I was reviewing the paper's on Stephen Nolan's BBC Radio 5 Live show last night, and I was astounded at the number of callers and texters who were outraged over the decision by Fifa to award the 2022 World Cup to the emirate of Qatar. Even liberal bloggers on Twitter joined in on Thursday, after the announcement was made.
Can we all calm down, please? Yes, Qatar will be boiling hot in the summer of 2022 and, no, it doesn't have a big footballing pedigree. But, I would argue, both points also apply to the United States and yet I don't remember there being a big hoo-ha over the Yanks hosting the World Cup in 1994. (Remember the then Irish coach, Jack Charlton, losing it over the heat and lack of water bottles?)
In fact, as CNN has reported, Qatar plans to use state-of-the-art technology, involving solar thermal collectors and photovoltaic panels, to keep pitch temperatures below 27°C. And, as for "pedigree", Qatar is undoubtedly a footballing minnow, but it has won the Gulf Cup twice, in 1992 and 2004, both times as host, and will be hosting the Asian Cup next year. Young Qataris are as passionate about the global game as their neighbours.
The Guardian's in-house Middle East expert Brian Whitaker has an excellent piece on Comment Is Free debunking some of the other myths about Qatar and the World Cup. He makes four key points:
- "Qatar is ludicrously wealthy . . . Since money is no problem, one thing we can be reasonably sure of is that when 2022 arrives, Qatar's World Cup infrastructure will meet the highest standards and there won't be a last-minute cliffhanger over facilities as happened with the Commonwealth Games in India."
- "Alcohol is not actually illegal in Qatar, though it's an offence to drink or be drunk in public. The bigger hotels sell alcohol and foreigners living in Qatar can buy it under a permit system. I'm baffled as to why some people think this should disqualify Qatar from hosting the World Cup. Considering the problems that can arise with drunken fans, Qatar's restrictions don't seem unreasonable."
- "Gay sex is illegal in Qatar, though the authorities don't normally go out of their way to track gay people down . . . very few gay-related cases have been reported in Qatar."
- "Compared with some parts of the Middle East, the country has had very little trouble with jihadist militants."
He's right on all four points. I've been to Qatar, and Saudi Arabia it ain't. Don't get me wrong: like every other Gulf nation, Qatar has an autocratic and reactionary regime and is far from liberal or democratic. But let's not pretend the objections to the emirate hosting the 2022 World Cup revolve around human rights. I mean, China – China! – just hosted the Olympics. And Russia was awarded the 2018 World Cup on the same day as Qatar got 2022's. Russia, described in the leaked US diplomatic cables as a "virtual mafia state", has been involved in wars with its neighbours (Georgia) and with its own people (Chechnya) and has a much worse human-rights record than Qatar. For example, I can't remember the last time Qatar launched a bombing raid on a crowded city centre.
So, can we please just lose the Qatarphobia and get a grip?