The top national football teams from around the globe are currently facing off in Qatar, competing in the FIFA 2022 World Cup.
England fans will be celebrating, after the Three Lions got off to a strong start with a 6-2 win over Iran.
The drama on the pitch, however, will be hard-pressed to match the controversies off it.
Since 2010, when Qatar was chosen to host the World Cup, endemic corruption, bribery, and brutal exploitation of migrant workers have plagued the country, the sport, and its international organisation, FIFA.
Football supporters, activists, and human rights groups have put pressure on national teams to protest against the Qatari regime’s repression of human rights, as well as against FIFA’s corruption.
Consequently, many fans have decided to stay at home, instead of travelling to the tournament. Some plan to boycott watching matches altogether.
Worried about this backlash, FIFA bosses wrote to the 32 qualified teams ahead of the competition, asking them to “now focus on the football”.
Similarly, FIFA has warned teams that they could face sanctions or punishments if players wear rainbow armbands in support of LGBT+ rights.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino, meanwhile, raised eyebrows over the weekend, after he lashed out against western media criticism of the organisation and the current World Cup hosts.
In a rambling speech given on the eve of the tournament, Infantino tried to deflect the condemnation against FIFA and Qatar by highlighting the exploitation and oppression that takes place in the West. And whilst two wrongs don’t make a right, he has a point.
FIFA and the Qatari regime might be giving a masterclass in cynical sportswashing. But the stench of corruption and hypocrisy is inescapable for the whole capitalist establishment.
A FIFA probe into allegations of corruption cited “conduct by Qatar 2022 that may not have met the standards set out in the FCE [FIFA code of ethics] or the bid rules”. But the investigation also added that the same was true of other bids, including that by England to hold the 2018 tournament.
FIFA bosses, in other words, will happily turn a blind eye to all manner of sordid shenanigans, if and when it suits them.
By contrast, Russia – the eventual 2018 World Cup hosts – were banned from this year’s event, following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, as part of western imperialism’s propaganda war.
And there was also talk of banning Iran from participating, as punishment for the theocratic regime’s oppression of women.
The establishment’s outrage towards the Russian and Iranian regimes has been cacophonous. Yet there has been a deafening silence from the western ruling class when it comes to the repression meted out by the Qatari monarchs and oligarchs against migrant workers, women, and LGBT+ people.
Qatar itself enforces male guardianship, forcing women to ask men for permission to “marry, travel, pursue higher education or make decisions about their own children”. Yet where are the calls from the western ruling class to ban Qatar from the World Cup?
Liberal commentators, meanwhile, fail to mention the biggest criminal of all when it comes to participation in the World Cup: western imperialism, which has been the instigator of countless wars, invasions, and interventions.
US imperialism is the most reactionary force on the planet. Yet one would struggle to find a single sanction issued by FIFA against the US and its warmongering allies.
Similarly, FIFA was happy to let Mussolini’s Italy and the Argentinian junta host the World Cup in 1934 and 1978, respectively.
The stinking hypocrisy is plain for all to see. The capitalists and their representatives – in FIFA and in government – don’t give a damn about human rights, but only about profits.
Capitalism = corruption
In 2011, then-suspended FIFA vice-president Jack Warner claimed that Qatar “bought” the rights to host the World Cup. A whistleblower who was part of Qatar’s bid also claimed that the country had paid $1.5 million to African football executives in order to buy votes and ensure success.
There have been countless reports and inquiries into bribe payments between FIFA officials and national football associations. Yet only a handful of these have ever led to convictions, despite clear evidence that these cases are only the tip of the iceberg.
For the parasites sniffing around for cash, football is an industry with no shortage of profitable opportunities. Vast sums of money are involved, with lucrative multi-million TV deals, ticket sales, merchandise licences, sponsorships, and more.
Qatar expects as much as $17 billion to be added to its economy from hosting the World Cup. Corruption and conniving are ubiquitous when such large sums of money are involved. By comparison, it only takes a couple of million pounds to twist the arm of football officials and bosses when it comes to favourable votes and contracts.
Only just last year, for example, European football chiefs were hatching plans behind the scenes for a European Super League – a scheme designed to consolidate their domination of the industry. This only failed because of a huge backlash from fans, which panicked clubs into pulling out.
Boycotts and protest
Fans are torn about how they can support their national team, whilst also registering their anger towards the Qatari regime and FIFA.
Many individuals are planning to boycott the tournament, and some pub owners have said that they won’t broadcast matches in protest.
A recent survey found that 6 out of 10 people in Britain believe Qatar’s homophobic laws should have barred it from playing host.
LGBT+ supporters, meanwhile, have asked for guarantees that they will be safe and not prosecuted if they attend the tournament. But they are yet to receive any such reassurances.
And they certainly won’t find any comforting words from the Tories, with foreign secretary James Cleverly calling on fans to “be respectful of the host nation” and show a “little bit of flex and compromise”.
At the same time, Qatar has been in the spotlight for its super-exploitative labour laws, which allow the regime and big construction companies to hire cheap labour, cut costs, and maximise profits.
The construction of new stadiums, roads, public transport systems, and hotels has been carried out by tens of thousands of migrant labourers under the ‘Kafala’ system, which prevents workers from changing jobs without the permission of their employers.
As far back as 2013, poor conditions and poverty wages were reported by Amnesty International. It found that migrant workers in the Qatari construction sector suffered from high levels of abuse and repression.
Passports were taken from workers; pay was withheld, or was given at much lower amounts than had been promised; and employees were housed in dirty, cramped apartment blocks.
In fact, between 2010 and 2020, around 6,500 migrant workers lost their lives at construction sites in Qatar. This equates to 12 workers killed every week, mainly from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.
It is therefore through the blood, sweat, and lives of thousands of workers that the elites will enjoy huge profits from this year’s World Cup.
Gianni Infantino’s incoherent speech may have been a cynical attempt to divert criticism away from FIFA and Qatar, but his remarks about media hypocrisy contain some truth.
Neither the liberals, nor FIFA, nor the Qatari regime are friends of workers and the oppressed. Ultimately, they are all part of the same stinking system that is responsible for injustice and inequality.
The Qatar 2022 World Cup therefore epitomises the rottenness not only of modern-day football, but of capitalism as whole.
Despite the sportswashing, millions around the world will watch the tournament, enjoying the incredible skills and talent on the pitch.
But hypocrisy, corruption, and exploitation have left a stain that can’t be ignored. For many, the beautiful game has become irreparably sullied by profit-hungry fat-cats, cronies, and kleptocrats.
To clean up football, we must break with the system that is responsible for wrecking it.
It’s time to blow the final whistle on capitalism. Such a sick system doesn’t deserve to see out a full 90 mins. Instead, we must organise to give the profiteers and billionaires the boot.