Qatar and the use of Sports-Washing

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In 2022, Qatar held the FIFA World Cup, the most watched and celebrated football tournament to ever exist. This event transformed into a spectacle; more than a million visitors traveled to the Arabian Gulf to attend the tournament, along with the 5 billion viewers who stayed home. Qatar spent billions of dollars on infrastructure projects to ensure that the event ran as smoothly as possible under the best possible conditions. However, this event was not devoid of underlying interests for the country. The World Cup was just one of many examples of what is called “sports washing”.

Sports washing works to enhance the legitimacy of wrongdoers and shield them from the negative consequences of their conduct. A way for a country to improve its international image is by associating itself with sports that are perceived in a positive light to divert public attention from human rights issues happening there. Qatar, like many other Middle East countries, decided to associate itself with soccer to gain popularity and success in the eyes of the world. However, it’s a well-known fact that Human Rights in Qatar are deeply threatened and endangered; they are not respected, and Qatar isn’t making progress on the topic.

Indeed, sports washing is a very dangerous phenomenon as it silences the voices of the ones suffering. It’s nothing more or less than manipulation, a diplomatic tactic for oppressive governments seeking to correct their human rights records. When Qatar was announced as the host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, many people said they would boycott the tournament, commentators and fans also stated they would not watch a single match but in reality, few of these promises were kept. Behind the beauty of the game, hundreds of migrant workers died every day just to build the stadium that would host the matches. This was probably one of the biggest human rights catastrophes where Qatar violated their rights with full knowledge of the facts.

But Qatar didn’t stop at the World Cup. The Qatar Foundation paid $220 million of dollars to FC Barcelona just to sponsor the Spanish club’s kit. They also paid an astronomical amount of money to take over the French club Paris Saint Germain. Qatar is abusing sports washing, which should at the beginning be condemned by the international community.

More than a year after the tournament ended, Qatar still hasn’t repaired all the wrongdoings they caused to the workers. The country denied responsibility, which is unacceptable behavior. Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Head of Economic Social Justice, said that the abuses related to the 2022 World Cup should serve to remind sporting bodies that Human Rights must always be at the heart of decisions when awarding events. It is mandatory to stop neglecting human rights to sports washing.

We can also see the use of sports washing by Qatar from another perspective, which is even more dangerous: Qatar chose to abuse human rights to build the infrastructure that would allow sports to thrive and hoped that nobody noticed along the way. It has been known for a long time that Qatar already mistreated migrant workers and subjected them to strict labor practices and inhumane working conditions. Yet, Qatar wasn’t held accountable for its actions.

Qatar should take responsibility concerning migrant workers’ rights and grant them remedies for the wrongdoings the country caused. Moreover, Sports washing is an abusive mechanism that should be banned and not tolerated anymore.