Americans have fallen in love with soccer. The recent excitement as the nation cheered the U.S. team into the round of 16 at the World Cup in Brazil has brought in fresh and new electricity around the sport. The wave of support that swept across the U.S. this summer proves that football, as the rest of the world calls it, is a growing and powerful professional spectator event.
As with the venerable Olympics, there is no denying that international sporting extravaganzas like the World Cup are highly political proceedings. The process to host such an event is like running a political campaign combined with the vanity of a beauty pageant. World leaders flock to attend the festivities depending on the crises of the moment.
Spectators and fans deserve more. We should be able to enjoy world-class competition without the shadow of corruption, favoritism and scandals.
Qatar, the host of the 2022 World Cup is already disappointing football fans hoping for a corruption-free event. Even if we were to ignore the disturbing reports of blatant bribery and suspicious gifting of FIFA officials, the practical circumstances surrounding the selection of the tiny Persian Gulf country of Qatar as host of the games has raised many troubling questions. Why did FIFA choose to host its greatest athletic competition in a country where mid-July temperatures often reach 124 degrees? The heat, which serves as a severe health hazard to players and fans, was promised to be managed by use of unproven technology of the future. However, the discussion of now likely moving the Cup to January has proven that rhetoric to be either overly-generous in dreamy optimism or dripping in deception. Either reason should give pause to whether or not FIFA considered the scientific feasibility allowing Qatar to host the event.
In addition to the technological and pragmatic challenges, the historical lack of conscience in the cultural consciousness in Qatar is disturbing. The deplorable work conditions and culture of migrant worker slave labor in the seemingly unending construction of Doha, Qatar's capital city, should have caused FIFA to hesitate in awarding this government with the World Cup. And, given the outcry against Russia for its discriminatory laws during the Winter Olympics, why did FIFA proceed to choose a country whose hostility toward gays and women is abhorrent?
Further, the Qatari political and judicial systems are not trustworthy. In 2010, a Qatari official was already banned by FIFA on corruption charges, setting the stage for similar allegations with regard to their bid for 2022. A major report by the International Trade Union Confederation documented thousands of migrant workers who have died in the last couple of years without legal protection. Their blood has been spilt without recompense to their families, but these discriminated people will nevertheless bear the brunt of building the new World Cup stadiums, hotels and national landmarks. Worse still, Qatar has hosted the leaders of the Taliban and Hamas. Hamas's leadership, which receives weapons and funding from the Qatari government, has been giving orders in the recent Gaza war from its residences in the Qatari capital. To make matters even more convoluted, the leader of the political arm of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, is now living comfortably in Doha alongside the five Taliban prisoners freed in exchange for U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl.
I have also had a personal brush with Qatar's judicial corruption. My sister and her husband, Grace and Matt Huang, were living in Qatar, where Matt was working as an engineer. After the sudden death of their adopted special needs daughter, they were wildly accused of murdering her for the purpose of harvesting and experimenting on her organs. Grace and Matt were thrown in prison and convicted without a shred of scientific evidence against them. Although they have appealed the conviction, they still face a fraudulent judicial system that isn't based on law or due process, but instead lies in the whims and personal ambitions of Qatar's political elite.
Are foreigners safe to travel to Qatar for a major sporting event? Americans and other travelers around the world should take note of the corruption, violence and danger that marks the World Cup's new host. It is time for FIFA to step up to the plate out of their responsibility to fans of football worldwide. FIFA needs to make the necessary decision to re-vote on the matter and remove Qatar from hosting the World Cup in 2022.