Soccer’s governing body selected the Gulf nation of Qatar as host in December 2010 with the promise that the 40-plus C temperatures would be dealt with using “hi-tech, carbon-neutral cooling systems.”
But a FIFA task force has now recommended playing the tournament in November and December of 2022 instead to avoid the desert heat. The move will disrupt the top leagues in Western Europe, displace Africa’s continental championship and, judging from the social media reaction, has left fans equal parts angry and incredulous.
The time shift is only the latest controversy for a tournament that has been dogged by corruption allegations from the beginning, and which has, according to some estimates, led to the deaths of more than 1,000 migrant workers already. There’s even a Wikipedia page entitled "List of 2022 FIFA World Cup controversies."
"It is a very black farce," says Andrew Jennings, author of FOUL! The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote-Rigging and Ticket Scandals.
Jennings points out that FIFA’s own technical report labelled Qatar’s bid "high-risk," yet still beat out bids from Australia, Japan, South Korea and the U.S.
What's more, at least five of the people who were on the 24-man committee that chose Qatar have been forced to step down because of corruption allegations.
"We’re here because FIFA people voted, shall we say, despicably, or 'controversially' as some of them say," Jennings said.
FIFA launched a corruption probe that looked into the Qatar bid, but only released a summary of the result. The report’s author, U.S. lawyer Michael Garcia, said that "no principled approach" could justify the "edits, omissions and additions" in the summary. He quit in protest.
Migrants working and dying in the heat
MustafaQadri, a researcher for Amnesty International, said he was concerned that people are focusing on the European football calendar more than on the conditions of the workers at the construction sites.
He believes those workers dying in the heat will be the legacy of the tournament if Qatar doesn't quickly make changes to the way migrant workers are treated in the country.
Qadri said firm numbers are hard to come by, but that there have been estimates by media and activists that one worker a day is dying on construction sites linked to the World Cup. That would mean as many as 4,000 deaths by the time the first ball is kicked.
Qadri notes that number doesn't include the injured or migrant workers who have lost their rights, as well as those families affected when migrants are stripped of their promised wages or jobs.
Amnesty International studies from the last several years have said migrant worker conditions in Qatar include deception over pay, 100-hour work weeks and physical and sexual violence. (In Qatar, people who report rape or sexual assault risk being charged and imprisoned for "illicit relations.")
"You’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people affected one way or the other," he said.
Qadri said both FIFA and Qatar have promised working conditions will improve but so far "practically nothing" has been done in key areas. Amnesty has requested a meeting with FIFA, but the governing body has yet to reply.
"It’s not too late," Qadri said. "Time is running out to make a significant difference, but we still have a number of years left. We need to keep the pressure on, and we need to recognize this is not about getting rid of the World Cup in Qatar.
"This is about recognizing that Qatar does have the capacity. It’s the wealthiest nation per capita in the world."
Nigel Reed, a soccer analyst for CBC, said he wouldn’t be terribly surprised if FIFA pulled the plug on Qatar, but he still believes the tournament will be held there.
Reed said it will be a big disruption for most of the domestic leagues in Europe, with Germany in particular looking at a very long break since it normally stops during the winter weather in January.
The 2023 African Cup of Nations in Guinea will move from January to June, which is when Guinea’s monsoonal rainy season begins.
Reed noted that the leagues and teams have seven years to figure it out, and fully expects the controversies will be trumped by the game itself even though they leave a sour taste in the mouth.
"At the end of the day would I watch a World Cup in Qatar in 2022? You bet your boots I would. And frankly all football fans would too, whatever reservations they might have about the time of year, or the way stadiums were constructed, or how many people died in their construction.
"At the end of the day, we will all be turning on our TV sets in November 2022. Of course we will. Because it’s the World Cup."