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Every major sporting tournament is controversial, so why single out Qatar?

The months leading up to the FIFA World Cup have been filled with many accusations and controversies for Qatar, this year’s host country. But when looking at other major sporting events, many of them are controversial too, so why single out Qatar?

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The months leading up to the FIFA World Cup have been filled with many accusations and controversies for Qatar, this year’s host country. But when looking at other major sporting events, many of them are controversial too, so why single out Qatar? Previous hosts of sports tournaments, such as the Euros, Copa América or the World Cup have also faced similar criticisms.

Russia, which hosted the 2018 World Cup, like Qatar, has also been condemned for its treatment of people from the LGBT community. The detention of 100 gay men in concentration camp-style prisons in 2017 in the region of Chechnya for example, caused many people to censure and question Russia’s role as host. While LGBT rights do exist in Russia and gay-marriage was allowed until 2020, majority Russian opinion generally appears to be anti-gay rights. A study from 2013 showed that 74% of the Russian population thought that homosexuality shouldn’t be accepted by society and that only 5% favoured same-sex marriage in Russia in 2017.

The annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 also caused much uproar. Former US-Senator Daniel Coats responded to the annexation by saying: ‘Since Russia has similarly displayed a brazen disrespect for fundamental principles of FIFA and international law, I hope you will agree that it does not deserve the honour of either hosting the World Cup or participating in one.’ However, despite the allegations, there were very few calls for boycotting the event. 

Brazil, which hosted the World Cup in 2014, also faced accusations. Before the World Cup started, Brazil authorities were already being criticised for using public money for building stadiums for the World Cup. Many of the protests which took place because of this, were met with police brutality. Like Qatar, there were also allegations regarding abuse of workers after 12 workers died during the construction of World Cup stadiums.

Other sporting events have not been without controversy.  The Winter Olympics held earlier this year in Beijing, caused critics to highlight China’s human rights abuses notably the genocide of Uyghur Muslims and the 2019/2020 Hong Kong protests, which resulted in thousands of detentions and prosecutions. Britain along with the US and other countries implemented a diplomatic boycott as a result. Swedish skater Nils van der Poel criticised the host country and said: ‘I think it is extremely irresponsible to give it [the Olympics] to a country that violates human rights as blatantly as the Chinese regime is doing.’ Compared to other sporting events, the 2022 Winter Olympic Games were perhaps the games that were criticised the most.

However, some have pointed out the double standards when certain other countries which also have questionable human rights records, are allowed a free pass. France for instance, has never faced any serious accusations or calls for boycott, even though it has a problematic colonial history in the deaths and exploitation of millions especially in African countries. Even trampling on women’s rights when they imposed the full-face veil ban in public in 2011 was not enough to prevent France hosting the Euros in 2016, with barely a ripple of protest in Western nations..

Meanwhile England with a similar imperialist background, is currently being pulled up by some observers on social media for their alleged hypocrisy regarding their team kit. Costing £115 for fans, England World Cup shirts were reportedly made by Thai workers in sweatshops paying a measly £1 an hour for their work. ‘England football team wearing shirts made by Thai factory workers who are paid £1 an hour. What happened to human rights then? Or migrant rights? Hypocrisy.’ said a Twitter user. Whilst another made the point: “…Didn’t they [England] say they care about workers’ rights? I’m not saying abuse doesn’t happen against migrant workers in the Arab Gulf countries, but let’s not pretend that the West are any better!”

Perhaps it’s because of this selective outrage, that people are calling out those who are critical of Qatar. British commentator Piers Morgan recently tweeted, “Sportswriters venting their morally outraged spleens about the World Cup being held in Qatar – but not a censorious peep about the F1 Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi this weekend. The sports-washing debate is not just hypocritical, it’s laced with inconsistent virtue-signalling.” The United Arab Emirates hosted the final of the 2022 Formula One Championship race, but even though Qatari and Emirati laws are similar, only Qatar has been heavily criticised for its values out of the two. A Twitter user shared similar views and said: ‘Sky Sports News ramping up criticism of Qatar for the treatment of migrant workers and LGBT community but don’t seem so forthright when covering the F1 in Abu Dhabi. Once again picking and choosing their moral outrage.’ Is it possible for media onlookers to focus on the football for the remainder of the Qatar World Cup 2022? 

Despite the criticism and calls for a boycott, the World Cup has been a success in some countries so far.  In the UK alone, 8 million viewers tuned in to the BBC to watch the opening match between Qatar and Ecuador. The audience rating for the third match, England versus Iran, was twice as high with 16 million Brits tuning in to watch the game on Monday.  Fox also reported a 78% increase for the opening match, which was watched by 3.5 million fans, compared to only 1.7 million who watched the 2018 opening game. Already, the Qatar World Cup appears to have defied criticism. Whether that will be sustained or not, only time will tell. 

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

Human Rights

Opinion: Enforcement is no answer to Iran’s anti-hijab protests

As the memory of Mahsa Amini’s death fades, and the world’s eyes no longer draw on Iran, its complicity in the growing rift between it and the world of the West cannot be evaded.

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The United Nations launched a fact-finding investigation into human rights abuses committed in Iran. It closes a gap where previously no international courts nor national jurisdictions addressed these crimes. But fears abound that Iran may not cooperate with this historic precedent.

When outrage sparked at the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, an Iranian woman who was arrested by the so-called morality police for violating the country’s strict hijab laws in September. Amidst the protests that were sparked, one more cry was also notable: How can we take the West’s condemnation seriously, when it is also guilty of human rights abuses?

As the Iranian government sought to crackdown on protests that erupted in response to the young woman’s death, directing legal action on those voices of dissent, the West was not slow to speak out against Iran’s rampant authoritarianism. The UK issued sanctions on Iran’s morality police to send out a message: “We will hold you to account for your repression of women and girls,” said then Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly. His statement echoed those of many others; that no one should dictate how Iranian women and girls should dress.

But some Muslims were left wondering where these voices were when Switzerland implemented its burqa bans. Or when France gripped ever tighter on its repression of Muslim women’s hijabs. Or even when Hindutva extremists burned mosques in India.

But as the memory of Amini’s death fades, and the world’s eyes no longer draw on Iran, its complicity in the growing rift between it and the world of the West cannot be evaded.

France was the first country to impose hijab bans in 2011 and the act, “Law of 2010-1192: Act prohibiting concealment of the face in public space” was introduced to prevent women from mainly wearing the niqab (a covering for the entire body and face except for the eyes). Following France, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, China, and Bulgaria also introduced such laws.

There are many reasons that so many European and other countries claim to have banned hijabs or niqabs. The most well-known one is for security reasons considering a veil will prevent police from identifying the person, arguing that such people can commit crimes without being identified.

But that is not the only reasoning behind the laws, as when France was banning niqabs the government campaign used the term “the Republic is lived with an uncovered face.”  Similarly, the right-wing Switzerland party that proposed the hijab ban organizes “resistance against the claims to power of political Islam in Switzerland.”

So where does this Islamophobia come from? Why is the forced hijab seen as worse than hijab bans? Well, the responsibility for this, along with Islamophobia lies on so-called Islamic countries as well.

Along with Iran, Afghanistan under the rule of Taliban imposes strict dress code laws on women and men. Women are forced to cover their faces and every part of their bodies. Women cannot travel without a male companion. The country is also accused of gender-based discrimination and partaking in child-marriage, forced marriage, and sexual exploitation of women. 

All these laws are implemented under the name of Islam.

Saudi Arabia is another such Islamic country that usurped women’s rights after the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Finally in 2015, it granted women the right to vote and run as candidate in election, in 2018 women were finally allowed to drive, and in 2019 the male guardianship laws were eased. However, even after these basic rights were slowly granted to women, the problems have not been eradicated as women are forced to wear full clothing as well as face veils even now.

There are many other Islamic countries that impose such harsh laws and force the hijab or niqab, so in the West’s eyes this garment has become a sign of discrimination. Wanting to be saviours of women’s rights, they ban the hijab altogether, not knowing, or ignoring the fact, that it can be worn willingly as well.

But is this the battle that the majority of Muslims should be fighting in the first place? When so much power is given to the West that their opinion becomes a reason for debate, the people are distracted from the real issues.

Another problem is the belief that the West is omnipotent, it can solve all problems, even if it does not have that power anymore. A Prospect article that was written back in 2010 explained how the reason that the West was considered to be powerful was not that “its people are biologically superior, its culture better, or its leaders wiser, but simply because of geography.”

The 2020 Munich Security Conference discussed the power that the West once held and if it still holds it. Most people attending the conference agreed that the West was not all-powerful anymore. Michael Barnett, a professor of international affairs and political science at George Washington University said; “The West’s influence was partially dependent on its material wealth and its moral purpose, both of which are in decline, and so the West has ceased to be the soft power that it once was.”

Instead of fighting a battle about opinions, the world should focus on helping the victims. Whenever women’s bodies are controlled, there is an outrage for a while and then all is forgotten. Despite the online outrage as well as the thousands pouring out into the streets of Iran, very little comes to change as authorities are quick to silence and punish dissent

One example is Iran’s protest in 2018 against the morality police. Despite a report being released that showed that 49% of the population was against forced hijab, the bans were never removed. As a result, Mahsa Amini had to die at the hands of the so-called morality police in 2022.

These protests have been repeated many times, the first one being in 1979 when the hijab imposition was first passed by religious fundamentalists. Again, we saw protests in 2014, when there were a series of acid attacks against women who were deemed to be wearing inappropriate clothes. Each time, the attention that these protests garnered was used as a political tool and nothing was done for the women in Iran.

Dilshad Ali, Content Editor at Haute Hijab explained this point by stating; “If there are ever any political tensions or issues afoot in any country that hones in on Muslims, targeting the hijab is low-hanging fruit because it’s such a visible way to know one is Muslim. “

Adding, “People take the hijab and use it to misrepresent a thousand different political things, when really, at its heart, it’s not anything scary or oppressive, but rather something private between a woman and Allah and her visible declaration that “I am Muslim.”

The hijab is something that a Muslim woman should wear to feel safe, and respected, and as a sign of being Muslim. But, when the same garment is forcefully used and acts as a way to control women, it becomes something to detest. According to Iranian poet and journalist Asieh Amini due to forced veils, the hijab became a symbol of oppression, as women “can’t stand this domination and want their rights.”

The forced hijab in Iran is non-discriminatory when it comes to the religion of the women being forced to veil themselves. Regardless of religion or cultural differences, every woman is the victim of the morality police. These laws trace back to when the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini said women should observe Islamic dress codes in 1979 after the Islamic revolution but due to protests, he backtracked only for the hijab becoming part of the law in 1983. In fact, before the revolution, Muslim women used to wear hijab as their own choice.

By merely pointing the finger at the West, once again the outrage will end without any real changes taking place in countries that are to blame, and the women that are killed in India, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, and all other countries will remain without justice. All because the world is busy playing the blame game and forgetting why these protests started in the first place.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Geopolitics

Qatar’s migrant workers: A World Cup of exploitation?

As criticism mounts against the Qatar World Cup, AnalystNews spoke to Amnesty International about the place of human rights in global sporting tournaments.

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Qatar: Migrant workers in Doha

Qatar is the first Muslim nation to host the World Cup. But what’s made it the focus of headlines everywhere is not the title that could bring this small Arab country onto the world stage. Instead, accusations of labour exploitation and a disenfranchisement of the mosr basic of human rights through an Islamophobic lens, mires its reputation in the global eye. 

Its migrant abuse can hardly be overlooked. Behind a curtain of reforms, infernal working conditions, long hours and little pay, are an everyday reality to the thousands of foreign workers who travel across the continents of Asia and Africa, in search of work and a slightly better life to the one they know. 

Qatar’s migrant labour exploitation

Eight-five percent of Qatar’s 3 million population is made up of foreign workers. Of those, 30, 000 built its eight World Cup stadiums. For a country like Qatar, which is expected to record a GDP of US $195. 000 by the end of 2022, the approximately 6, 500 – 15, 000 deaths that allegedly occurred in the decade before the World Cup (although not all related to it) leaves a grim picture. 

Yet, the same could be said of the UK, which hosted the 2012 Olympics amid controversy over its partnership with Dow Chemical and its allegedly unpaid liabilities to the victims of the 1984 Bhopal Crisis. The same could be said of this year’s Winter Olympics in China, which happened despite evidence of its grave human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims. The same could be said away from the spotlight of major tournaments, in the tangles of the UK’s legal system, where allusions to Qatar’s Kafala system are found. A change in its Overseas Domestic Workers Visa Scheme in April 2012 inextricably bound domestic migrant workers to their employers, an apparent step to clamp down on its misuse, but a delve into data revealed few such cases existed.

“Unfortunately, human rights are not always at the heart of decisions.”

Amnesty International

When no state’s hands are clean, sounding a thunderous horn for one country casts doubt on whether all of the uproar is ever for the victims. Analyst News put that question to Amnesty International’s Ella Knight, a migrants’ labour rights researcher. 

In the years leading up to the World Cup, the Qatari government has been making strides in establishing legislation to protect its foreign workers. The United Nations’ International Labour Organisation (ILO) and Qatar signed an agreement in 2017, aiming to reform the Kafala (or sponsorship) system by promising migrant workers better access to justice apparatuses. It ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, not without objections relating to its internal laws, however. In 2019, the government abolished the ‘exit permit’ requirement for migrant workers, who, by law, no longer needed to seek permission from their employers to leave the country. It introduced the Workers’ Support and Insurance Fund in 2020, and the Supreme Committee Universal Reimbursement Scheme started in 2020. By 2020, Qatar dismantled the Kafala system. But a backdoor one remains.

“On paper, the laws are much better than they were. Problematic parts of the Kafala sponsorship system have been dismantled,” Knight tells us. “But in practice, many legal loopholes remain and the government is just simply not enforcing those laws effectively enough. So, the employers continue to have vast control over their migrant workforce. They will have difficulties changing jobs.”

But FIFA, whose former president, Sepp Blatter labelled his decision to award the hosting title to Qatar in December 2010, a “big mistake”, is complicit in the troubles the construction workers in Qatar are faced with. 

Knight adds: ““FIFA is an international business effectively, it’s bound by international standards on human rights. But it’s not always the main consideration and unfortunately, when we saw Qatar being awarded the right to host the World Cup, FIFA didn’t take into consideration human rights when it did that awarding it didn’t place any demands on Qatar to reform its labour system or to better protect the workers that would be integral to building it. And there have been lots of missed opportunities. Unfortunately, human rights are not always at the heart of decisions and of the pressure that organisations and countries decide to bear on Qatar.”

She highlights neither were those human rights taken into account when it handed the Club World Cup hosting title to China. In 2019, FIFA said it was not its “mission” to “solve the problems of the world”. The tournament went ahead in 2021 but without the magnitude of criticism that Qatar has garnered. In Qatar’s case, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the national body which oversees this year’s games, gives additional protections only to 28, 000 of its migrant workers, making up less than 1.5% of its total migrant population. It excludes workers who built transport and accommodation infrastructure, as well as those working in its hospitality sector.  

““FIFA should be using these human rights criteria in every tournament It hosts or it awards to host countries. It has committed to do so and at the minute it’s not been fulfilling its own policies,” she adds.

But the problems extend beyond both Fifa and Qatar, in the global reaction to migrant rights. Reports emerged that hundreds of construction workers died whilst constructing Russia’s $48 billion Fisht Stadium for its 2014 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. Between 2010 and 2015, almost 18, 000 Uzbeks, and Human Rights Watch noted their dire working conditions, which were in breach of national and international law. 

Double standards around the world

Qatar’s human rights record cannot be galvanised, as Knight remarks: 

“What we have to look at is that in Qatar and some of the other Gulf countries, the vast majority of the workforce is migrant workers and so the mere hosting of the tournament in Qatar was going to rely absolutely on these workers who were coming to the country and being encouraged to come to the country while there was a very exploitative labour system.” 

But where Qatar is taking steps to improve its migrant workers’ circumstances, distortion of facts is unhelpful. Qatar’s Labour Minister Ali bin Saeed bin Samikh Al Marri criticised the “competition” brewing in calculating the death toll of World Cup construction workers, and insisted official figures from the ILO are quoted. No one denies those deaths, but the widely misreported 6, 500 and 15, 021 death figures do not all link to the World Cup. The former, reported by British newspaper, The Guardian, stems from statistics obtained from the governments of Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka, where many of Qatar’s migrant workers are from. The latter is a reference to the number of foreigners who died in Qatar in a ten-year period.

Compared to the UK’s 2012 Olympic record of no reported deaths, it seems worse. But for those games, foreign workers made up nearly half of the 46, 000 workers, the London Olympic Delivery Authority said. And as early as 2008, human rights groups like Amnesty International were raising concerns that London construction workers, 40% of whom come from Central and Eastern Europe, were exposed to abusive recruitment agencies, being  offered low wages for working excessive hours. Even today, where Qatar’s non-discriminatory minimum wage is criticised for being set too low, at QR1000 (equivalent to US $275), an investigation by the UK newspaper, The Mirror, found Thai factory workers who made England’s £155 shirts for the World Cup were paid only £1 an hour.

It leaves one question – is the measure of abuse, death?

“If similar abuses were found in connection with the hosting in other countries, then I would hope that it would also get significant international coverage and that pressure would come to bear to improve that human rights situation,” Knight adds.

Qatar’s foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani condemned the double standards of Western nations: “There is a lot of hypocrisy in these attacks, which ignore all that we have achieved.” On rumours that many people would boycott the tournament, he goes on: “Among the ten countries that bought the most tickets, we find European countries like France.”

Those double standards go far back. Today, Qatar might be a repressive state, but British imperialism has a hand in it. Used as a protectorate against France and the Ottoman Empire, the British trained its military, pooled in money and made use of its oil reserves. It left Qatar in 1970, but remnants remain. 

The UK’s Department for International Trade reported British companies had profited £940 million in the World Cup, with a projection of another £1.5 million before it started. It isn’t alone. China, which hasn’t sent a team to compete in it, has invested $1. 395 billion.

“When you talk about blaming a company, I would say, rather than focusing on what other countries might do or what might be said in other countries, Amnesty would urge the government to hold those companies to account because until the companies are effectively penalised for treating their migrant workers badly and exploiting them, then, there’s no reason for these abuses to stop. So, of course, Qatar has got a lot of media attention, particularly in the last year. But, that’s not a reason to shy away from doing what is needed for migrant workers and protecting them,” says Knight.

What does the future hold for migrant workers?

Max Tuñón, head of Qatar’s ILO Project office, highlighted the World Cup had “accelerated the labour reforms”, and anecdotes of improved lives exist. Amnesty International, which hadn’t called for a boycott, acknowledges this. But will the world learn? 

She emphasises the need for sustained international attention: “Amnesty International will continue pushing for reforms, because there has been some progress and we see that there is an opportunity for the government to push this through and make it really meaningful for all the migrant workers in the country. But, of course, international media and international sports media may well move on,” says Knight. 

She adds: “But I think what is important to say is that even though the construction of the infrastructure that’s needed for the tournament might be finished, on the 18th of December, most people disappear. There are 1000s of migrant workers who over the years have never been remedied for the abuse they’ve suffered, they’ve never received compensation but unpaid wages, or those migrant workers who have died unexplained deaths in the country. Their families have never been offered the chance of remedy. And so yes, the tournament might be done, but there is a legacy of abuse that must be remedied and so we and we hope others will continue to push both Qatar and FIFA until they commit to effectively compensating all of those who have suffered abuse over the last 12 years or more.”

Yet, already history might repeat itself. The next World Cup hosts, USA, Canada and Mexico, have themselves exploited marginalised peoples. The 2028 Olympics might be held in Dubai, which still has the Kafala System – one might wonder, is this awful foresight or a blind eye to abuse that does not come cladded in advantages?

Qatar has a long way to go, but when the cameras close, and the spotlight turns off, accusations of sports washing painted with Islamophobia, and migrant abuse may well disappear. Because not just in Qatar, not far from our own front doors, a similar story is heard. As FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino, puts it: “For what we have been doing for 3,000 years around the world, we should be apologising for the next 3,000 years before giving moral lessons.”

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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