When it comes to football, there are few things as all-encompassing as the World Cup. It is one of the most influential events on the planet, watched by billions around the globe. Such is the extent to which the World Cup is influential, it doesn’t really need anything to bring it even further into the public consciousness. Yet when FIFA chose to award the right to host the tournament in 2022 to Qatar, that is exactly what happened. Suddenly, rather than talking about the players, managers and teams, football fans were focussed on human rights.
It is entirely fair to say that the World Cup in 2022 is going to be one of the most controversial ever. Even away from the controversies, there will be plenty to talk about when the first World Cup to be held in the Arab world eventually kicks-off. For starters, this will be the final World Cup with 32 teams, given that it is expanding to welcome 48 sides in 2026. Given the rumours of corruption that led to the bid succeeding, the interruption to the season and the temperatures players will endure, the question is, will anyone enjoy it?
When discussing the 2022 World Cup, there is no place to start other than with a conversation about the manner in which the host nation was selected. The procedure to decide on the hosts for both the 2018 and 2022 World Cup began in January 2009, with bids coming from Qatar, the United States of America, South Korea and Japan to host the 2022 iteration. Qatar gained 11 votes in round 1 of the voting, 10 in round 2, 11 in round three and eventually gained 14 in round 4, defeating the US’s 8 votes to win the right to host.
In the aftermath of the bidding process, there were accusations of bribery and corruption levelled at FIFA’s Executive Committee members, not least of all because Qatar is the smallest country by area to host a World Cup. Investigations found that Qatar hired formed CIA officer and private contractor Kevin Chalker to help them win the bid, with Chalker spying on decision makers ahead of the vote. Though Qatar’s officials have always denied any wrong doing, the Vice-President of FIFA in 2011, Jack Warner, said that the country had ‘bought’ the right to host the tournament.
A whistleblower, later revealed to be Phaedra Almajid, alleged that a number of African officials had been paid $1.5 million by Qatar to vote for them as hosts. She later retracted this accusation, saying that she’d only made it because she had lost her job with the Qatar bidding team. In 2014, however, more allegations emerged. This time a firm linked to Qatar had been accused of paying Jack Warner and his family close to $2 million to vote for the bid. In 2019, a member of Australia’s bid team, Bonita Mersiades, published a book alleging that Al Jazeera agreed a secret deal to pay $100 million if Qatar won the vote.
Though accusations of corruption and bribery have plagued the Qatar 2022 World Cup, up to and including some countries threatening to boycott it, no attempt to remove the hosting duties from the country ever took place. As a result, Qatar will host the tournament and the eyes of the world will be on the Arab country, looking to see whether it can pull off the hosting of one of the most prestigious competitions in football. If it fails, there will be questions asked of all of the FIFA representatives that allowed it to host in the first place.
Of course, the bribery and corruption allegations aren’t the only controversies to have come to light in the wake of Qatar winning the bid to host the World Cup in 2022. One of the most commonly highlighted issues with allowing the Arab nation to host the tournament is the fact that but Human Rights Watch and the International Trade Union Confederation have alleged that the Kafala system used in Qatar is such that migrant workers are vulnerable to systemic abuse. In short, the country has been accused of ‘slavery’.
In 2013, Amnesty International made allegations of ‘serious exploitation’ of those that were working to build the stadiums that will be used in the World Cup. The Qatari Government, meanwhile, said that the 2022 World Cup was going to act as a catalyst for change when it came to things such as working conditions. Even so, the International Labour Organization said that the conditions for workers in Qatar amounted to modern-day slavery, whilst workers from Nepal had been dying at a rate of one-per-day. The Guardian produced a report which estimated the death toll of migrant workers between 2010 and 2020 at 6,500.
As for the actual World Cup itself, the hosting is likely to be filled with controversy. Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, with those that ‘offend’ issued with fines and up to seven years in prison. When confronted about it at the time, the then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter said, “I would say they should refrain from any sexual activities.” On the eight of December 2020, Qatar confirmed that it would comply with FIFA’s rules on tolerance, allowing rainbow flags in the stadiums, though the statement on the matter felt as though it was done through gritted teeth.
The Winter World Cup
It goes without saying that discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community as well as the use of slaves to build the stadiums are the most serious issues associated with the 2022 World Cup. Yet there are other concerns that have been levelled at the tournament. For starters, the climate in Qatar is such that summer temperatures can reach as high as 50 degrees centigrade. Though Sepp Blatter initially dismissed such concerns, it was decided in 2013 that the possibility of a winter World Cup would be explored to protect the players as much as possible.
In February of 2015, its was confirmed that the World Cup would take place in the winter of 2022 rather than the summer. There was immediate concern about how short the tournament would need to be, taking place between November and December, to say nothing of the disruption that will be caused to schedules around the world. Indeed, at one point in the build-up the Chairman of the Football Federation of Australia, Frank Lowry, suggested that they would seek compensation from FIFA if the tournament was moved to the winter.
There is also the fact that everything has to change in order to accommodate a World Cup in Qatar. It is not just the various domestic seasons that will be shifted in order to ensure that the tournament can go ahead as planned, but also the Africa Cup of Nations that would normally take place in January. It is having to move to June 2023 so that the African players can get enough rest between tournaments, in spite of the fact that it will be monsoon season in the host nation at around that time. In other words, there has been a huge amount of change for the sake of accommodating the 2022 World Cup.
The good news about Qatar is that the United nations has classified it as a country of ‘very high human development’. Officially the ‘State of Qatar’, it is located in Western Asia and can be found on the north-eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. The sole land border of Qatar is shared with Saudi Arabia, with the rest of the country surrounded by the Persian Gulf. More than 80% of the country’s population lives in the capital city, Doha. Interestingly, the population of the country in 2017 was made up of 2.3 million expats and just 313,000 Qatari citizens.
Ruled by the House of Thani since a treaty was signed between the British and Mohammed bin Thani in 1868, it gained independent in 1971 and is ruled as an autocracy. The country’s resource-wealth allowed it emerge as a major power in the 21st century, allowing it to wield a disproportionate amount of influence on a global scale. The Asian Games is due to be held in the country in 2030, so in many ways the World Cup will act as something of a precursor to that. If it succeeds, great things will be expected eight years later.
Nothing says ‘welcome to a free-thinking country’ quite like a ‘Supreme Committee’, so the fact that the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy is responsible for getting the stadiums ready for the World Cup will have filled countless people with a sense of delight. There are five cities in Qatar that will be used to host matches, namely Lusail, Doha, Al-Khor, Al-Wakrah and Al-Rayyan. Across those five cities, eight stadiums will see football played in them, with most of them having been built since the World Cup was awarded to the country. They are as follows:
Lusail Iconic Stadium
Also know as the Lusail International Stadium, the Lusail Iconic Stadium will be used to host the final of the World Cup. Ground was broken to build it in 2017, with the stadium officially opening in November of 2021. Built as a joint venture between HBK Contracting and China Railway Construction Corporation, the British firms Foster + Partners and Populous designed it. After the World Cup, it is believed that it will be reconfigured into a 20,000 seat stadium, with excess parts of the ground reconfigured into things such as shops and cafés.
Al Bayt Stadium
Boasting a retractable roof, the Al Bayt Stadium will be the venue for the opening match of the 2022 World Cup. That is scheduled for the 21st of November, when there will be an estimated 60,000 people there. The design takes its inspiration from the traditional tents that are used by the nomadic people of Qatar. The Global Sustainability Assessment System has certified it for its sustainable credentials, thanks in no small part to the polytetrafluoroethylene, a form of fibreglass membrane, which is used to cover the four stands within the stadium.
Named in honour of the number of recycled shipping containers that were used to build it, as well as the country’s international dialling code, Stadium 974 was designed by Fenwick Iribarren Architects. After the World Cup’s completion, the containers and the stadium’s seats will be donated to under-developed countries in Africa. It is the first temporary venue that will be used in the history of the World Cup. It saw its first match take place on the 30th of November 2021, when the United Arab Emirates defeated Syria there by a score of 2-1.
Al Thumama Stadium
Located close to the Hamad International Airport, Al Thumama Stadium was built as a joint venture between Al Jaber Engineering of Qatar and Tekfen Construction of Turkey. Designed as a nod to the taqiyah hat that men and boys wear across the Middle East, it was designed by the Chief Architect of Arab Engineering Bureau Ibrahim Jaidah. It has a capacity of 40,000 and a public park surrounds it. It is one of the main stadiums that has been criticised by Amnesty International on account of the number of migrant deaths that have occurred during its construction.
Education City Stadium
Located in Al-Rayyan, Education City Stadium can be found within numerous university campuses. In the wake of the World Cup, 25,000 seats will be retained for use by the athletic teams of the unis. Nicknamed the ‘Diamond in the Desert’, 20% of its building materials are green, leading to it being declared as one of the most environmentally sustainable stadiums in the world. It should have hosted the 2019 FIFA Club World Cup final, but delays to building meant that its opening was postponed until 2020. As a result, Liverpool’s game in that competition was moved to the Khalifa International Stadium, also in Doha.
Ahmed bin Ali Stadium
More popularly known as the Al-Rayyan Stadium, it is the home of both the Al-Rayyan Sports Club and the Al-Kharitiyath Sports Club. It is one of the only locations that existed before the World Cup was awarded to Qatar, though it was all but completely rebuilt between 2016 and 2020. Part of the stadium is a ‘media facade’, which includes a giant wall that will see projections sports updates and tournament information broadcast onto it. It has been put through its paces, being used not only for the 2019 Club World Cup but also the Arab Cup in 2021.
Khalifa International Stadium
Easily the oldest football stadium in Qatar, the Khalifa International Stadium was opened in 1976. It underwent renovations in 2005 and then again between 2014 and 2017. Named after the former Emir of Qatar, Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani, it hosted the final of the AFC Asian Cup in 2011. When Qatar was awarded the World Cup, a decision was made to try to increase the capacity of the ground to 68,000. As it currently stands, however, the capacity is 45,416, which is some way off that target unless something changes soon.
Al Janoub Stadium
Another of the stadiums that has been built especially to host the World Cup, Al Janoub Stadium was constructed between 2014 and 2019. It opened its doors for the first time in May of 2019, making it the second ground to be opened. The idea is for it to have a postmodernist and neo-futurist design, though whether it achieves that or not is a matter of some debate. After the World Cup, it will be used as the stadium for Al-Wakrah SC, where matches for the Qatar Stars League will also take place. The capacity will be reduced to around 20,000.
With kick-off for the tournament due to take place on the 21st of November and the final planned for the 18th of December, it is fair to say that the World Cup will need to pack a lot of action into a short space of time when the 2022 renewal gets underway. At the time of writing, the draw for the World Cup is still to take place, not least because we don’t yet know all of the countries that will be taking part in it. Indeed, only 29 of the 32 will be known by the end of March, such is the extent to which qualifying has been drawn out.
We do know that only one of Italy and Portugal will be there, due to the fact that they play each other for a place. Similarly, only one of Senegal and Egypt will make it to the final, thanks to the fact that they need to play each other in their qualification play-off game. It means that there will be some quite big names missing from the World Cup finals, which should make it a little bit more exciting for all concerned. That being said, the controversies that surround it will mean that it will lack the lustre of previous World Cups.
The Group Stage of the World Cup will take place between the 21st of November and the second of December. The Round of 16 will get underway the day after, lasting until the sixth of the month. There will then be a short break before the quarter-finals get underway on the ninth and tenth of December. After that, the players will get a couple of days off before the semi-finals take place on the 13th and 14th of the month. Finally, the main event that is the World Cup final will be on the 18th of December, exactly a week before Christmas.
In terms of times, FIFA has confirmed that the matches will kick-off at 1pm, 4pm, 7pm and 10pm local time for the first two group games. That equates to 10am, 1pm, 4pm and 7pm in the UK. The final round of group games as well as the knock-out rounds will be at 3pm and 7pm for viewers in the United Kingdom, which is 6pm and 10pm local time. The final itself will kick-off at 6pm for locals, which is 3pm in the UK, offering it a traditional feel for British football fans in this most un-traditional of World Cups.
World Cup Sponsors
Given that World Cup matches are watched by billions of people around the world, it is no surprise that sponsoring the tournament is big business. There are some regular sponsors such as Coca-Cola and McDonalds that have had an association with the tournament for years, but there are others that are relatively new on the scene. This combination of regular sponsors and others that come in out of nowhere is what allows FIFA to charge huge sums of money to be associated with the competition, which involves the likes of having billboard advertising company names in prominent positions.
Qatar Airways is one of the new sponsors for the World Cup for 2022, which is hardly all that surprising. As part of the deal, the airline will make several aircraft available for the sponsors as well as teams to use to get around the country. It was already a sponsor for the Confederations Cup in 2017, the 2018 World Cup, the club team World Cup and the 2019 World Cup for women. It is the largest agreement in the airline’s history and one of the largest in the world of sports. Signed on the seventh of May 2017, it is part of the company’s strategy to work within sports as a sponsor.
The beer that will be served during the World Cup will be Budweiser, thanks to a sponsorship deal between FIFA and Anheuser-Busch InBev. There has been a partnership between the football authority and the brewer for more than 25 years, so it hardly a surprise that things have carried on in the same vein. The problem that Budweiser have got is that no beer will be served in stadiums during the World Cup in 2022, with the notion ostensibly being to ‘prevent riots and disturbances’. Given the lack of such misbehaviour in most World Cups as long as England are not involved, this seems an odd aim.
The list of sponsors of the World Cup to date is as follows:
Perhaps the standout one on the list is crypto.com, which was unveiled as an official sponsor on the 22nd of March 2022. On the face of it, it is a sponsorship move that makes complete sense, given the fact that it is the world’s fastest-growing cryptocurrency platform. It employs more than 4,000 people around the globe, who deal with the crypto currency transactions of the ten million customers that are registered with the site to date. The hope is that it will drive awareness around crypto currency thanks to the brand exposure.
When you dig a little deeper, however, it is a sponsorship that has problems. For starters, at the time of writing it is an entirely unregulated market. In the United States of America, the Securities and Exchange Commission has yet to set any rules on crypto currencies, meaning that it is something of a wild west in terms of the market. There are countless different crypto currencies, form BitCoin to Ethereum via Litecoin and Polkadot, so those that are unsure of the market might struggle to work out where to even begin.
If there is opposition to the likes of McDonalds and Coca-Cola because of the unhealthy nature of what the companies serve, there could be major problems for people when it comes to crypto.com. The company’s own website says, “Join 10m+ users buying and selling 250+ crypto currencies at true cost.” The fact that there are 250+ crypto currencies available to trade should set alarm bells ringing for people. That is a huge unregulated market that is being given legitimacy by sponsoring the World Cup, one of the most famous sports tournaments on the planet.
There are plenty who think that crypto currencies are the new thing on the block and will be commonplace in years to come. It is felt that those that understand their worth are able to make a fortune out of it in much the same way that Non-Fungible Tokens are dismissed by some and adored by others. Quite which way the crypto scene is going to go remains to be seen, but it is entirely fair to ask whether legitimising it by allowing one of its trading platforms to sponsor the World Cup is the right way to go.
Is Crypto The Perfect Sponsor For This World Cup?
Of course, so much of the World Cup in 2022 is about new frontiers and things that are filled with controversy. For many, the tournament should never have been awarded to Qatar in the first place. With this in mind, the idea of a World Cup that has been beset by rumours of bribery, corruption and modern-day slavery having a sponsor that might or might not represent a legitimate industry seems entirely appropriate. Though health-minded people might not like McDonalds, it is at least a genuine company with real goods.
If you buy something on crypto.com then you’ll have nothing physical to show for your purchase in the way that you’d get a Big Mac or a can of coke from other companies. Even Qatar Airways has real planes that you can actually sit on in order to fly from one location to another, even if there is a controversial aspect to the airline’s sponsorship of the World Cup. It is virtually impossible to find a company that doesn’t have critics of it for one reason or another, which might be why FIFA decided to ignore any problems with the crypto.com deal.
Even so, it is difficult to get away from the idea that it is the perfect sponsor for this particular World Cup. When the tournament itself rolls around, there will be many people choosing to boycott it for any number of reasons, from the deaths of migrant workers who were building the stadiums through to treatment of members of the LGBTQ+ community by the Qatari government. With this in mind, issues surrounding a sponsorship by a crypto currency trading platform that some people don’t trust seems to be far down the list of controversies.
The Interruption To Domestic Football In The UK
For English football fans, one of the key questions around the World Cup is just how much it will end up disrupting the Premier League season. The 2022-2023 campaign has had to be adjusted in order to accommodate players flying out to Qatar, so the season will get underway a week earlier than normal. That means that the first matches will take place on the sixth of August, with 16 match days taking place between then and the weekend of the 12th and 13th of November. At that point, players will be allowed to leave for the World Cup.
The plan is for the Premier League to resume on Boxing Day, eight days after the final. There will then be a rush to get the rest of the games played before the last day of the season on the 28th of May. The Championship, meanwhile, will resume on the tenth of December, with the Scottish Premiership getting back underway a week later. Obviously this doesn’t put much faith in any of the lower league or Scottish players that might be called up by their respective national teams, but that is perhaps to be expected.
Perhaps the biggest change will be for the League Cup, which normally sees most of its matches played before Christmas. For the 2022-2023 season, it will get underway in August for lower league sides, as normal, just as the final will still take place at the end of February. It is the other rounds that will see major disruption, though, such as the third round. This is normally played in mid-September, but will be moved to the week commencing November ninth instead. The quarter and semi-finals will be squeezed into a three-week period in January and February.
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