Why am I boycotting the Qatar World Cup
The fixtures for the 2022 World Cup group stage have finally been confirmed. As football fans around the world watched the draw last week, many were quietly hoping to avoid the inevitable ‘Group of Death’. The well-worn tag refers to a group made up of some of the strongest teams in the tournament, which makes progress to the later stages quite a difficult task.
While this year’s draw ended up being relatively fair throughout, the reality is that the specter of death will hang over each of the tournament’s 64 matches. It may sound hyperbolic, but with 6,500 workers believed to have died building the stadium for FIFA’s premier event, it’s an accurate projection of what lies ahead in December. That’s why I decided to make a personal decision and boycott this year’s tournament.
This is a trick question. Each group plays in stadiums in Qatar built by migrant workers who endure appalling conditions and have claimed many lives. So everyone is a group of death. https://t.co/x62ubJ7BQF
— Colin Millar (@Millar_Colin) April 1, 2022
Last year, I wrote an article for VERSUS titled “5 Questions FIFA Needs to Answer About Qatar 2022”, outlining the most problematic elements of the tournament. The first question was why FIFA decided to award the World Cup to Qatar. In a recent press conference, Dutch coach Louis van Gaal summed up most of our thoughts perfectly: “We will be playing in a country where FIFA says we are going to help develop football. That’s bullshit, the tournament in Qatar is about money and business interests. That’s what matters to FIFA.
It is obvious that the World Cup was awarded to Qatar as it was the best opportunity for FIFA to line their pockets. Unfortunately, in-game commercial greed is not exclusive to FIFA. It’s the cornerstone of modern football and we see it every season in our club system: an incessant number of kit releases, unattainable ticket prices, an overwhelming number of television subscriptions, owners who have no connection with the culture of our clubs. The list continues.
There is now a huge chasm between football “the sport” and football “the industry”. The passion and community nurtured by the former are commodified and marketed by the latter. As disappointing as it is, the commercialization of football is symptomatic of a larger economic structure. Boycotting the World Cup can’t remedy the effects of late capitalism (if only), so why did I decide to embark on a personal boycott?
For me, this is my consumer principle. Over the past decade, there has been a massive increase in conversations around ethical consumption, primarily in the context of food choices (meat and dairy) and fast fashion (working conditions and environmental impact). Within these two subjects in particular, there is an ethical and economic nuance. Store-friendly processed foods are cheaper than an organic vegan diet and in the midst of a cost of living crisis, you can’t automatically expect someone to do “the right thing for the planet” rather than the right choice for itself. Likewise, fast fashion is much cheaper in the short term and might be the only option for some consumers. But unlike clothes and food – two basic human needs – watching football matches isn’t a necessity.
You might be thinking ‘I don’t agree with what happened, but I just want to enjoy the World Cup’, and that’s fine. Boycotts should always be a personal choice – but it’s worth being honest with ourselves about what those choices mean. Whether people dying is a justifiable cost of entertainment is up to all of us as individuals, but we shouldn’t shy away from making that choice our reality.
FIFA’s decision to ban Russia from this year’s World Cup – as punishment for the state’s invasion of Ukraine – has been warmly applauded. However, we cannot be hypocritical in wanting morality to govern sports decisions. Let’s take a step back and ask ourselves this hypothetical question:
Does it make sense that Russia should be removed from the World Cup, as punishment for ignoring human rights, when the whole tournament is taking place in a country where it is illegal to be gay and where thousands of migrant workers died during construction?
For me, that’s not the case. Taking selective stands against injustice subtly reinforces narratives of who is worthy of justice and who is not. LGBTQIA+ people and migrant workers deserve our solidarity just as much as Ukrainians. So if we wouldn’t be comfortable watching Russia play at the World Cup, why would we be okay with Qatar hosting them?
As a football fan residing in England, Hector Bellerin’s recent comments about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are particularly poignant. Speaking on the widespread condemnation of the Kremlin, he said: ‘It’s racist to have turned a blind eye to other conflicts and now have this position.’ His comments angered those who did not care to unpack his point. We often think of racism in terms of Klan hoods and EDL marches, but these extreme manifestations actually emanate from underlying societal determinations of what constitutes humanity and who is worthy of empathy and dignity.
Tellingly, talk about the conditions of garment workers in fast fashion has increased after news broke that Boohoo workers were suffering from squalid conditions at a factory in Leicester. For all my life it has been common knowledge that many garments are made in sweatshops by children in the South. As soon as it happens in an English city that we have all heard of, it is a problem.
The mindset that “it doesn’t matter because it’s there” is reprehensible. We have to honestly ask ourselves, if thousands of Britons died in the construction of the Olympic Stadium, would we have sat and thought ‘it’s a shame, but I want to see who wins the 100m’?
I do not think so. I have nothing against players wanting to compete, or fans wanting to watch, but we all have to do what we think is right. That’s why if he comes home, I won’t watch.