Interest, Ignorance and Irresponsibility, by Valerie Strassman

July 15, 2014 0 Comments

Interest, Ignorance and Irresponsibility

“The World Cup is not just a great global sporting event; it is also inscribed with much deeper cultural and political importance.” — Martin Jacques

Photo credit: DPA (German Press Agency)
The FIFA World Cup is the international soccer competition contested by the senior men’s national teams of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the sport's global governing body. The first official World Cup game took place in 1930 in Uruguay. Since then, every four years, 32 teams are competing for the title at venues, except in the years of 1942 and 1946 in the wake of the Second World War.
The decision of who is going to host the World Cup has mostly been accompanied by criticism and contention. For example, when Argentina and Uruguay boycotted the tournament in 1938 to criticize the decision of holding the World Cup in Europe twice in a row, or the fact that until 2002, Asian and African countries have not hosted a single World Cup which nourished claims about a Eurocentric bias on FIFA's behalf. However, all this is not very surprising since what is at stake are large sums of money for the international sport federations and their corporate partners, real-estate speculations, prestige for the hosts and the power of the World Cup to create a sense of national unity and shared pride. It should be noted though, that hosting a World Cup does not necessarily pay off for the host nation. Professor Dr. Andrew Zimbalist, an authority in the field of sports economics, argues that above all countries which have not planned properly beforehand and want to accommodate these events “at any cost”, end up “spending billions of dollars that are completely wasted”.
In the case of Qatar “money is not an object”, muses Franz Beckenbauer, one of the grand figures of German soccer, who was a member of the FIFA executive committee from 2007 to June 2011. Shortly after Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup, first concerns about the extremely hot temperature with an average of 40° degrees and higher were raised. Beckenbauer was one of the first to suggest holding the World Cup in the winter despite major implications for the national leagues' game schedules. Yet, Beckenbauer also proudly admits, that “the Emir of Qatar proposed to cool down the entire country in case it is necessary”.
A completely different kind of criticism erupted when the British newspaper “the Guardian” revealed in September 2013 that thousands of Nepalese workers, forming the single largest group of laborers in Qatar, were held under conditions that are defined by the International Labor Organization as “modern-day slavery”. Following the prospect of work and high salaries, they often found themselves trapped in the country as their passports were confiscated and that they were condemned to live in labor camps with unsanitary and dilapidated conditions. Reportedly at least 44 workers died of heart attacks, heart failure or workplace accidents between June 4, and August 8 2013. These accusations triggered some interesting responses within the world of German soccer, which also allowed a glimpse on its ramifications and connections with the Emirate of Qatar.
Theo Zwanziger, former president of the German Soccer Association (DFB – Deutscher Fussball-Bund) criticized FIFA for awarding the World Cup to Qatar and especially condemned the first league clubs FC Bayern Munich and Schalke 04 for ignoring the issue of human rights violation in the Emirate. In the German newspaper “Welt” (the World) from February 13, 2014, Zwanziger was quoted with the words: “These clubs cannot simply put a blind eye on such incidents. Those who look away, are complicit”.
Indeed, neither club commented on the situation, although both of them are training in Qatar’s ASPIRE Academy for Sports Excellence during the winter. Quite on the contrary, Karl Heinz-Rumenigge, another authority in German soccer and currently the chief executive officer of the FC Bayern Munich AG as well as the acting chairman of the European Club Association, praises the “fantastic training conditions” and the “supportive hosts” in Qatar. Only Bayern Munich player, Anthony Ujah (22), has openly expressed his opinion by supporting a petition against the World Cup in Qatar on Facebook. “I come from a country [Nigeria], where people have to leave in order to find work and earn money to survive. That’s why I received the reports from Qatar with dismay and sadness. [...] we all thought slavery was abolished but that’s not the case. [...] It is unacceptable.”
            The most controversial statement about the labour slavery however, could be heard from Franz Beckenbauer, who also holds the position of an honorary president of Bayern Munich. Asked about the situation of labourers in the light of the Guardian's revelations, Beckenbauer reportedly answered, “I have never seen one single slave in Qatar. They all walk around freely – not tied to chains, or in a state of atonement. I have never seen such a thing [as a slave]“. Recently, Beckenbauer was banned by FIFA for 90 days from any football-related activity, because of his refusal to cooperate with an inquiry into allegations of corruption in allocating the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar. While the ban was eventually lifted, FIFA is still investigating the matter.
What was interesting to see, is that the notion of Qatar being an Arabic country and in fact, the first Middle Eastern country as well as Muslim country to host the World Cup did not play any role in the statements of German soccer officials or in the major German newspapers. Even the center-right, populist tabloid “Bild” (The Picture) is omitting any reference. Despite its tradition of sensational journalism that was on display for example, in one report about the German-Algeria match during the recent World Cup in Brazil which titled “Ramadan-Alarm: How hungry for goals are the Algerians during the month of fasting?”.
However, on the official FIFA homepage itself, Qatar is praising its commitment to ecology-friendly technologies, and architectural advancement, while emphasizing its Middle Eastern and Arabic background. “A World Cup in Qatar would be the first global sporting event ever to be hosted in the Middle East […] fans from around the world would experience the magic of traditional Arab hospitality and leave Qatar with a new understanding of the Middle East.”
            So what about Muslims in Germany? Are there any reactions to the scandals in Qatar? Only one article from June 20, 2014 could be found on the homepage of the “Islamic Newspaper” (Islamische Zeitung). The author, Benjamin Idriz, the Imam of the Sunni Muslim Islamic Community in Penzberg (Bavaria) and chairman of the multi-ethnic, Sunni Muslim association “Munich Forum of Islam” (MFI - Muenchner Forum fuer Islam e.V.) decries the international criticism of Qatar as pure “envy” of the “rapid and successful advance” of the Emirate. “It seems like that this small country, an Arabic country, is deliberately challenged for hosting the soccer World Cup…” While Imam Idriz admits that the status of laborers in Qatar is indeed intriguing, he doubts whether European states can voice any justified criticism towards Qatar in regard to the many refugees that die at the coasts of Europe. However, one of the main sponsors of the planned construction of the 'Munich Forum of Islam' is.... Qatar.

            So does Qatar being a Muslim country play a role in the German criticism in its role as future host of the World Cup? While German newspapers have widely reported on the international criticism regarding Qatar hosting the World Cup, relevant parties have largely dismissed such criticism under the guise of proclaiming envy of Qatar, or an interest in protecting already established ties to Qatar. The criticism seems generally focused on Qatar’s abuse of human rights as well as the still investigated corruption scandal. Comments referring more explicitly to Qatar as an Arab and/or Muslim country could only be found among the right-wing populist spectrum. 


Diwaniyya Contributor