Nov 17, 2022 - World

The European cities ditching fan zones to protest Qatar World Cup

People visit the FIFA World Cup countdown clock in Doha on October 23

People visit the FIFA World Cup countdown clock in Doha on October 23. Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP via Getty Images

Several European countries are taking steps to protest Qatar's hosting of this year's World Cup, which has long been shrouded in controversy.

Driving the news: Since FIFA announced Qatar as the 2022 World Cup host, the Gulf nation has been repeatedly criticized for its human rights record and the environmental costs of holding the tournament in the region.

When is the Word Cup?

Set to begin Sunday, the 2022 World Cup will be the first ever to take place in the Middle East.

  • Qatar has spent more than $200 billion in infrastructure preparation, including building stadiums, expanding its airport, and constructing a new metro system.

Why are countries protesting?

Qatar's human rights abuses and lack of strong protections for migrant workers have made it a controversial pick to host the tournament.

  • More than 6,500 migrant workers died in Qatar in the decade since the country won its hosting bid in 2010, according to 2021 reporting from The Guardian, citing an estimate of deceased workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka — a significant portion of whom died in relation to the building of World Cup infrastructure, the newspaper reported.
  • Human Right Watch noted this was likely to be an undercount as it doesn't include figures for workers from other countries.
  • In a statement responding to the Guardian's report, the Qatari government didn't dispute the figure but argued that "the mortality rate among these communities is within the expected range for the size and demographics of the population" over nearly a decade.

Other human rights concerns: Freedom House has categorized Qatar as "not free," taking into account the country's scope of political rights and civil liberties.

  • Human Rights Watch said in an October report that security forces in Qatar have "arbitrarily arrested lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender" people and "subjected them to ill-treatment in detention."
Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup football tournament billboard
A worker walks in front of a Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup football tournament billboard in Doha on Oct. 29. Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP via Getty Images

Environmental impact concerns: Qatar's decision to build air-conditioned open-air stadiums for the World Cup has been criticized for its environmental cost. In May, the nonprofit Carbon Market Watch said that organizers' claim that the World Cup would be carbon neutral was "misleading."

  • Owing to Qatar's small size, many fans will be staying in neighboring countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and the UAE and flying in just for matches.
  • Qatar Airways Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker said in October that the country expects roughly 500 shuttle flights a day during the tournament, as well as additional charter flights, Reuters reported.

Bribery concerns: FIFA officials allegedly accepted bribes in exchange for their votes securing Qatar its bid to host the tournament, the U.S. Justice Department said in April 2020 indictment.

  • Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) strongly denied the allegations, saying in a statement that it "strictly adhered to all rules and regulations for the 2018/2022 FIFA World Cup bidding process and any claim to the contrary is baseless and will be fiercely contested," per Reuters.

How are countries and world cities protesting?

Denmark last month unveiled new, "toned down" World Cup team jerseys intended to protest Qatar's human rights record.

  • "We don’t wish to be visible during a tournament that has cost thousands of people their lives," kit manufacturer Hummel wrote in an Instagram post. "We support the Danish national team all the way, but that isn’t the same as supporting Qatar as a host nation."

A slew of major cities in France — including Paris, Marseille, Lille, Bordeaux, Reims and Strasbourg — have announced that they will not organize public screenings, or "fan zones," for World Cup matches. France is looking to defend their 2018 World Cup title.

  • Pierre Rabadan, Paris’ deputy mayor of sport, said Qatar's “model of staging big events goes against what [Paris - the host of the 2024 Olympics] wants to organize." While the lack of fan zones is in protest of "the conditions of the organization of this World Cup, both on the environmental and social level," it's not a boycott of the tournament itself, he added, AP reported.
  • Yes, but: Paris officials faced accusations of hypocrisy by some critics who claimed that the boycott seemed disingenuous given that France's celebrated Paris Saint-Germain soccer team is owned by a Qatari company.
  • According to France's Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, "France also continues to benefit significantly from Qatari foreign direct investment (some €25 billion), behind the United Kingdom but ahead of the United States."
Qatar world cup clock
People walking past the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup countdown clock on Oct. 20. Photo: Karim Jaafar/AFP via Getty Images

London also will not host public fan zones or screenings on account of Qatar's human rights record, Bloomberg reported.

Australia's men's team in late October became the first 2022 World Cup team to issue a collective video statement criticizing Qatar's human rights record.

Seven European team captains were forced to abandon plans to wear rainbow "one love" armbands in a show of inclusion and anti-discrimination after FIFA threatened that players who did so would face sanctions, including automatic yellow cards.

Soccer player posters in Doha
Posters of players hang from buildings in Doha, Qatar on Oct. 31. Photo: Simon Holmes/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Qatar's response

In a speech last month, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani said that Qatar "has been subjected to an unprecedented campaign that no host country has ever faced," ESPN reported.

  • "The campaign tends to continue and expand to include fabrications and double standards that were so ferocious that it has unfortunately prompted many people to question the real reasons and motives," he added.

Editor's note: This article was updated to include details about abandoned plans by captains of some European teams to wear rainbow armbands.

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