International trade unions have stepped up pressure on Qatar with a series of demands, a majority of which the Gulf state could implement without having to reform its autocracy or threaten the privileged position of its citizenry who account for a mere 12 percent of the population and fear that change could cost them control of their culture and society.
Embattled World Cup host Qatar is sending contradictory messages as it struggles with demands to improve migrant labour conditions and mounting questions about the integrity of its successful FIFA bid, confronts the fall-out of dropping energy prices, and seeks to project itself as both a key Western ally and a useful conduit to more militant Islamist forces.
Never missing an opportunity to shoot itself in the foot, 2022 World Cup-host Qatar has adopted a new law that is more likely to convince critics that it aims to put a friendly face on its controversial kafala or sponsorship system rather than radically reform a legal framework that trade unions and human rights activists have dubbed modern slavery.
A Swiss government-sponsored unit of the Paris-based OECD has defined world soccer body FIFA as a multi-national bound by the group's guidelines. As a result, the group concluded that FIFA is responsible for the upholding of the human and labour rights of workers employed in Qatar on 2022 World Cup-related projects.
By justifying the call on theological grounds and drawing on a parable of Omar Ibn al-Khattab, one of the 7th century's first four successors of the Prophet Mohammed, widely viewed by even the most conservative or militant Muslims as the righteous caliphs, Sheikh Ali Al Qaradaghi made it more difficult for Qatar and other Gulf states to justify evading radical labor reforms.
Walking around Qatar's monumental Aspire Dome sports academy, coach Fred Engh noticed kids playing soccer on an indoor field big enough to accommodate four teams simultaneously during a break in an annual gathering of hundreds of sports leaders designed to project the Gulf state as an innovative, socially responsible global sports hub.
World Cup host Qatar is discovering the reputational risk involved in hosting high-profile mega sporting events. Qatar Airways' sponsorship of FC Barcelona is producing exactly the kind of publicity that is a corporate sponsor's worst nightmare while a Swiss investigation of the Qatari World Cup bid threatens to expose questionable financial dealings that will fuel demands for withdrawing the tournament from the Gulf state.
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.