Thursday, April 18, 2024



An opinion, New Thinking-with Joe Bartuah

Since December 2, 2010, when the tiny Middle Eastern country of Qatar won the bid from the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) to host the 2022 World Cup, all attempts have been made to denigrate that relatively progressive country, for doing the unthinkable—winning a hosting bid against some of the most powerful countries in the world. By all accounts, Qatar’s winning the bid for the 2022 World Cup went against the whims of FIFA’s tradition in the 118-year history of the organization.

When FIFA was organized in Paris, France on May 21, 1904, Qatar was not even a country then. The area had been a British “Protectorate” until 1971 when the country finally gained its independence from one of the world’s ultimate colonizers. Besides that, of the 18 countries that have hosted the World Cup (some of them twice) since Uruguay first staged the tournament with 13 participating countries in 1930, Qatar is the smallest, in terms of geographic area. Occupying barely 4,416 square miles, with a population of 2.9 million, 90 percent of whom are immigrants, Qatar, which geographers concur, is about the size of the state of Connecticut, and is the 164th largest country of the 193 member countries of the United Nations. Located in the Middle East, Qatar is predominantly a Muslim country with a visionary flair.

Against such backdrop, when FIFA announced in 2010 that that tiny country had emerged as the final choice in hosting the 2022 World Cup, there was an instant eruption of outrage and indignation in powerful countries around the world; many regarded the decision as a sort of sporting blasphemy and there were accusations of briberies. Even the United States Government deployed its all-powerful Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) into that particular international sporting controversy and Mr. Sepp Blatter, the former Secretary-General of FIFA, who later became the organization’s president, was forced to resign.

The fact is that some of those accusations and resentments were actually emanating from the capitals of those same behemoth countries that had competed against Qatar and lost the bid for the 2022 hosting. In other words, those jaundiced criticisms shrouded in covert bigotry and sheer racism, were being orchestrated by adversarial minds, not impartial umpires or disinterested parties.

As the bribery accusations subsided and Qatar embarked on its gigantic construction projects, the usual Doubting Thomases in Western capitals began expressing concerns about the country’s capacity to complete those projects on time. Some of them seemed to have had genuine concerns, because the largely desert peninsula was doing something that appeared almost unprecedented in the region. It had traditionally not been a sporting country. However, in 2004, the leaders of Qatar decided to change course for the better, by establishing the Aspire Academy, with a motto: Aspire Today and Inspire Tomorrow. The academy begins training talented athletes in various sporting activities, including football, from 12 until they’re 18 years old. Besides that, the academy runs an athletic nursery program for kids, starting from five years until they’re eight years old.

The Middle Eastern country’s desire to become a world class sporting country is gradually paying off. Today, that tiny country has eight Olympic medals—two gold, two silver and four bronze medals—to its credit. Perhaps the most exhilarating sporting moment for Qatar was in 2019 when the country won the Asian Games, defeating Japan in the final football match to snatch the championship.

There were also concerns about Qatar’s labor practices; that migrant workers were not being treated fairly, even though most of those concerns were emanating from elitist advocates residing in countries thousands of miles away in those same Western capitals where the original outrage about FIFA’s granting Qatar the right to host the World Cup had erupted.

Amid those accusations, condemnations, condescensions and contempts with subtle racist, Islamophobic underpinnings in a “Holier than thou” fashion, Qatar remained steadfast, undeterred on its foremost mission—to bring the World Cup to the Middle East, thereby transforming the tournament’s stature into an authentic global cup, because the definition of “world” as per some Western perceptions, is not necessarily the same as the entire globe or universe. After all, only 13 countries had participated in the “World Cup” tournament when it was first staged in Uruguay in 1930 and nobody can convince me that it was without controversy.

In spite of the intense cynicism, condescension and subtle racism, I see Qatar’s hosting the World Cup as that little country’s unique way of sending a very strong, positive message to the rest of the world, especially the war-mongering, terrorism-orchestrating elements of the world that sports—FOOTBALL—can generate universal happiness; that the people of the world, irrespective of their skin color, religious belief or economic status, earnestly yearn for freedom and happiness.

Another aspect of the criticisms being unleashed at Qatar has to do with the cost of its construction projects, which is estimated at $220 billion. Hypocritically, all those who are criticizing the cost of hosting an event which immensely contributes to world peace by engendering universal happiness, are yet to tell us how many billion dollars is being squandered on buying the bombs and other destructive weapons that continue to massacre the Houthis, the marginalized majority population of Yemen, or the peace-loving people of Ukraine.

Contrary to those who see a doom, I see a potential dawn of a social reset in Qatar’s hosting of the FIFA World Cup. Since Qatar, along with the United Arab Emirates, has voluntarily decided to be the flashpoints for catalyzing the evolutionary movement of the Arab world, I think the entire world—including those with ingrained elitist superiority complex–should be encouraging those two Arab countries, so as to serve as positive beachheads for needed social transformation and economic regeneration, rather than duplicitously demonizing or vilifying them for egregious reasons. The fact that a tiny country with a 2.9 million population is hosting the rest of the feisty soccer world should be a source of hope and elation, rather than a point of indignation, disdain and resentment for those considering themselves as being more civilized than others.

Reading those mounting criticisms through the pages, I have been wondering where in the world is that perfect, immaculate society? Some of the criticisms range from Qatar is not a high-caliber football nation, why should it be hosting the FIFA World Cup, to Qatar doesn’t support Gay and Lesbian rights, among others. The fact remains that the world is not a cultural monolith and so, the cultural diversity of the world has to be accepted. For example, when England won the World Cup in 1966, gay marriage was unthinkable at the time in that part of the world, or when the United States staged the same World Cup in 1994, gay marriage was not legalized in the U.S. then. Despite all the criticisms about sexual sub-culture, or Qatar not allowing gay rights, I haven’t heard about any bedroom police in Doha as the World Cup games go on; I haven’t heard about people being arbitrarily arrested all over the place.

Moreover, it seems that many people are being so short-sighted that they’re not looking at the bigger picture. In hosting the World Cup in a region that is notorious for its ultra-conservative drag on basic human development, especially its suppression of women, Qatar is somehow mitigating a social-engineering extravaganza whose exponential outcomes in improving the quality of life, especially for women in the region would be far-reaching.

In other words, by opening its doors to the outside world in staging the World Cup, Qatar is prudently sowing seeds of social transformation in the Middle East and I dare say, the exponential impacts of such potential transformation in dismantling the façade of ancient socio-cultural relics and egregious religious inhibition, which continue to severely shackle the forward movement of the region cannot be overemphasized or quantified. With the World Cup games going on and their irresistible social impacts being displayed on the television screens of homes in Qatar and its surroundings, some of the ultra-conservative countries in the region, whose subjects are still groaning under the cruelties of their tormentors, will see for themselves the futility of suppression and probably begin to gradually open up, because in the final analysis, freedom is not only universal, but also remains the ultimate aspiration of humankind

People in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran, for example, will realize that even in a Muslim country, women’s heads being uncovered, that women and girls displaying their hair doesn’t lead to an eruption of earthquake in any given country, whether Muslim or otherwise. The morally-bereft “Morality Police” in Tehran, Kabul and other male-dominated societies might realize that torturing innocent people is not a virtue, but a vile cruelty.

I just don’t think that berating Qatar with disdainful, elitist criticisms will serve a better purpose. At least, Qatar is using its money to tremendously contribute to the cultivation of world peace. Instead of deviously setting out to eliminate its critics, or bludgeon leading journalists in exile, as some of the powerful countries in the region dastardly do with their oil money, Qatar has for example, established Al Jazeera, an international television network employing scores of journalists and other media workers around the world. As I see it, those are forward-looking public policies with people-centric outcomes, for which that tiny country should be commended, rather than condemned.


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