Initiative for fan boycott of the World Cup: The dam breach

The 2022 World Cup was awarded to Qatar ten years ago. It was a shock. And Fifa is cuddling more and more intensely with the emirate.

The final of the 2022 World Cup host will be played here: the Khalifa International Stadium in Qatar Photo: Sven Hoppe / dpa

BERLIN taz | It was a Thursday afternoon in early December. The Executive Committee of the International Football Association met in Zurich. It was about the awarding of the world championships for the years 2018 and 2022. First, Russia was awarded the contract for 2018. Then, at 4.43 pm, Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, then President of Fifa, opened the envelope in which you can put after the vote the FIFA superiors had the name of the host country for the 2022 World Cup tournament: Qatar.

In the fourth ballot, the emirate prevailed with 14: 8 votes against competitor USA. It was a shock from which many football fans have not recovered to this day. Qatar! Fifa has long been synonymous with corruption. And yet the decision was read as a breach of the dam. December 2nd marks the tenth anniversary of the decision with which professional men’s football has finally moved away from its fans.

Bernd Beyer recalls the day of the decision that he was “stunned”. But the soccer journalist couldn’t really believe what had been decided. “I was hoping it wouldn’t last,” he says. He was certainly not alone in that at the time. Today he knows that nothing can stop the World Cup. It will take place. The opening game will take place on November 21, 2022.

Nevertheless, Beyer started an initiative together with his colleague and physical exercise author Dietrich Schulze-Marmeling called “Boycott Qatar”. It is aimed at fans of football. You are called to pay as little attention as possible to the tournament. By boycotting products from the big FIFA sponsors, they are supposed to help ensure that the commitment of companies like Adidas, Sony or McDonald’s does not improve the corporate image.

The initiative of the two authors has not yet grown into a movement. But Beyer expects increasing protests against the Fifa event for the two years leading up to the tournament. There is already a lot of feedback from the clubs’ active fan scenes. The Schalke Fan Initiative is already one of the supporters of Boycott Qatar. Beyer is sure of more to come. In any case, he doesn’t know any football fan who is looking forward to Qatar.

No beer together

He also cannot imagine that in Qatar in 2022, what worked so well in Russia in the summer of 2018 in the interests of FIFA. The pictures from Russia of fans from all over the world celebrating together went around the world and turned the negative image of the World Cup host that was drawn before the tournament into positive. There will be no such images in Qatar. Even drinking beer together will probably not work in the Wahhabi emirate.

According to Beyer, a lot has been learned about Qatar in the past eight years. None of this is suitable to describe the country as a suitable host for the fan sport football. When the decision for Qatar was made ten years ago, it was initially about geography. The German public quickly learned that the small state on the Persian Gulf is only half the size of Hesse. The tournament was planned for the summer.

In the application it was stated that air-conditioned stadiums would make it possible to host the World Cup even at temperatures well over 40 degrees, as is usual in the Gulf in summer. But the promise was nothing more than an assertion. The fans learned that too over the years. In February 2015, Fifa decided to move the tournament to the winter months.

It had long been known which regime one was dealing with in Qatar. Fifa also knew what it was doing. Sepp Blatter joked after the World Cup was awarded and said about the religiously based legislation in Qatar, which criminalizes homosexual acts, when asked about homosexual World Cup tourists: “I think they should refrain from any sexual activity at the World Cup.” He had to do that sorry though. However, he could not deny that by opting for Qatar, FIFA also indirectly decided to exclude gay and lesbian fans from the tournament.

The soccer slave

Another Qatari phenomenon quickly became known. The word “Kafala” made the rounds. It describes a system of dependence of employees on their employers. Above all, workers from abroad were so downright enslaved in Qatar. Construction workers and domestic workers lost their freedom because they had to give their employers their passports. They were just as powerless against the lack of wages as they were against the exploitative behavior of their superiors.

Soon after the vote for Qatar, it became known that this has something to do with football. The French professional footballer Zahir Belounis, who played for the Qatari military club al-Jaish, has been in a dispute with his club over arrears since 2009 after he was moved to another club against his will.

In the end he just wanted to leave. But he could not leave because it would have required the approval of his employer. Belounis went on a hunger strike, wrote open letters to Fifa and World Cup ambassador Pep Guardiola. He was only allowed to leave the country in 2013. Shortly before, Franz Beckenbauer, who sat in the FIFA executive when the 2022 World Cup was awarded, said he had never seen a slave in Qatar.

He probably did not find out about the working conditions of migrant workers in Qatar. The fact that the regime was even soccer slaves did not upset him any more than the Fifa superiors, who wanted to get the Qataris to make a few promises to improve working conditions in the country. But not much has changed. When the human rights organization Human Rights Watch found in the summer of 2020 that wages were still being paid regularly, and that employees were even starving because they weren’t paid, Qatar again made a promise to improve the situation. Labor legislation has changed, minimum wages have been defined, and penalties for refusing to pay wages have been introduced.

The Gulf state has become Fifa’s favorite country under Fifa President Infantino

All of this shows the emirate’s authoritarian character. For the boycott activist Bernd Beyer, the vote in favor of Qatar therefore fits in seamlessly with a series of other decisions on the award of major events. “It is another example of the fact that sports organizations like to work with states that simply enforce the requirements that are always associated with major events in an authoritarian manner.” And FIFA is particularly happy to work with Qatar.

The Club World Cup, which has just been postponed to February, is taking place in the Gulf state. And this week Fifa served the emirate a new delicacy. The Fifa Arab Cup with teams from 22 Arab states from Palestine to Egypt and Saudi Arabia to Mauritania will be played in Qatar in December 2021.

Snuggle with corruptioners

The Gulf state, of all places, from which corruption in world football was taken into a new dimension, has become the favorite country of Fifa under Gianni Infantino, the successor to Sepp Blatter at the head of the association. The fact that the long-time head of the Qatari football association, Mohamed bin Hammam, the big puller behind Qatar’s bid for the World Cup, was banned for life by Fifa because of corruption is no longer of interest.

That the now legendary 6.7 million euros, which the DFB transferred to a bank account in Zurich at the time of the race to award the World Cup for 2006 via an account from Franz Beckenbauer, ultimately ended up in an account from bin Hammam in Qatar has not bothered anyone in world football for a long time anyway. At the end of the purification after the Blatter era proclaimed by Fifa itself, the greatest beneficiary of the change is Qatar of all places.

Nobody wants to understand that, says Bernd Beyer, whose boycott concerns fit well with the fan initiatives in Germany, which advocate a rethink in the football business and want to prevent professional football from moving further away from the grassroots and its fans. Against this background, the statements that the well-paid World Cup ambassadors of Qatar repeatedly make for advertising purposes seem unworldly and aloof.

The latest example of this is former Cameroonian star striker Samuel Eto’o. “Qatar 2022 will be a very special experience for football fans,” he said on the website of the 2022 World Cup. What does he mean by that? “Sometimes I just go to the Villaggio Mall, then I enjoy a visit to the Katara Cultural Village, where there are many shops and restaurants.” There is no better way to express that you see the football fan primarily as a customer.