Qatar 2022 and baseless controversies

However, the championship had evoked controversy well before its inauguration on November 20.

 By P.K. Niaz

Qatar’s hosting of the FIFA World Cup Football championship is in many ways unique compared to the previous editions of the game. 

This is the first time a Middle Eastern Arab and Muslim country is hosting the prestigious championship. And it is the most compact World Cup in its 92 years of  history, with all eight stadiums within a 55 km radius of the city of Doha, enabling fans to attend more than one game a day if they wish to. 

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However, the championship had evoked controversy well before its inauguration on November 20.

From the Western criticism of rights violations and Indian Islamic preacher Dr. Zakir Naik’s presence in Qatar during the game, to the humiliation Israeli journalists are facing from Arab fans are some of the events that’s being debated outside the stadiums.

Since the country was awarded the World Cup in 2010, smear campaigns were started in Europe and the United States accusing Qatar of bribery and corruption. 

FIFA was heavily criticised for giving the hosting rights to Qatar, which has been accused of human rights violations and  unfavourable sentiments towards the rights of the LGBTQ community.

Just before the ball was set to roll for the inaugural match, another accusation was leveled against Qatar for allegedly offering eight Ecuadorian players a bribe of $7.4 million to lose the opener.

The banning of the sale of alcoholic beer at the eight World Cup stadiums just two days before the championship was another tool for the anti-Qatar lobby. Infact, the beer ban at World Cup 2022 stadiums was made jointly by Qatar officials and the FIFA. 

“We tried until the end to see whether it was possible,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said. His remarks, “if for three hours a day you cannot drink a beer, you will survive”, was a clear manifestation that the World Cup is not a drinking festival. 

While the FIFA has clarified that non-alcoholic beers will still be sold at the 64 matches in the championship and in France, Spain and Scotland, alcohol is banned in stadiums, critics still continue their campaign. 

Host countries of the World Cup usually come up with their own rules. After Qatar was allotted the championship in 2010, Brazil in 2014 and Russia in 2018, had set their own terms. Qatar also made it clear that respecting its culture and heritage is important and anything contrary to that will not be allowed in public.

However, unlike tournaments of the past, the BBC didn’t cover a single moment of the opening ceremony of the World Cup. 

BBC panelists were ‘concerned’ about the plight of migrant workers and human rights violations, forgetting the fact that they literally live in a country where allowing refugees to drown in the English Channel is a vote winner and forcibly deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda is national pride! 

And they were silent on England’s World Cup kit that sells for £160, which is made in a factory in Bangladesh where workers are paid as little as 21 pence an hour!! 

The most expensive England kit ever that contains Nike shirt and shorts, were reportedly made at a factory inside a Bangladeshi government-controlled zone where female workers are paid as little as £1.68 a day.

 The fact is that the BBC had no concern about covering the opening of 2008 Olympics and 2022 Winter Olympics hosted by China and the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Hypocrisy at its peak!

All these accusations turned out to be a smoke screen as the world appreciated the organisation of the World Cup and Qatar was given whole-hearted support by its GCC compatriots Saudi Arabia and the UAE which led a siege campaign against this tiny nation for three years. 

Anti-Israeli sentiments

Despite having no diplomatic ties, Qatar has made arrangements with FIFA to allow Israeli fans to fly directly from Tel Aviv to Doha during the World Cup. Under this plan, the Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza can also use Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport.

But a strong feeling of solidarity for the Palestinians is seen inside and outside the World Cup stadiums including boycotting Israeli channel reporters.

The reporters’ attempts to interview Arab football fans outside stadiums and markets (souqs) fail as they decline to speak to the “occupiers”, a term used to call Israelis.

I saw a Tunisian fan telling an Israeli channel reporter outside the Al Bayt stadium that “you are murderers of babies and mothers and you are not welcome here.”

Sidi Muhammad, another Tunisian, said: “World Cup is a global festival of brotherhood and peace. There is no place for racists and killers here.” 

“The Zionist forces murdered in cold blood eight youth in the last 72 hours.How can you make friendship with people who support these types of barbarism,” he asked angrily.

Israel’s Channel 13 sports reporter, Tal Shorrer, said he has been shoved, insulted and accosted by Palestinians and other Arab fans during his live reports from Doha.

One reporter even denied he was from Israel after being spotted by a fan. The reporter was asked where he was from and he replied that he was from Ecuador. But the fan confronted him saying that this was not the Ecuadorian language.

“This is part of a solidarity with the Palestinians who have been occupied for more than 70 years,” a Qatari official told me about the anti-Israel sentiments by some fans.

“To speak or not to speak to channels is their choice and we cannot interfere in this matter,” he said.

Qatar is a staunch supporter of Palestinian cause and refuses to establish diplomatic relations with Israel without real progress being made in the Middle East conflict

Though Qatar refused an Israeli request to open a temporary consulate in Doha as part of the World Cup, the Gulf country has allowed a group of six Israeli foreign ministry officials attending to consular needs of their citizens at the Avenue A Murwab Hotel in the downtown Al Sadd district.

Qatar is expecting up to 15,000 Israelis and Palestinians for the World Cup.

Controversy over Zakir Naik 

A picture of controversial Indian Islamic preacher and founder of Islamic Research Foundation (IRF), Dr. Zakir Abdul Karim Naik walking on the backdrop of the World Cup logo was trending on Twitter one day before the beginning of the World Cup.

Quoting Faisal Al Hajri, a presenter at the state-owned sports channel Alkass, who said in a Tweet that “Sheikh Zakir Naik is present in Qatar during the World Cup and will give many religious lectures throughout the tournament”,  right-wing Hindutva groups belonging to the ruling BJP government have come out attacking Qatar for inviting the ‘fugitive’ preacher.

Zakir Naik has had an arrest warrant against him in India since 2016. One of the charges levelled against Naik is that he was involved in religious conversions and a chargesheet was filed against him for ‘converting people of other religions to Islam’.

 It is true that many non-Muslims have reverted to Islam during Zakir Naik’s mass public programmes inside and outside India. But those were not forcible conversions rather a choice given to the attendees. Still many people do not accept his way of presentation which according to them is a bit of compulsion.

The ‘fugitive speaker’ has been living in exile in Malaysia since 2017, after India pressed charges against him over money laundering.

 When New Delhi raised the presence of Zakir Naik in Doha, Qatar informed India through diplomatic channels that the preacher was not officially invited to attend the opening of the FIFA World Cup. It added that deliberate disinformation was being spread by third countries to spoil India-Qatar bilateral ties.

 Qatar’s strong stand against any attempt to defame Islam and its Prophet (peace be upon him) is the reason behind Hindutva activists fury. Qatar was at the forefront to blame BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s abusive remarks about the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) during a television debate. It even demanded an official apology from the Indian government which was hotly debated nation-wide as pro right-wing journalists and politicians called this as a move against India. 

As the FIFA World Cup is in progress, Qatar is showing that it is not only managing the global sporting event comfortably, but is also shaping values within the Arab and Muslim world.

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