The soccer world cup in Qatar is already sullied, perhaps even blighted. Unlike every previous edition I can remember, most of the pre-tournament hype has been negative. Qatar is rightly under fire on three fronts. First, their poor and even deadly treatment of migrant workers who built the stadiums. Second their poor record on LGBTQ+ rights, and of course the obvious – their reliance on oil. Almost everything you see in the desert in Qatar – the skyscrapers, the highways, the stadiums was built through sellin’ that black gold.
So many have called for a complete boycott on the tournament. Many bars in Germany are not screening the games. Celebrities like Rob Stewart and Shakira refused to perform in Qatar. Cities like Paris have refused up fan zones for the first time, even while their soccer team is owned by Qatari royalty. Most of us will join the Parisian style hypocrisy by moaning to our friends and complaining on social media, while watching the games anyway.
So why shouldn’t we boycott the world cup?
Because we are complicit in the same atrocities on display in Qatar. We are part of that same blight on humanity. The nation of Qatar is not an aberration, but a reflection of the dark side of our murky lives and the shady dealings of our world’s governments. Instead of a fairly meaningless boycott, we should use this world cup to examine our own hypocrisy and change our ways.
We Treat workers Poorly too
For years our lives in the Global North have rested on worker exploitation and mistreatment, similar or worse than that going on in Qatar. Much of the west’s current wealth was built on a history of slavery and indentured labour. Although conditions and wages have improved in sweatshops and factories, much of what we consume remains far from exploitation-free. Right now some of the cotton in our shirts might well come from Uyghur forced labour, part of China’s ethnic cleansing program. Our clothes factories in countries like Bangladesh still have terrible working conditions. Food in many Western countries is made cheaper through migrant laborers who work long hours for lower than minimum wage outside of labour laws. High profile examples include the Sicilian Olive oil industry and a huge chunk of America’s food industry.
Our everyday lives still rely on our fellow humans working for a pittance in poor conditions. How then do we have any right to be incensed about the Saudi Worker situation?
We don’t take minority rights seriously
Us “morally upright” westerners love criticizing other countries about their human rights records, while both forgetting our own recent history and our implicit support of many minority-oppressing countries. I’m going to single out two minority rights abuses which I am personally complicit in. The Chinese genocide of Uyghur Muslims, and the funding of the LGBTQ oppressing Ugandan government.
When people ask me how New Zealand makes money, I often flippantly reply “We sell milk to China”, which carries more than a grain of truth. Our “kind” leader Jacinda just met with the Dictatorial leader of our biggest trading partner, President Xi. Did she meaningfully address the abuses of a million Uyghur Muslims who have been locked up in “re-education” camps, subject to mass sterilization and forced to work in cotton fields? Did she make ending the Uyghur genocide, what could be the biggest human rights violation of our generation a bottom line for trade with China? Of course not. I’m a New Zealand citizen and very aware of my own complicity. My roads, schools and healthcare were funded by cozying up and selling milk to a regime that knows how to oppress minorities of all kinds, just like Qatar.
Two “kind” leaders getting on great?
Western countries also give millions of dollars in military and police aid to oppressive governments like Uganda where I live, where like Qatar being LGBTQ+ is not only illegal but can lead to imprisonment and police harassment. America has funded Uganda’s military and police to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, some of which used to oppress minorities – not only LGBTQ+ communities but immigrants and political dissidents. Why are we all of a sudden incensed by a country’s LGBTQ+ policy while our taxes fund the militaries of so many other countries whose records are just as bad?
We sup that oil. We are Qatar.
Confession: Earlier this year I paid the Qatari Royal family thousands of dollars and spewed out about 6 tones of CO2 directly into the atmosphere flying from Uganda to New Zealand and back flying Qatar Airways.
We (in the west) are the reason that Qatar in its current form even exists. Our thirst for oil fueled Qatar’s meteoric rise from their humble desert roots, to today’s rich metropolis which is able to host a football World Cup. Our cars and planes built those skyscrapers. Our lifestyles paid for those migrant workers to build those stadiums. We sup Qatari oil without a second thought, and now we are the indignant ones? In one sense we are Qatar. We built that country, we constructed those stadiums. Qatar’s oil runs through our veins.
As a side note, we are not only hypocritical but inconsistent. COP 27 was just held in Egypt, another non-democratic country which spent the last 8 years violently suppressing anyone that dared challenge their autocratic military rule. Amnesty international wants governments to impose sanctions on Egypt and stop supplying them with arms. But no-one boycotted COP 27
Better to change than Boycott
So I will watch the world cup, with moments of sombre and heavy reflection on all the ways I am complicit in this whole mess, and I’ll consider how I can make change for the better.
The Qatar World Cup is a poignant opportunity to reflect on how we are complicit in all the things we are complaining about in Qatar. Let’s reflect on our own hypocrisy, pressure our governments to do better (Go Phoebe, my sister in law!), and change our own lives – Buy less, fly less, eat less meat. That might contribute more than a boycott towards a better world which refuses to tolerate human rights atrocities, and doesn’t sup the Qatari oil.