Last Thursday, Germany’s interior minister, Nancy Faeser, talked about the World Cup in a TV interview.
“It’s difficult for Germany,” she said. “There are standards that must be adhered to, and it is better not to grant the honour of organising tournaments to such countries.”
The following day, Qatar’s foreign ministry summoned the German ambassador in Doha and “handed him an official protest note, expressing the State of Qatar’s disappointment and its complete rejection and condemnation of the statements,” according to a government release.
Qatari officials made clear their “complete rejection of these statements against a country whose hosting of the World Cup represents justice for a region that has been suffering from unjust stereotypes for decades”.
Majid Bin Muhammad Al-Ansari, official spokesperson for the ministry of foreign affairs, described Faeser’s comments as “Unacceptable, reprehensible and provocative to the Qatari people,” adding “it is unacceptable for politicians to express positions for domestic consumption at the expense of their countries’ relations with other countries.”
With the World Cup now less than three weeks away, Qatar is no longer bothering to conceal its irritation at criticism coming from abroad.
The foreign ministry officials were taking their lead from the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who complained in a speech last Tuesday that: “since we won the honour of hosting the World Cup, Qatar has been subjected to an unprecedented campaign that no host country has ever faced”.
”We initially dealt with the matter in good faith, and even considered that some criticism was positive and useful, helping us to develop aspects of ours that need to be developed,” the emir said.
“But it soon became clear to us that the campaign continues, expands and includes fabrication and double standards, until it reached a level of ferocity that made many question, unfortunately, about the real reasons and motives behind this campaign.”
The emir did not say what he believed to be the real reasons and motives, but it’s plain that Qatar considers itself to be a victim of Western hypocrisy, arrogance and racism.
Faisal Abdulhameed al-Mudahka, editor-in-chief of the Gulf Times newspaper, spelled it out: “I advise the minister to focus on the internal problems of Germany, such as immigrants, energy and many more rather than interfering in our affairs in a colonial mentality and playing the role of a white saviour which is a psychological complex which needs to be remedied.”
All this should add spice to Faeser’s meetings on her scheduled visit to Doha today. It should be said, though, that the emir’s initial point was wrong; there is nothing unprecedented about the criticism of Qatar.
Every recent World Cup host has faced sustained critical media coverage in the build-up to the tournament. Before South Africa 2010 the focus was on the morality of the government’s decision to spend enormous sums on football stadiums while extreme poverty remained widespread, and the threat posed to visiting fans by violent crime.
These themes were recycled for Brazil 2014, with additional dimensions of corruption (Brasilia’s Mané Garrincha stadium and its incredible expanding budget) and whether the stadiums would even be ready in time (they were, give or take a couple of temporary stands).
Russia 2018 also received plenty of critical coverage, though with hindsight the criticism did not go far enough.
For this newspaper, I wrote a preview of that World Cup which started with some of George Kennan’s musings on the historic reasons for the paranoia and cynicism of Russian authoritarianism, then mentioned several reasons for Russia’s poor international image in 2018, including the illegal annexation of Crimea; the armed incursions into eastern Ukraine; the shooting down of MH-17; the vast corruption and graft surrounding the Sochi Olympics and the murder of the politician, Boris Nemtsov, who had highlighted it; the Salisbury poisonings; the political mobilisation of homophobia; the giant state-sponsored doping programme; the accusations of their attempts to interfere in the US election and the internal affairs of European countries; not forgetting the fact they had likely won the right to host the World Cup by employing the unparalleled “experience and skill in underhand methods” that Kennan had described in 1946.
It sounds as though the piece should naturally have concluded with a thundering denunciation of the disgraceful fact that the World Cup was about to take place in such a country.
Instead, I ended by expressing the anodyne hope that the tournament would go well, that visitors who arrived primed to expect the worst might conclude after all that Russia ‘really isn’t as bad as all that’, and that such positive experiences might help to slow the “cranking-up of mutual suspicion and hostility” that had come to characterise European relations with Russia.
The tournnament did go well. Like the 1936 Olympics, the 2018 World Cup was a propaganda coup for a regime which had already given ample evidence of its sinister logic and malignant direction – at least if your eyes were open to see.
Qatar 2022 was born under a bad sign. The hosting rights were awarded by the same thoroughly corrupt Fifa executive committee that had voted for Russia and that ultimately collapsed amid the notorious scandals of 2015.
For most observers, there was only one plausible explanation why the committee could have chosen the tiny Gulf state with its searing July heat over several ostensibly more suitable hosts in South Korea, Japan, Australia and the United States.
Then there was the bait-and-switch of the move to winter, which was finally confirmed by Fifa in 2015, more than four years after Qatar’s successful bid on the basis of a traditional summer tournament.
It turned out all that stuff about air-conditioned stadiums had been nonsense, and that in reality everyone else would have to reorganise their schedule around Qatar’s needs.
Watching Fifa contort themselves to accommodate the desires of the Qatari elite bred a certain resentment towards this tournament from the outset, and that theme has resonated in much of the criticism of the tournament since.
In seeking to correct “unjust stereotypes of the region”, the Qataris have succeeded in confirming some well-founded stereotypes about rich people. There is no doubt that the shimmering spires of Doha offer a vision of the future; the problem is, the vision is terrifying.
Qatar’s rulers have built a racialised caste system, with Qataris at the top and a managerial class consisting mainly of white Westerners on the second tier, all propped up on the labour of millions of low-paid workers imported from South Asia and Africa.
They had the resources to build anything, but they have repeated familiar patterns: glass towers, luxury hotels, shopping malls, roads crammed with SUVs . . . is this all there is?
The thought only gets more depressing when you remember that Qatar – at least for now – is one of history’s winners. This is how the future looks in one of the richest places on earth. Imagine what it holds for the rest of us.