Qatar World Cup
Author: Sophie Clare, Cambridge University student.
The pinnacle of the global football calendar, the Men’s World Cup is typically an opportunity for fans around the world to share their enjoyment of sport, support their country and for players and teams to highlight messages and causes they support. However, this year’s event in Qatar has provided ample grounds for controversy, which for some has overshadowed the sporting excitement of Morocco being the first African country to make it to the last four or the disappointment of men’s football not coming home for England.
The 2022 World Cup has raised questions about sustainability – both environmental and social – which have implications beyond the sport itself, exemplifying for some the concept of ‘sportwashing’ – ‘using sport as a tool of soft power, to clean up (and distract from) a murky political or humanitarian reputation.’ Despite aims for the world cup to deliver ‘new benchmarks for social, human, economic and environmental development’, concerns have been raised about the logistical organisation of the tournament and indeed decisions taken when constructing the infrastructure necessary for such a mega-event.
One of the most striking aspects of the World Cup’s environmental impact was the decision to implement air conditioning in open-air arenas. The air conditioning undoubtedly makes play more manageable for the players, with an expected temperature of 68°F (20°C), irrespective of the outside temperature. It also showcases emerging technology in ‘spot cooling’, which utilises the form of the stadium as a barrier to contain a bubble of cool air inside. Nonetheless, climate change activists have raised concerns about the precedent this may establish for hosting air-conditioned events on a global scale, particularly given that such a global platform may encourage already surging demand for a technology which – even at its most sustainable – requires energy to produce. Not only can older air conditioning units release hydrofluorocarbon gasses into the atmosphere, but increased use of air conditioning will bring extra demand to electricity grids, which are still predominantly powered by polluting fossil fuels.
Beyond the implications of ‘outdoor air conditioning’, the fact remains that thousands of fans are predominantly taking flights to visit the World Cup, including daily shuttle flights from some neighbouring countries. Additionally, the development of the infrastructure for the event, much of which was built from scratch for the occasion, saw mis-treatment and even deaths of migrant workers during construction, though exact figures remain unclear. The lack of transparency concerning migrant workers reflects another controversy looming over the world cup: Qatar’s treatment of LGBTQ+ people and women. In Qatar, several laws criminalise LGBTQ+ people, who have been arrested and imprisoned in the country. Activists have raised concerns not only for the welfare of football tourists, but of Qatari people who are at risk of being arrested and subjected to ‘ill-treatment in detention’ according to Human Rights Watch. Sporting body FIFA intervened with the threat of sanctions for European teams whose captains planned to wear ‘One Love’ armbands in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community, while stadium security officials were reported on several occasions to have stopped fans from wearing rainbow-themed clothing and hats. Women also face legal discrimination in the country, most notably through the guardianship system which requires permission of a male guardian to marry, travel or study abroad, or access reproductive healthcare. With such a troubling record on human rights, and many football fans not only feeling unrepresented but unsafe due to the laws of the host country, it is understandable why some fans have decided to boycott the event completely.
With the final fast-approaching this Sunday, it is evident that environmental and social concerns have tainted a tournament designed to bring people together through a love of sport.
 https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/feb/23/revealed-migrant-worker-deaths-qatar-fifa-world-cup-2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/16/sports/soccer/world-cup-migrant-workers.html, https://www.theguardian.com/football/2022/nov/29/qatar-official-says-400-500-migrant-workers-died-on-world-cup-projects