A Golden Chance For Qatar

Posted by John Duerden

World CupAssociatedThe decision to host the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has generated plenty of controversy

It is likely that Qatar wishes the media focus had stayed on the whole winter/summer scenario. At least then it was FIFA -- whose executive committee meets next week to discuss all things 2022 -- and its hapless handling of the issue that were under the microscope. Organisers of the tournament were able to stay relatively quiet. But recent revelations from The Guardian, shocking in their detail and despair if not by their existence, have changed all that. It has taken the talk of 2022 from the football world into the real one.

Qatar has never been a popular choice, especially in the West. There are those who don't like it because of the vast amounts of money spent on the bid; elsewhere in football, there are those who don't like it because of the heat; there are those who don't like it because of its size; there are those who don't like it for all of the above; and there are those who just don't like it for their own reasons.

Some of the bad press is undeserved. Qatar is an easy target. It has come under an intense scrutiny that Russia and other World Cup and Olympic hosts have somehow escaped. If Qatar-bashing continues like this then it may need its own tournament by 2022. Exposés, questions and investigations are healthy -- sour grapes and arrogance less so.

Some of the bad press is deserved, however. The issue of human rights has always been in the mix but now it has emerged as a serious question. If Qatar thought that hosting the world's biggest sporting tournament would be the ultimate branding exercise, it may be seriously wondering whether it is all worth it and where it all went wrong.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the issues, Qatar should host the 2022 World Cup. The heat can be overcome by a move to winter. The issue has never been with the players, they would not have a problem, but the fans would suffer. It is not as controversial as it should be to suggest that supporters are not the priority when it comes to the World Cup, a tournament that has become a television spectacle. They provide the backdrop and buy the tickets and the beer -- and yes, there is beer available -- but Qatar is best not visited in June.

It would be a shame if football fans from around the world could not explore this region and meet its incredibly friendly inhabitants between games simply due to the overbearing heat. After all, this is a tournament for the Middle East. Sure, some neighbouring governments may be no friends of Doha and the region is not the homogenous place it is often portrayed as in the international media, but if there is one thing that unites the people -- not the princes and the politicians -- it is a love of the "Beautiful Game." For the first time, hundreds of millions of football-crazy fans will have a World Cup on their doorstep.

That is why a winter -- or even an autumn or spring -- World Cup makes sense. If the big European nations say that it can't be moved and it can't be held in the summer, then the obvious conclusion is that the Middle East will never be allowed to host the tournament. This is obviously a difficult and complex issue for the major leagues, but it does not have to be insurmountable with the best part of a decade to get it all sorted. And there is also the fact that Europe has been the dominant power in world football for a very long time, so perhaps, for once, the old continent can put itself out a little and allow the World Cup to become truly that.

Protest against Qatar World CupGettyImagesThe decision to hand World Cup hosting rights to Qatar has caused much consternation, for a number of reasons.

The heat has always been at the centre of the debate over Qatar, but now it shares the stage with the issue of workers' rights. All knew that it was an issue -- FIFA and the organisers have discussed it in the past despite recent proclamations of shock and horror -- but recent reports are deeply troubling. The Kafala system (sponsorship of foreign workers) prevalent throughout the Middle East means that overseas employees, usually from South Asia, are tied to their bosses in a way that can lead to dreadful abuse.

There have been calls for Qatar to be stripped of the World Cup due to human rights abuses. That could be a positive development: a landmark moment in the role of sport everywhere and a genuine watershed.

But human rights should not be just one more reason given to take the tournament away, not yet another grievance that broke this camel's back, but reason enough in itself. If there is a debate to be held, it should be held separately from the fact that Qatar has never been, in some quarters, a popular choice for the tournament in the first place.

It would also have to be a consistent standard imposed on every potential host including Russia for 2018. Perhaps the only vaguely positive thing that can be said about the past few days is that the 2022 World Cup has put this issue out into the open for all to see and it is one that will have to be discussed and addressed. Now there can be no more excuses. The world is watching and it will be for the next nine years.

It may be unfashionable and even naive to say that football can be a force for good in the world but it can be -- just look at the work being done by Prince Ali Al Hussein's Asian Football Development Project, of which helping Syrian refugees in his native Jordan is just one of numerous activities taking place all around the continent.

FIFA loves to talk of legacy when it comes to World Cups. It is highly debatable as to whether there has ever actually been a lasting one, but that does not mean that there never could be. In the case of workers' rights in Qatar, now firmly in the spotlight, there is an opportunity for genuine progress to be made and talk of legacy may, for once, lead to something concrete. And a successful global festival in the Middle East could be something special.

Of course, it may not, but Qatar should be given the opportunity. The country has been the centre of a debate that has been bubbling away for the past 34 months, but the next few days and weeks are vital. It remains to be seen what decisions, if any, are made, but there is still a chance for the 2022 World Cup to be a force for good.

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