whole new meaning to the term “sightseeing.”
It would be something akin to the NFL entertaining Super Bowl bids from cities like Tampa, Miami, San Diego, and Dallas and then awarding the game to Minot, North Dakota. Now Minot is a nice little town with friendly, hardy citizens, but playing a football game in early February with temps that can get as low as 40 below zero should not have been the NFL’s idea of an exciting venue.
For Qatar, how, you might ask, do they expect people to sit in the stands and watch a sporting event with the thermometer tickling 120 degrees. How do they expect players to perform in such life-draining heat?
The answer is — magic! Qatar has promised to build open air stadiums with air conditioning and to make them carbon neutral for good measure.
The plan is to plaster solar cells all over the roof and the outside of the stadium to capture the sun’s energy, turn that energy into freezing cold water, and then use gigantic blowers to circulate cold air for spectators and players.
FIFA bought it. Experts aren’t so sure:
Because of the massive amount of energy that air conditioning needs, some are sceptical that solar panels will actually be able to generate enough energy so they can claim to be carbon neutral. This includes David Butler of the Building Research Establishment (BRE).
“Putting solar panels on the outside of the Qatari stadium will not generate enough energy to cool it,” Mr Butler says. “They will simply run out of juice as the amount of energy required to do this would far outstrip the number of panels.”
The whole thing sounds like a Rube Goldberg idea. No doubt in the end they will need massive generators to assist in this green scheme of cooling fans and players. The fact that they will be playing most of the contests at night will probably help in making the games bearable to watch, but if you’re planning on going, I suggest you stay in your hotel and watch the games on TV.
Even if it works and fans don’t melt into their seats, the question remains: Why? Why sacrifice whatever high ideals are connected with the World Cup — and there are precious few that haven’t been sullied by FIFA — by holding the tournament in a socially backward autocracy that winks at terrorists and terror financing while allowing nauseatingly hateful bigotry directed against Jews?
It’s the money, stupid.