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“It`s complicated” – My relationship status with the World Cup in Qatar

6 min read

We have to talk about Qatar.

Representational image. Wikimedia Commons.

Do you remember back in the days, around that time when the World Cup for Qatar was announced, people used a lot the “It`s complicated” -relationship status on Facebook? If you google now this phrase, you will find this definition of the status: “Complicated status can be clearly defined as being with someone, but not being with them in an actual fully committed relationship“.

Well, that describes my relationship with football and particularly this World Cup in Qatar pretty much to the point. I am definitely with football, but not at all committed to FIFA or the World Cup in Qatar. And this is why we have to talk about it.  

This is a moral conflict in me that urges me to speak out, even if it probably will not affect the outcome or generate any interest. Not only because of the corruption of the “Fédération Internationale de Football Association” or the human right violations of the hosting nation itself. We have to talk about Qatar for the future of our planet and the future of the sport itself.

Football is life

I have been a passionate football fan. Since 1990 West Germany -Captain Lothar Matthäus lifted the 6,1 kg heavy World Cup trophy I have been in love with football and its heroes. I have had two passions in my early life: football and politics. For me, those two have always belonged together in some way. For example, the 1990 World Cup in Italy, the cup was lifted by the old Republic West Germany, soon to be replaced by unified Germany. In the European Championships 1992 in Sweden, Yugoslavia was disqualified because of the breakup of the state only shortly before the tournament was starting. Their replacement, Denmark, won the championship.

In my opinion, politics and sport cannot be separated because the sport itself is a reflection of who we are. This is also why football plays also a big role in my personal life. It is no coincidence that I wore a DFB-Jersey during the quarter finals between Germany and Italy in the Euros 2016. During that match my daughter was born. Football for me are my roots to Germany, my birth country and football is the main reason I made friends that I like to visit as often as possible and watch matches of Eintracht Braunschweig together.

Football connects me to people and that is a statement as well.

The iceberg in the desert

The more concerned I am that with the starting World Cup in Qatar and the 12 years of debate which has followed the event, nothing has happened to prevent this event of taking place. On the contrary, Qatar and other autocratic states have an even tighter grip on businesses, world leaders or organisations like FIFA. Some believe the biggest sporting event on the planet is the tip of the iceberg. I believe that sadly this is only the beginning of sport being influenced and misused by super rich countries like Qatar.

In the TV-Series “The good place” some unfortunate people end, after their death, in a bad place disguised as a the good one. Trying to get into the real good place, the soon learn, that nobody has entered the place in decades. Using a +/- System, after life -bureaucrats decide which persons get into the good place and which do not. As it turns out, the system is not ridged as the main characters in the show first believe: life itself is only more complex than it ever was and living your life as a good person doing good things is not working anymore.

Complexity prevails

I am pretty sure that watching the football world cup in Qatar would lead to many negative points in your “good place” scoreboard even if you yourself have for example donated money to Amnesty International and told your friends and family how a corrupt state Qatar really is.

The complexity of the world makes you a bad person anyway. If you have nothing to do with football you still have a hard time avoiding TV-Broadcasters who paid millions for the world cup broadcasting rights. In Germany, state broadcasters ARD/ZDF paid 214 million euros to show the show this event. In Finland I have to pay 163 euros in a year for the so called “Yle-tax”. The state broadcaster Yle paid multiple millions for the right to broadcast the World Cup in Qatar.

You also have a hard time to avoid companies or countries which do business with Qatar. Let’s take an example: Germany. The politicians of the world cup winner of 2014 have been so silent about the competition that it is almost hurting your ears. This has one simple reason: German dependency. The state of Germany is looking for alternative energy resources for Russian oil and gas. A potential partner has been Qatar, one of the oil and gas richest country in the world. Germany need short-term alternatives for Russian energy and Qatar knows this.

German dependency does not unfortunately stop within the state. Many German-based companies like Siemens, Volkswagen, Hapag-Lloyd and Deutsche Bank have given between 3 to 12 % of their stocks to Qatar. Latest the energy company RWE is joining the club. Deutsche Bahn has been building the railway-system in Qatar. Also, the German Bundesliga, DFL, has been paid 40 million Euros for TV-Rights in the middle east. Qatar is also sponsoring the top club FC Bayern Munich.

The super soft power

The double morality and complexity of the world is also exactly the reason why Qatar is now a soft power superstate. Qatar has no real interest in football. It might be the crown jewel in a long list of sport events held in Qatar previously, but it is certainly not more than a sportswashing event. Image is everything for the House of Thani and if you cannot get the worlds respect, they can buy your silence.

This silence of politicians and organisations is achieved by the soft power capital which has been systematically build by Qatar officials for decades. Qatar has manage being a power between powers. For example. when Afghanistan was taken over from the Taliban in 2021, Qatar had been sponsoring the Taliban’s for a while and even flew some Taliban leaders back to Kabul. At the same it flew refugees and western allied partners out of Afghanistan.

In the end, Qatar is acting like a risk investor manager managing it stock portfolio: you do not put all your eggs in one basket, you divide your risk. And let me be clear, Qatar has a lot of eggs and baskets. And if the achieved silence is not silent enough, you have always good believing fools like FIFA President Gianni Infantino reflecting the lightning towards himself.

What can you do?

Well, what can you do? I have to acknowledge that it is a growing unsatisfied relationship with football. However, it is not that football is a separate island of the rest of the world. In these days it is hard to find a company or service not in relationship with an autocratic state.

This is why talking about the World Cup in Qatar is so important: to make it visible and to not look away in order to identify other similar structures in our society. I believe it is even more important to keep talking than to answer the question should you boycott the games or not.

Life itself is complicated and rarely black and white. Football is no exception.

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