Qatar, Fifa, Barça. Is this how we want football to be?

A personal perspective by Tony Attwood

Taking on the subject of Qatar, what it is, what it stands for and indeed what it is doing, is dangerous ground.  Dangerous because opinions are so polarised that anything one says is going to be open to discussion, debate, and dissent.

So I headline this, a personal perspective.  You may find my views wrong, abhorant or just plain daft.  But they are views I have come to as a result of reading, trying to understand, and having lived in an Arab country.

And I tackle this because Qatar has the world cup, owns PSG, and has got its fingers into Barca.  All of that makes it s suitable subject for Untold.

Regarding Qatar, it has moved to become a constitutional monarchy, although not one like the UK.  As the Financial Times put it, when one emir replaced another, “The outgoing emir, who deposed his own father in a palace coup in 1995, evoked a future belonging to the young when he addressed his tiny nation.  Sheikh Hamad has also placed a multibillion-dollar bet on mainstream political Islam as the wave of the Arab future, typified by the Muslim Brotherhood he has backed across north Africa and in Syria’s civil war.

“In 2009 he was urged by his friend Nicolas Sarkozy, then president of France, to support Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and cease dallying with Hamas, a Palestinian offshoot of the Brotherhood. “We like Abu Mazen [President Abbas],” he replied, “but one has to ride the tide of history.”

That pretty much tells you where the country, which sits on about 14% of the world’s known natural gas reserves, is.

Qatar has 278,000 citizens as opposed to 63 million in the UK.   But Qatar also has around 1.3 million foreign workers who have minimal rights.  Enter the UK legally as a non-UK national and you have all sorts of rights – including the right to leave when you want, as long as you have not committed a crime, or overstayed your visa.  In Qatar, as I understand it, if you are one of the 1.3 million foreign workers you can’t leave unless your employer says you can.  In other words you are tied to your employer, and under his command.

This came to world footballing attention when Zahir Belounis, a French Algerian footballer, found himself in limbo for two years, unable to obtain the necessary exit visa, and unable to earn a salary within the country.  Upon his release he thanked Arsene Wenger for supporting his case.  

There is no doubt that the French government became involved and helped arrange that release although the Qatar football federation disagrees with the widely publicised reporting of the event which suggested clearly that he was stuck.

The BBC, whose reporting on such matters I tend to trust, more than other news organisations, has a report “Inside Qatar’s Squalid Labour Camps” which is worth reading.

From the outside it looks to me (and yes, this is just me, a regular guy, reading the news from the comfort of a nice house in England) Qatar looks like a small, but very rich country that is trying to play a major part in world politics but without western views on human rights.  And that I find troubling.

Taking a view from Reuters – another news source I tend to trust – I find this, “Qatar’s backing for Syrian rebels widely regarded as jihadi militants might appear a diplomatic liability at a time when global alarm about al Qaeda is on the rebound.

“The tiny but wealthy gas exporting country is under fierce pressure from some Gulf Arab neighbors to curb its support for Islamists of all stripes, principally the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and more radical rebel groups with al Qaeda ties in Syria.”

Now this is, to say the very least, controversial.  A tiny state, with a lot of money, and using its money to promote a type of revolution that appears from the west to be something rather awful (to put it mildly).  For myself, as an atheist, I don’t want to stop other people having a religion, but I do want states to resist religions which have any tendency to undertake crusades of the type the Catholic Church sanctioned in the 11th to 13th centuries.

And my fear is that Qatar, a state which seems to be getting itself centrally involved with world football, appears to be supporting groups which do proclaim that their religion is the true religion and non-believers should be dealt with harshly, to put it mildly.

Thus my view is that Qatar is a state which appears on the outside to be involved in supporting groups like ISIS in Syria, and which treats its immigrant workers in a way more in keeping with feudalism than the modern day.

So I opposed the notion of Qatar taking on the world cup, not because it is too hot, but because of their political and religious positioning – as I understand it.  It is a country, for example which promotes Sharia law and in which Muslims can be put to death for extramarital sex, regardless of sexual orientation.  (Washington Post)

Piara Powar, the director of Football Against Racism in Europe has picked up on this in the past, saying “Qatar is one of the few countries where homosexuality is still illegal.”  Again, not the sort of place we should be honouring with the biggest football event in the world.

And it is not just the world cup, for I have severe doubts about what they are doing with PSG and Barcelona.   In this regard Qatar and Fifa look like a perfect match.  Except I wonder if Fifa, Barcelona and PSG really know what they are getting into.

Now through this little piece I have tried to make it clear, I am just writing about what I have read from sources I normally rely on, and what seems to me to be true.  And it is relevant to Arsenal, and football, because Arsenal players will end up playing in Qatar in the world cup finals, and so as supporters I think we should ask – are we ok with this.  After all, we have views on whether Arsenal needs a new defensive midfielder, why not have views on whether Arsenal players should honour Fifa and Qatar by playing in their world cup.

I imagine that Qatar, having so successfully subsumed PSG, will now expand its influence on Barcelona, who have been having financial difficulties for some time, and then move into other clubs.  Indeed if you read the football financial news up to 2012 you could see Barcelona was in very serious trouble.  Then in 2014 it announced that it was to spend an awful lot of money on upgrading its stadium.  Somehow they got a load of dosh.

Just have a look at what the web site Think Progress said of what is happening

According to, Barça will take €200 million in private debt to help finance the project, another €200 million will come from its cash reserves, hotel and event space the club owns will generate another €50 million, and the final €150 million will come from the selling of naming rights on the renovated Camp Nou.

“This doesn’t guarantee the renovation project, scheduled for completion in 2021, won’t go over its budget or cause financial headaches for the club or its members, and former club director Joan Castells has already called the project “risky.” But unlike stadium projects in America, where taxpayers are footing a $4 billion federal bill and far more in total contributions, it will be the club, not the public, that is on the hook for any financing problems that may arise.”

Now given the state of the Spanish economy in general and Spanish football in particular this looks phenomenally risky, and one might begin to think that there is a very rich organisation behind it.

Of course this is all just my opinion, and of course I don’t have evidence to show that Qatar is funding the rebuilding of Barca’s old ground.  I just read the news sources that seem fairly trustworthy, and watch what Qatar is up to.

Qatar and Fifa, to me, look like perfect bedfellows.  And it is interesting that Barça  now seems to be part of the partnership.  If Barça is not and it raises its funds from elsewhere, then I will say, good for you Barça.  I’m just saying at the moment, I am a little suspicious.  And in terms of the world cup, more than a little worried.

The books

The complete Arsenal Anniversary series is to be found on the Arsenal History Society site.

24 Replies to “Qatar, Fifa, Barça. Is this how we want football to be?”

  1. Fifa’s choice of Qatar can not be a ‘football’ decision. Perhaps one day we will know the truth.

    Whether or not the World Cup takes place there in 2022 remains to be seen.

    But may be the choice of Qatar will prove to be a good decision in the long term for the benifit of those who suffer at the hands of this country in that, the choice has brought to light what this country is about.

    Before Qatar was announced as the World Cup winner I doubt if there were many people who had even heard of Qatar never mind its record of abuse of human rights.

    The choice of Qatar has thrown the country in to world view. Lets hope there rises up a determination to oppose Qatar or at least bring an end to its abuse of human rights.

  2. Funny Tony, I thought your last crusade(excuse the pun) was a personal perspective too.

    It seems impossible to keep politics out of sport, long before Hitler tried to exploit the ’36 Olympics. Indeed the Olympic origin was symbol of national superiority, if I am not mistaken, albeit in a sporting way?

    The problem of how one country goes about things usually comes down to how much the organisers and their supporters will turn a ‘blind eye’ to, and the financial gain involved. Participants have to feel strongly enough together, as opposed to the odd protest of an individual, before any substantial changes are made. So asking the view of your ‘above average’ supporters of Arsenal, and readers of this blog, will at best, come down to ‘No, it shouldn’t happen. But if it takes place, then our players will probably play there’. It is not within their grasp to think it will be like any other less desirable outcomes? Brazil, and the cost to their social structure, whilst the profits slipped neatly into the coffers of Fifa, and those who run it, immediately springs to mind. Will Putin’s Russia be any better in 2018?

    So if you are thinking you can mount a successful campaign from these portals, I would suggest you settle down and have a glass of whatever the Northampton Vintners can provide, and be satisfied that you have expressed you view.

  3. A lot to think about there, some very valid points. Be very interesting to see how this one unfolds.

  4. Quite an unholy trinity.
    But things can change, power may be migrating away from FIFA to the clubs

    May not happen, maybe FIFA will pacify them, but as,it stands from now, with an expired arrangement , FIFA cannot force clubs to release vp certain players for competitions. Maybe there could be a Qatar boycott? Ok maybe pigs might fly, but clubs should use this situation.
    Gary lineker says FIFA makes him feel nauseous, many would agree with him. But the likes of French socialist man of the people Platini also literally have blood on their hands over Qatar

  5. Tony,
    Excellent piece.
    ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) has in fact been disowned by the Qaeda through their mouthpieces as being too extremist!!!
    There is not a single more sinister entity than the Qatari rulers on this planet.
    As to Sarkozy, and other politicians, including the not-much-better Hollande, they all suck.
    France is opening fast-track immigration to about 30,000 to 35,000 Iraqi Christians who have been forced out of North-West Iraq by ISIS; of course, the French rulers want cheap labor as provided by the initial immigrants: eager to work hard to make themselves a place in society. The argument is that this time, they are poor Christian Arabs (not the Christian Lebanese richer and educated Arabs, nor the Muslim North African Arabs who came poor and worked extra hard to rebuild France) which is a win-win situation for the “tolerant” but full of prejudice French political class. Incidentally, these refugees, who are currently hosted in Lebanon by various churches, are culturally Semitic but not necessarily Arab, being Assyro-Chaldean.
    Let me get back to the point: There is also cash involved. The Qatari rulers will pay the French rulers to take over these refugees; this is clean ethnic cleansing; no apparent blood, just helping and allowing the extremists backed by the Qataris to rid Iraq of their Christian minority.
    Back to football, I have the feeling it will be pulled out under the Qataris’ noses when all the corrupt voters are out of office from FIFA, unless a new larger than ever round of mega-bribes is offered to the new FIFA officials.
    PS: When Brazil could not make progress on FIFA 1986, it was “moved” to Mexico as the Mexicans already had the infrastructure to hold the event. Would people agree to sit in a Qatari stadium if some extremist hack, versed in terrorism, decrees that our beloved sport is a manifestation of some Western satanic group?

  6. Firstly, I should start by saying I don’t like the idea of Qatar hosting the 2022 world cup just for one reason, because I think the decision was compromised.
    But when it comes to other reasons like the writer have pointed out, I will like to ask the writer did you know that Rusia is the best known for tackling America and RACISM, have you done any digging about that and don’t tell me you think we won’t have black players at Arsenal by 2018.
    Another example for me is Brazil did you do any digging about the people’s suffering: no electricity, water, e.t.c due to coroption I guess no and don’t forget the fact that there were protests before the world cup, still the competition went on. There are no fears for you that an Arsenal player could get attacked by an angry mob. You don’t for once feel you need to look into the mater.
    What I am trying to point out is that Qatar hosting the 2022 world cup have raised more tensions than expected.
    Please you will have to forgive me for saying and having the notion that we Muslims are being targeted badly all around the world. A vivid example is the United States, having spent more than ten years in Iraq trying to restore peace that was widely present before their presence. You also have countries like Palestine, Afghanistan, Lybia these are Islamic countries that have known no peace since the US invaded or them. You have Boko Haram here in Nigeria but the US are not concerned. You talk about Gadafi but forget about a Robert Mugabe who have been ruling Zimbabwe since 1980 till date.
    Also let me remind people that the United States fought the British to gain indipendece and already declared themselves indipendent before the british aproves it. This makes me wonder what those who fought for the emacipation of the US will feel like if they see the same country they fought for its freedom enslaving other countries. Even people like Washington (sorrry I forgot his full name) if he was a muslim will be labeled a terrorist or something of such now adays.
    All in all I don’t believe in war and fighting before u start thinkin I am a terrorist.
    I might have taken the discussion too far and I am sorry for that but being a Muslim these days is as hard as being a gunner during the drought, you are shuted up before you open your mouth, people say rediculos things about you and you read about how bad your religion is even where you least expect to see it.
    Hope we win something tangible this year, hope its a double.

  7. Awarding a World Cup to Qatar, is probably mostly about bankrolling a retirement fund for the Bladder. How else could someone retire with a billion dollars in the bank?

  8. Ray from Norfolk Virginia, You bring up some good points. Allow me to correct you about the 1986 World Cup, Columbia was to have been the host nation.The event was taken from them due to lack of infrastructure and fears about public safety because the drug cartels practically set policy in large parts of the country.

  9. Bill,
    Thank you, and I stand corrected. Colombia it was, and not Brazil, or Columbia (OH) or the District of Columbia in my backyard.
    I also believe that the Colombian drug cartels are less dangerous than ISIS.

  10. Not the article for this…Sorry, but had to vent out. Why is it “silverware” or a “trophy” for ManUre in the ICC, but the Emirates Cup isn’t? Which we won in ’07, ’09, and ’10.

  11. It’s all about money, that is why Qatar received the World Cup, they back-handed some powerful people with a lot of money. Simple as that.

  12. As Gerry says above, there is a bigger and sooner problem looming in the Russia World Cup. In Qatar corruption is far less a problem (because they are already rich) than in Russia, where it is endemic. The Russia winter olympics cost more than every previous winter tournament added together, but you wouldn’t know it from what we saw. Qatar’s alleged links to terrorism pale into insignificance compared to what Russia is doing to its neighbours right now, including the downing of that jet. And Qatar’s reach into football going beyond the FIFA tournament again is but nothing compared to the russian money being laundered into European club football. (Do we know of any roubles invested in London football perhaps?) Qatar 2022 will be a breath of fresh air after Moscow 2018.

  13. More Than 900 Workers Have Already Died Building Qatar’s World Cup Infrastructure

    The International Trade Union Confederation says that if conditions don’t improve, at least 4,000 migrants will die before kick-off.

    For comparison, 25 construction workers died during the preparations for Sochi. Only six workers have died during construction for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil that starts this summer.

    Money over lives matters at FIFA!

  14. Dear Ismail

    I can quite understand why you feel that Muslims are being given a very hard time at the moment. I am, like Tony, an atheist and no friend of any of the organized religions. Nor do I like terrorists whatever faith or creed they seek to promote. But surely, as human beings, we have a collective responsibility to hold our leaders to account. I don’t think (Muslim) Qatar should host the world cup because their human rights record is appalling. Nor should (Christian) Russia for the same reasons. FIFA is attempting to spread the game of footballer and that is a good thing, but not if it involves ignoring issues such as racism, homophobia or sexism.

    We need to make an example of states that flout international conventions of behaviour; they should be boycotted, banned from all sports and cultural competition and excluded from international decision making. I would start with Russia, Qatar and Isreal


  15. Qatar’s World Cup will probably not take place, mainly because this competition has 8 groups that need to play in 8 cities. Qatar has 1 (one) city only. No single city is capable of hosting such a major tournament.

    If you remember, Qatar was awarded WC 4 years in advance (together with Russia at same time). This is only to give them enough time to take it back and award it to…

    The new Emir in Qatar was put in place to reduce the country’s political influence around the region, but he has avoid changing course so far. This has gone so far that Saudi & UAE recently removed their top diplomats from Qatar as a protest to their support of extremists.

    I’m hearing from reliable sources involved in Qatar that the new ruler has ordered all construction on WC projects to cease for now, due to budget issues and rampant corruption. Perhaps he knows that Qatar 2022 will never take place and is cutting his losses.

    BTW, Tony, where in Arab world did you live in?

  16. so Russia’s human rights are worse than Americas and Britain,tell that to the blacks, Hispanic, and the dispossessed of the islands in the Indian Ocean so America could build a airbase. Has the resupply of armament to the israely army to kill more children not any better than than Isis philosophy.

  17. If FIFA remove the 2022 World cup from Qatar would some secret brown envelopes that we don’t know about have to be returned?

  18. seydlitz: Good point; imperialism / colonialism is a problem with all the big powers, including Russia, the UK and France. The three of these signed an agreement dismembering the Ottoman Empire, with the Russians pulling out when the Czar was eliminated. see also my answer to our fellow Arsenal supporter Ismail.

    Ismail: What is the matter? There is no islamophobia in any posts here. Attacking states that sponsor terrorism or terrorists-extremists who pretend to be Muslim is actually beneficiary to your religion. Absolute rulers who spend billions on holly wars are bad for any religion, including the SOQ and the KSA who support terrorists from Chechnya in the Middle East. I will add the more elegantly disguised “democracies” that want to protect their “freedoms (freedom to do what? to enjoy the “transparent” institutions that we have like the PGMOL?)
    As to Putin, he is coming in to a Russia that had all of its industrial riches sold at a farthing (or is it a farting? or a far thing?) for the ruble by his drunk predecessor (this gives us people like Roman and Rybobolev among others, not to forget our minority owner, all individuals who worked extra hard, like the emirs and sultans, for their fortune)… So Putin, using KGB methods, is trying to do the best for Russia, his way, and you are cringing? Ask the poor refugees in Syria what they think of Putin (indirect reason the Chechnyans are killing villagers across Syria) or the Qatari ruler (who has funded these “rebels” -rebels my donkey- who are fighting an “undemocratic Putin-like despot” -sarcasm quote marks in effect). Incidentally, and since I know tons of people who are born to your religion, how come they complain that the most extreme factions hold the rest as “hostage” from the standpoint of their interpretation of religious scripture?

  19. bjtgooner,
    You know that there are all kinds of people who advise emirs and sultans how to spend their money wisely…
    So, the brown envelopes, bags, attache-cases, and suitcases, will NOT be returned if the QWC is diverted.
    Or, the recipients could claim to have some amnesia or Alzheimer’s, like good old Jacques Chirac.

  20. CTV News is carrying a story about the Bladder being in Canada to open the Women’s U20 World Cup which starts next Tuesday.

    And good old Sepp, initiated talk about Canada bidding to host the World Cup. I gather some thought has been devoted to trying for 2026. But I really don’t know how much Canada could donate to the retirement funds of FIFA executives, not that the articles mentions that point. I gather Canada is the last of the G8 nations to host a World Cup.

  21. Er, yeah, claiming Russia is worse than Qatar is quite something. Nevermind that Russia is actually improving. But why bring up Russia, Zimbabwe, Brazil etc. at all? We’re discussing Qatar. And we’re really getting far off track here, but no one has actually proved that the Russians brought down that plane, all we have so far are accusations. Qatar’s support for ISIS is better than what Russia is doing? You’re having a laugh.

  22. Quincy,
    I think in French, then I write in English.
    My post was meant to attack the Qatari ruler.
    incidentally, I have met a couple of educated Qataris; without being in opposition to their emir (I say sultan as derision), they have a very good understanding of what is right and what is wrong, but they keep to themselves.
    The Russian ruler does have a problem (or two, or three, or four) but you could say the same about any European ruler, except the Swiss.
    But the Qatari ruler is a problem by himself, of the worst kind.

  23. ‘ismail’ am a christian ad i hated d catholic 4 d holy wars bcos dats nt wat christianity stand 4, instead of backin ur religious extremists kindly distance urself 4rm them except u support dere act of cruelty 2 d human race.

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