It's here!
A giant inflatable copy of the trophy is displayed prior to the start of the World Cup Group A soccer match between Qatar and Ecuador. (Photo: AP)

The more difficult the victory, the greater the happiness in winning. — Pele

The day has finally arrived after four years of patiently waiting. Unfortunately, multiple controversies surround the awarding of the World Cup to Qatar.

Television sets all across the globe will be tuned to the World Cup for the next four weeks or so. Many families will be inundated by football streaming across their flat screen televisions. Grown men will miss church just to watch football. Some diehard football fans would have applied for their vacation leave just to facilitate watching the World Cup undisturbed. Sport clubs will definitely experience an increase in business as testosterone-driven men bond over football. Undoubtedly, new relationships will be formed over the common interest of football, and perhaps old relationships might be disrupted or discontinued. Many husbands will become estranged from their families, and those in the "side chicks" category will have to wait out the World Cup before continuing to steal love on the side. Perhaps some arrangements will be made for the continuation of rent and car payments. That is the power of football.

Qatar is slightly smaller than the US state of Connecticut, and its peninsula is about 100 miles (160 km) from north to south, 50 miles (80 km) from east to west, and is generally rectangular in shape. The capital is the eastern coastal city of Doha, which was once a centre for pearling and is home to most of the country's inhabitants. Qatar shares a border with eastern Saudi Arabia, and the island of Bahrain lies some 25 miles (40 km) north-west of Qatar.

Qatar gained independence in 1971. Subsequently, the monarchy continued to nurture close ties with Western powers as a central pillar of its national security. Its citizens are largely Sunni Muslims, and women, for example, have greater freedom in Qatar than in Saudi Arabia.

Disappointed Qatar fans look on as their team is defeated by Ecuador 2-0 in the Group A opener on Sunday. (Photo: AP)

Qatar has one of the world's largest reserves of petroleum and natural gas and employs large numbers of foreign workers in its production process. The country's residents enjoy a high standard of living and a well-established system of social services because of its oil wealth.

The awarding of the World Cup to Qatar was seen as a chance for the Gulf region to celebrate its growing love for football. One of Fifa's justifications for awarding Qatar the hosting rights was the ability to take the tournament to a new part of the world. It should be noted that none of the 21 previous World Cups has been held in an Islamic country.

However, there were a few problems that organisers had to tackle. One of which is the prohibition of drinking. For many fans, drinking alcohol has and will continue to be a big part of the experience of such tournaments. In Qatar, though, it is illegal to be seen drunk in public, which has forced organisers to come up with inventive ways to circumnavigate the issue. As a result, alcohol will only be served in designated fan parks around Doha and there will be separate areas for fans to sober up before and after matches.

Fifa was founded in 1904 to provide unity among national soccer associations and boasts 211 affiliated associations. For the first time teams will be able to use up to five substitutes, and managers can now pick from a squad of 26 players rather than the usual 23.

Fireworks light up the Al Bayt Stadium during the World Cup opening ceremony. (Photo: AP)

There are no political parties in Qatar. Qataris have been allowed to vote in municipal elections since 1999 and the first parliamentary election was held in 2021. Voting is restricted to citizens aged 18 years and older whose paternal grandfather was born in the country. Women are allowed to stand for public office.

Dress is generally traditional and conservative. Qatari Arab men usually dress in a flowing white shirt (thawb) and a head scarf (kaffiyeh) held in place by a cord (iql). Dress for Qatari women, although still conservative, is much less formal than in neighbouring Saudi Arabia. Many women still wear the full length black cloak (ab yah), which is generally over Western clothing, but others simply wear the veil (ij b). Their traditional dress is often decorated with gold or silver embroidery. In public the sexes are customarily separated.

In 2010 Qatar clinched the rights to host the World Cup tournament after beating bids from the USA, South Korea, Japan, and Australia. The selection of Qatar to host the World Cup was instantly met with criticism of the logistics for holding a sporting event in a country where summertime temperatures regularly top 100 degrees; allegations of bribery and corruption among Fifa officials who voted for Qatar; and concerns about human rights abuses that have persisted in the years since.

Former Fifa President Sepp Blatter, in a recent interview, said, "It was a bad choice. And I was responsible for that as president at the time."

When it won selection in 2010, Qatar lacked many of the stadiums, hotels, and highways needed to stage the tournament. To build them the country turned to its massive population of migrant workers, who make up 90 per cent or more of its labour force. Only about 300,000 of Qatar's residents are Qatari citizens. Far outnumbering them are migrant workers whose visas are tied to their employment, a system that is common in the Middle East. It has been documented that the working and living conditions for those migrant workers were frequently exploitative and dangerous. A 2021 investigation by The Guardian newspaper reported that more than 6,500 migrant workers from five South Asian countries had died in Qatar since 2010 from causes such as workplace accidents; car crashes; suicides; and deaths from other causes, including the heat.

A coalition of human rights groups called on Fifa and Qatar to create a remedy fund — a pool of money that can be used to compensate migrant workers, along with the families of those who died, for abuses endured while building stadiums and other infrastructure necessary for the World Cup. The fund, they say, should total no less than US$440 million — the same amount as the World Cup prize money.

Qatar's penal code criminalises sex outside of marriage, which has led to the prosecution of rape victims. Sex between men is punishable by up to seven years in prison, and men who "instigate" or "entice" another man to commit "an act of sodomy or immorality" could face one to three years' imprisonment.

Regardless of the controversies surrounding the awarding of the World Cup, the games are finally here. Billions of football fans will be watching and cheering for their favourite team until the finals on Sunday, December 18. It will be interesting to see the camaraderie on the field of play, the goals, the penalties, and the skills of the players.

Additionally, fans will bet millions of dollars on their favourite team to hold aloft the World Cup trophy. My support is solely on the African continent this World Cup for which five countries are represented: Morocco, Senegal, Tunisia, Ghana, and Cameroon.

Of note, Qatar's loss of their opening match against Ecuador 2-0 at the Al Bayt Stadium represents the first time a host nation has lost its opening game.

May the best team win.

Wayne Campbell

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and/or gender issues. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or waykam@yahoo.com.

Wayne Campbell

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