With just days to go before the football World Cup begins, Qatar, the host country, and FIFA are embroiled in controversy. Since 2013, when Doha won the bid to host the World Cup, rights groups have called out Qatar’s poor human rights record, particularly on LGBT rights, civil liberties and treatment of migrant workers. Footballers and fans have expressed anger and disappointment at FIFA, and more so after the body issued a statement recently asking the 32 participating nations to “now focus on football.”
The Australian team released a video condemning Qatar’s human rights violations. The Denmark team will wear an all-black kit. England’s star player, Harry Kane, and captains of European teams will wear ‘OneLove’ armbands. Recently, fans at a Dortmund match in Germany unravelled a massive banner which read ‘Boycott Qatar 2022’. Pop star Dua Lipa distanced herself from the tournament, saying she will not be performing at the opening ceremony and looks forward to “visiting Qatar when it has fulfilled all the human rights pledges it made when it won the right to host the World Cup.”
The V-Dem Institute’s human rights index quantifies the human rights record of a country where 0 indicates ‘least rights’ and 1 indicates ‘most rights’. The index measures the extent to which people are free from government torture, political killings, and forced labour; have property rights; and enjoy the freedoms of movement, religion, expression and association. Chart 1 plots the Institute’s human rights index of a football world cup host, on the year the country hosted the tournament. For instance, the 2006 World Cup was conducted in Germany, which scored 0.97 on the index that year. Qatar’s human rights record is the third worst in history for a host. For Qatar, the 2021 figures have been considered as the 2022 numbers have not been published yet. Qatar is only behind Argentina, which hosted the World Cup in 1978, and Italy, which was the host in 1934. The military junta, which was in power in Argentina in 1978, suppressed civil rights and restricted freedom. In 1934, the second World Cup took place in Benito Mussolini’s Italy.
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Qatar also featured at the bottom of several other humanitarian indicators (Chart 2A, 2B, 2C, 2D). The scores of Qatar, along with those of Russia, are notably low on civil liberties, private civil liberties, equal rights protection, and freedom of expression. The scores of Denmark and India are shown for reference.
Chart 2A: Civil liberties
The chart shows the extent of freedom of expression and association, the rule of law, and personal autonomy. The higher the scores, the more the liberties
Chart 2B: Private civil liberties
The chart captures the extent to which people are free from forced labour, have property rights and enjoy the freedom of movement and religion. 0 (least liberties) to 1 (most liberties)
Chart 2C: Equal rights
The chart combines information on the extent to which the State grants and protects rights and freedoms equally across all social groups. 0 (least equal) to 1 (most equal)
Chart 2D: Freedom of expression
The chart captures the extent to which people can voice their views and the media presents different political perspectives. It ranges from 0 (least free) to 1 (most free)
Even the previous tournament, held in Russia, faced scrutiny. Russia ranks the fourth-worst host on the human rights count. However, Qatari officials say the vilification they are facing is worse than what was seen in the past and have denounced the “hypocrisy” of it. Responding to Germany’s criticism in an interview with a German newspaper, Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said, “On the one side, the German population is misinformed by government politicians; on the other, the government has no problem with us when it comes to energy partnerships or investments.” Table 3 shows the total imports of coal, oil and natural gas in 2021 by 10 European footballing countries, including England and Belgium, which recently released a joint statement condemning Qatar’s rights abuses and urging FIFA to deliver “concrete answers”. Together, the nations have spent $4.2 billion on importing mineral oil and fuel from Qatar in 2021. Qatar was also among the top 10 sources of oil for England and Belgium last year.
With inputs from Vignesh Radhakrishnan
Source: V-Dem Institute, Freedom House ratings, OurWorldinData, UN Comtrade