The 2022 World Cup in Qatar is an opportunity to unite around human rights

Ian Rosenzweig ’25

During the 2022 FIFA World Cup’s roughly month-long run, Haverford’s halls have been abuzz with discussion and debate surrounding the once-every-four-years soccer tournament. Excitement and expectation are almost palpable when matches are projected during class or on the big screen in the Durham Community Room. Yet, some of the talk surrounding the event is anything but positive. Concerns about host nation Qatar’s human rights abuses, especially against homosexual individuals, as well as poor labor conditions in the host nation, have gained significant media coverage and are hard to ignore. 

Conversations on the national and international stages are no different from those at Haverford. Some projections estimate that 5 billion people—more than half the world’s population—will tune into World Cup action at some point. Many major media networks cover the athletic action daily while also updating viewers on statements from FIFA officials, international governments, and human rights groups. While our school community engages in the joys of such a significant international event, and some teachers even incorporate matches into class time, it is imperative that we also recognize the political impact that the 2022 FIFA World Cup has. 

It is a school’s responsibility to prepare its students for the world around them. 

Ignorance isn’t bliss. It’s dangerous.

Preparation for the 2022 World Cup began in Qatar in 2010, as soon as the country received the rights to host the 2022 event. The nation constructed seven stadiums as well as other pieces of infrastructure such as hotels and airports. Amidst varying reports of poor working conditions, Qatar eventually confirmed that at least three work-related deaths had occurred in the stadium construction process, and officials later admitted to the deaths of at least 400 workers during the twelve-year preparation process. 

Al-Janoub Stadium under construction in 2019 – Matt Kieffer via Wikimedia Commons

Furthermore, human rights group Amnesty International reported “appalling living conditions,” “lies about salaries,” and also indicated that some employers have confiscated laborers’ passports, essentially trapping them in-nation. Amnesty International’s condemnation only refers to the abuse of workers on World Cup-related projects, but accounts have exposed countless abuses of migrant laborers in the general Qatari workforce. In 2021, The Guardian reported 6,500 total migrant deaths in the nation. Not all of these deaths are attributable to World Cup preparation, but the figure is still relevant. Considering that 90% of Qatar’s workforce is foreign, mainly from southeast Asia, the lack of workplace transparency is especially concerning.

The significant human rights abuses in Qatar as well as the human cost of 2022’s World Cup are glaring.

While the U.S. State Department has reported meaningful improvements in Qatari labor conditions in recent years, and Qatari Secretary General of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, Hassan al-Thawadi, acknowledged the need for labor reform, the lack of clarity regarding casualties is a cause for alarm, especially in a country that claims to be improving its record for labor conditions.

In addition to the “appalling labor conditions,” Qatar’s human rights record is grim.  Homosexuality is criminalized in the country even though the national constitution promises equality among citizens. Khalid Salman, Qatar’s FIFA World Cup ambassador, referred to homosexuality as “damage in the mind.” 

The significant human rights abuses in Qatar as well as the human cost of 2022’s World Cup are glaring. Even if the employers of World Cup laborers and Qatari government policy were not the cause of many deaths, it is impossible to ignore the host nation’s discrimination against some of its citizens. What better time could there be to unite around human rights and inspire real change in the world? 

Moreover, the blatant anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment in Qatar is concerning to many World Cup athletes. Multiple soccer teams planned to wear rainbow armbands at their matches in support of the LGBTQ+ community, but FIFA threatened sanctions against players who do so

While many teams have been adamant about their support for human rights in Qatar, The Washington Post reported that FIFA President Gianni Infantino “appeared to cast questions about the treatment of migrant workers and discrimination against LGBTQ+ people as attempts to sow division in the world” in remarks to the press. Infantino’s sentiment was, with good reason, criticized for its lack of support for marginalized individuals in Qatar, but his message actually strikes an important note: sport is meant to encourage unity and camaraderie, not cause divisiveness. Rather than oppose calls for change, FIFA should be rallying behind its own message of unity and creating channels for diplomacy — not standing against human rights in favor of active opposition to any change to a discriminatory status quo.

We would be remiss not to use this rare opportunity to confront matters of international importance

It is the international community’s responsibility to confront human rights abuses whenever and wherever they arise. Infantino’s apparent rejection of calls for change and condemnation of Qatar is a sign of his unwillingness to use his platform to do good in the world. Yet, many groups’ demands that Qatar be sanctioned or forced to change its laws strike a similarly hostile tone. 

With the great unifying nature of athletics, the opportunity to make a change, and the world’s focus still on Qatar, there is a clear and prudent diplomatic path forward. 

If human rights groups and national teams expressed a desire to improve the world through meaningful changes in Qatari policy, and FIFA and Qatar were open to criticism and amenable to discussion, real, lasting change could be made—rather than the creation of hostile relationships and unwillingness to confront issues civilly. 

It is time to unite around human rights and make real change through the pre-existing camaraderie of the World Cup, not by using the World Cup as a platform to do lip service and make blanket statements of condemnation without actually taking action.

International government officials and Qatari authorities have the opportunity to use the environment of the World Cup to write policies and create protections for labor conditions in Qatar. FIFA can stand as a unifying partner in the fight against abusive conditions, and government officials can actively make reforms.

While the World Cup is undoubtedly an opportunity for international diplomacy, it is also an opportunity for Haverford to teach lessons about the fight for the human rights that we are so privileged to enjoy, as well as the potential of sports to inspire unity and change. The school’s Global Studies and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs have already capitalized on the World Cup to teach our community about diverse cultures and countries, but we can do more. Especially in the upper school, where matches are televised for students with free periods, Haverford can actively explain the situation surrounding human rights in Qatar and discuss the hard issues. 

The appearance of soccer matches on screens in community spaces and in classrooms is a fun treat for our student body, but we would be remiss not to use this rare opportunity to confront matters of international importance and teach developing minds about the world in which we live and the people whom we share a responsibility to protect.

Author: Ian Rosenzweig '25

Ian Rosenzweig currently serves as Academics Editor and writer. He has also served as the editing director for The Foreign Policy Youth Collaborative, a youth nonprofit organization, for whom he has written content regarding international and domestic policy. His poem "Faithful Return" won the 2022 Berniece L. Fox Classics Writing Contest. In February 2023, three of his articles earned honorable mention recognition from the Philadelphia-area Scholastic Writing Awards.