World View: UAE Official Says Arab Blockade Meant to Prevent Qatar Hosting 2022 World Cup

Qatar will host the football World Cup in 2022
JOHN J. XENAKIS

This morning’s key headlines from GenerationalDynamics.com

  • UAE official says Arab blockade was engineered to prevent Qatar hosting 2022 World Cup
  • Numerous controversies surround FIFA’s award of World Cup 2022 to Qatar
  • A new ‘risk report’ raises doubts about Qatar hosting World Cup 2022

UAE official says Arab blockade was engineered to prevent Qatar hosting 2022 World Cup

Al Wakrah Stadium, with a 45,120 capacity, and a state of the art cooling system, is under construction and scheduled for completion by the end of 2018
Al Wakrah Stadium, with a 45,120 capacity and a state of the art cooling system, is under construction and scheduled for completion by the end of 2018

I usually don’t do sports stories, but this bizarre sports story has geopolitical implications.

A Sunday tweet by Lt. Gen. Dhahi Khalfan, head of Dubai Security for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) said:

If the World Cup leaves Qatar, the crisis will go away … because the crisis is created to break it.

The “crisis” refers to the land, air, and sea blockade of Qatar that was imposed on June 5 by four Arab countries: Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Nobody expected the blockade to last for more than a few days, but now four months have passed, and there is no end in sight.

The four countries listed 13 specific demands that would be necessary to resolve the crisis. The demands included: sever most ties with Iran; sever all ties to the Muslim Brotherhood; shut down al-Jazeera; terminate Turkey’s military presence in Qatar; pay reparations and compensation for loss of life and other financial losses caused by Qatar’s policies in recent years.

So now, a UAE official is saying that none of those demands was relevant. The purpose of the blockade was to force Qatar to give up hosting the 2022 World Cup, and that “if the World Cup leaves Qatar, then the crisis goes away.”

The World Cup, or world football (soccer) championship, refers to what is probably the most prestigious sporting event in the world, exceeding even the Olympics. It is sponsored by the International Football Federation (FIFA, or Fédération Internationale de Football Association).

The UAE official did not say why the Gulf states were seeking to prevent Qatar from hosting the 2022 World Cup. Perhaps it is because Qatar defeated Saudi Arabia on November 26, 2014, to win the Gulf Cup of Nations that the Saudis had been favored to win. Since then, Saudi officials have complained frequently that Qatar won the competition to host the 2022 World Cup through bribery and corruption. AP and Gulf Times (Qatar) and Al Bawaba (Palestine) and Peninsula Qatar and Arab News (27-Jun)

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Numerous controversies surround FIFA’s award of World Cup 2022 to Qatar

From the day in 2010 that FIFA awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, it has been extremely controversial and has had numerous scandals.

Qatar itself is not really a football (soccer) playing country. At the time of the award, FIFA ranked Qatar as 113th in the world. Today its rank is 109. The Qatar team has never reached the World Cup final.

A major scandal was that Qatar’s proposal to host the World Cup apparently lied about the country’s intentions for handling the summer heat. The event is supposed to take place in June or July, when Qatar’s weather is sweltering, with high temperatures typically ranging from 105F to 120F. In its proposal, Qatar wrote the following:

Each of the five stadia will harness the power of the sun’s rays to provide a cool environment for players and fans by converting solar energy into electricity that will then be used to cool both fans and players at the stadia. When games are not taking place, the solar installations at the stadia will export energy onto the power grid. During matches, the stadia will draw energy from the grid.

This is the basis for the stadia’s carbon-neutrality. Along with the stadia, we plan to make the cooling technologies we’ve developed available to other countries in hot climates, so that they too can host major sporting events.

This was close to a science fiction fantasy. After Qatar received the award, it demanded that the dates of the World Cup be changed from June-July to November-December. FIFA finally agreed to the change over many objections from individual football clubs that they would be forced to make major changes to their own schedules.

Another major scandal has to do with the building of stadiums and other infrastructure required for the event.

By some estimates, the World Cup is going to cost Qatar approximately $220 billion, which is about 60 times the $3.5 billion that South Africa spent on the 2010 FIFA World Cup. This has always been an issue, but now with the Arab states’ blockade on Qatar, Qatar’s economy has been suffering and this cost may be prohibitive.

Human rights have become an even more explosive issue. Qataris are the richest people in the world, on a per capita basis, because of the country’s oil wealth, and so the Qatari people are used to a life of leisure, with servants drawn from the huge number of migrant laborers coming from countries like India, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan. There are said to be five migrant workers in Qatar for each citizen. Hundreds of thousands of those same foreign workers would be the laborers building the stadiums and other infrastructure.

Being a migrant worker in Qatar has been described as close to slave labor. A Qatari boss sponsors the migrant worker and then has total control over him or her. The worker is not permitted to change jobs, or leave jobs, or return home, without the permission of the boss, and must work as much as 21 hours per day if required, with no overtime pay. An unpaid worker has little recourse.

This is known as the “Kafala system,” used throughout the Gulf region. It is so abusive that it is described as a system of modern day national slavery. Because of the World Cup controversies, Qatar was forced to announce in December 2016 that it was abolishing the Kafala system, giving migrant workers additional rights to change jobs or leave the country, but the main abuses of the Kafala system are still in place.

A final major scandal were the allegations of corruption – that Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup because of bribes paid to various FIFA officials. An independent investigation was conducted, but FIFA refused to release the final report when it was completed in September 2014, only releasing a summary that said that Qatar was cleared of wrongdoing. In June of this year, the full report was finally released to the press. It raised a lot of questions but did not prove wrongdoing.

Those are the major scandals. One minor scandal had to do with alcohol consumption, which is illegal in Qatar. Qatar has said that alcohol consumption by non-citizens will be permitted under strictly controlled circumstances. City AM (London, 25-Feb-2015) and BBC (8-Apr-2015) and Special Broadcasting Service (Australia) and BBC (13-Dec-2016)

Related: Migrant Indian workers in Saudi Arabia face starvation (01-Aug-2016)

A new ‘risk report’ raises doubts about Qatar hosting World Cup 2022

The tweet by the UAE minister saying that the Gulf crisis was engineered to prevent Qatar from hosting World Cup 2022 may have been triggered by a report issued two days earlier by a British consulting firm, Cornerstone Global.

The report is entitled “Qatar in focus: Is the Fifa World Cup 2022 in danger?” and it says that thanks to pressure from the Gulf blockade, the chances have increased substantially that Qatar will not host the event. In particular, logistics costs for construction of the stadiums and other infrastructure have increased 20-25 percent because of the blockade. The report contains these excerpts:

Western diplomats have privately stated they do not know whether or not the tournament will take place as planned.

The reasons for this are many and include open allegations of corruption – both in the bidding process and in the infrastructure development.

Qatar is under greater pressure regarding its hosting of the tournament … the current political crisis has seen – or at least raised the possibility of – a Qatari opposition movement emerging.

This means an increased risk for those working on, or seeking contracts for World Cup 2022 infrastructure… with a risk of non-payment and no realistic ability to enforce any legal contracts.

Given the current political situation … it is certainly possible that the tournament will not be held in Qatar.

Any cancellation of Qatar hosting the World Cup 2022 will likely be abrupt and will leave contractors involved in a precarious situation that may not be easily resolved.

Construction sources in Qatar have informed us that companies working on the World Cup, whilst not panicking yet, are already feeling the impact of the sanctions, with logistics proving costly and challenging to re-organise in light of the border closures with its neighbours.

A group of five project managers working for a variety of small multi-national companies, all with government contracts related to World Cup construction, told us in July 2017 that their costs have increased by between 20 and 25% due to logistical problems.

Sources within the project have indicated that several members of the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee have threatened to resign over excessive interference by senior officials on spending and allegations of corruption.

Qatar officials have responded by saying: “In the context of the current political situation we question the motives of an organization – which makes no secret of its affiliation to the countries blockading Qatar – of publishing a report based entirely on media reports and anonymous sources.” BBC and Arab News

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, UAE, Gen. Dhahi Khalfan, FIFA, International Football Federation, World Cup 2022, Fédération Internationale de Football Association, India, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Kafala system, Cornerstone Global
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