Every Four Years

The World Cup’s infringement on human rights


Sayana Gupta, Contributor

Every four years, the world’s most viewed single sport competition is held: the FIFA World Cup. It is estimated that over 3.57 billion people – over half of the world’s population—watched the 2018 World Cup, and this year is expected to catch the eyes of 5 billion people globally. While one purpose of these competitions is to promote international sportsmanship, the games are often overshadowed by the issues of human rights and corruption that surround them. FIFA has been criticized for its lack of attention to human rights issues when selecting host countries. Issues such as the use of migrant labor, working conditions, women’s rights, and free speech have all been raised.

This year’s competition is being hosted in Qatar, a Middle Eastern country on a peninsula east of Saudi Arabia. It is the first Islamic country to host the World Cup and has laws that infringe on women’s and LGBTQ+ people’s rights. Same-sex relationships are illegal and can result in imprisonment and even death. This is not the first time that a hosting country has had restrictive laws on same-sex relationships. During the 2018 World Cup hosted by Russia, fans were warned about Russian laws against the distribution of queer rights materials and “offending religious feelings.” 

FIFA selected Qatar to host this year’s games in 2010. At the time, FIFA did not assess many aspects of a country’s suitability to host the games. Qatar is smaller than the state of Connecticut, with a local population of only 300,000. The majority of its almost 3 million residents are expatriates. To host the World Cup, it needed to construct the infrastructure necessary for the games. This meant using migrant labor during both winter and summer, when temperatures can exceed 100°F. Working conditions in Qatar have been criticized as poor, and 6,500 workers are estimated to have died in the 12 years since construction began. FIFA is anticipated to make over $7 billion from the 2022 World Cup, while Qatar has spent over $200 billion to host it. Neither of these numbers reflect the cost of human lives.

The selection of a country to host international competitions is known to be influenced by bribes and corruption. The International Olympic Committee was criticized for selecting China to host the Olympics in 2008 and then again in 2022 because of the country’s limits on free speech, its attacks on Uyghur Muslims and other minorities, and its use of forced labor. Autocratic countries like Qatar, China, and Russia use the games to raise their international profile while relying on their citizens’ funds to win bids and to pay the cost. Only when fans pay attention and use their influence to force change will human rights be as important as the winning team.