According to an article in Le Monde, there are calls in France to boycott the FIFA World Cup tournament to be held in Qatar next month. Some municipalities in France, wrote Benjamin Bart, will not arrange public screenings for supporters to watch matches. This, he claimed, is an inconvenience for Qatar as it prepares for a real “culture shock”.
Qataris are proud to be the first Arab country to host this major global event, but are also concerned because 1.5 million foreign football fans are expected in a country about the size of Ile-de-France, with a population of 2.9m people, 10 per cent of whom are Qataris, with the rest migrant workers.
With an expected 1,600 flights per day during the month-long tournament — an aircraft landing every 50 seconds on average — this will have an impact. One of the sources quoted, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of angering the Qatari authorities, wishes the tournament every success, but wonders about crowd management and the means to test all of the visitors for Covid.
The French criticism is being received badly in Qatar. France may feel that it has the moral high ground, but Qataris are asking why it doesn’t do more to help migrants on its own shores instead of criticising Qatar for the alleged bad treatment of migrant workers, many of whom have built the tournament infrastructure. There is a general feeling that the complaints are intended solely to discredit Qatar.
One source quoted points out that Qatar is a Muslim country with an Islamic value system, and football fans should respect these values, including attitudes towards gay rights. Critics should stop politicising everything, he added, this is just a football tournament.
One Qatari businessman who studied in France and still has connections there, complained that all the stories about migrant workers and gay rights do not hold up. Some French people, he insisted, simply do not accept that an Arab Muslim country has been given the right to host the prestigious FIFA World Cup. Little was heard about the World Cup in Russia in 2018, when Putin’s army was bombing Syria and already occupying part of Ukraine, he noted.
“The working conditions of foreign workers are a real problem,” accepted the businessman. “However, there is excessive focus on the issue, which is the product of Islamophobia being reported by some media. France should show more interest in the Arab world; its image in the region is deteriorating.”
The Emir of Qatar, Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, told Le Point last month that he acknowledged that some criticism was legitimate, and his country has responded with labour law reforms. He added that those who do not accept that an Arab Muslim country like Qatar is hosting the World Cup will find any excuse to discredit it.
As for the expected culture clash, one Arab expatriate who lives in Qatar, said that foreign visitors will find a country that has managed to do in two generations what the West took two centuries to do.
The report concluded by talking about a merchant who runs a small souvenir shop in Souq Waqif, the tourist heart of Doha. Indians like Chad Khan make up about a quarter of the population. As part of the immigrant middle class which often goes unnoticed, he can hardly wait to see football fans in the country to make up for two tough pandemic years. He has bought tickets for the second Qatar match, which will be against Senegal. He supports the Qatari national team because he lives and works in Qatar, a country which has given him everything.