On Sunday, November 20, the FIFA World Cup began in Qatar - the first in history to be held in autumn and winter. But it will be the first in many other respects - no football championship has ever been so politicized, when corruption and human rights are discussed even more than the composition of teams that can win the tournament.
This is a conflict that has no solution either during the championship or after. Western countries insist that the human rights protection system is universal for the whole world. In Qatar, they do not think so: this is a state with strict Islamic laws - as they are understood here. In the country, the rights of men and women are not equal, for same-sex relationships you can get a term. Labor migrants are significantly deprived of their rights compared to citizens, to the extent that workers need to obtain permission not only to enter, but also to leave the country.
Qatar has become the first Arab country in history to host the World Cup. Sharia law applies here. The Qatari authorities asked visiting women to dress more modestly, but promised that they would not be prosecuted for their appearance that did not correspond to the religious canon.
As in other countries of the region, alcohol is almost completely banned in Qatar, it is sold only in expensive hotels. After long negotiations and pressure from sponsors - beer companies - Qatar initially made unprecedented concessions, but two days before the start of the tournament, they slightly changed their initial decisions.
The political campaign against Qatar has been criticized as selective, hypocritical and double standards. And some, such as China, have found an opportunity to exploit this apparent Western dislike of the first Arab and Muslim nation to host the World Cup. In addition to the Chinese construction company that built the Lusaid Stadium, which will host the World Cup final, other firms have supplied everything "Made in China" for the tournament - from large LED screens, solar power and clean energy vehicles to flags and decorative pillows.
China has also been punished in the past during the 2022 Winter Olympics with diplomatic boycotts and similar media campaigns for its persecution of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. There is no doubt that the motivation for such campaigns was justified. But these kinds of media campaigns can harm the democratic world for at least two reasons. First, they signal that Western countries, especially Europeans, will seek to maintain their hegemony in football through politics. Second, they encourage China (and other rivals) to score geopolitical points by doubling down on small countries' dissatisfaction with these excessive media attacks and positioning China as a viable alternative and credible leader of the Global South.