The sport that hundreds of millions of people are so passionate about mobilizes political and economic forces. No doubt it deserves a more transparent, clean and effective governance structure. However, these efforts will not take place on neutral ground, but in the midst of fierce competition for power and international influence.
A promise by Qatari labour and social affairs minister Abdullah Saleh Mubarak al-Khulaifi to reform the Gulf state's controversial kafala or labour sponsorship system by the end of this year is likely to cut little ice with human rights and trade union activists who four years after Qatar won the right to host the 2022 World Cup are demanding deeds rather than words.
A resolution by the International Labour Organization (ILO) to postpone until November a decision to investigate Qatar on charges of violating the Forced Labour and Labour Inspection Conventions is likely to boost the Gulf state's ability to defeat any attempt to strip it of the right to host the 2022 World Cup at next month's congress of world soccer body FIFA.
A warning by world soccer body FIFA president Sepp Blatter following talks this weekend with Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani that Qatar needs to do more to improve the working and living conditions of its migrant workers is the latest signal that Qatar will have to take substantive steps to fend off attempts to deprive it of its 2022 World Cup hosting rights.
Sports is a cultural public diplomacy tool for Qatar to embed and endear itself at multiple layers of the international community. To achieve that however, it has to be seen as a forward looking 21st century state rather than a wealthy energy producer that adheres to no longer acceptable concepts of human and labour relations.
Egyptian-general-turned-president Abdel Fattah Al Sisi's efforts to lend legitimacy to parliamentary elections scheduled for this spring have gotten off to a murky start with the appointment of a controversial, reportedly United Arab Emirates-backed human rights NGO as one of five foreign election monitors.
The adoption of a human rights declaration by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that was designed to shield wealthy Gulf monarchies including 2022 World Cup host Qatar from criticism by human rights and trade union activists is likely to increase pressure on the sports-focused Gulf state to significantly alter its controversial migrant labour system.