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SITUATION UPDATE 15 November, 2022 Back

Situation Update - FIFA 2022 World Cup kicks off in Qatar 20.11.22

Henry Newcombe

FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar

Summary

  • Qatar is set to host the FIFA Men’s World Cup from 20 November to 18 December with the country anticipating over 1.2 million visitors across 29 days.
  • Since being awarded the right to host the World Cup in 2010, controversy has surrounded the decision as a result of allegations of corruption, mistreatment of migrant workers and potential treatment of foreign travellers, leading to consistent calls to boycott the tournament.
  • Qatar is estimated to have spent over 220 billion USD to host the tournament compared to the 14.2 billion USD spent by Russia in 2018.
  • The high-profile nature of the World Cup, with an estimated five billion people expected to watch, has renewed security concerns on the potential use of the platform to further political objectives through demonstrations or violence.
  • The small geographical area in which the event will be taking place has also brought concerns on the close proximity of rival fans following previous bouts of hooliganism at major international tournaments.
  • Being the first Middle Eastern country to host the World Cup, cultural consideration has been advised by international governments for those who plan to attend.

Situation

Qatar is set to host the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup football tournament from 20 November to 18 December with the country expecting over 1.2 million visitors across the 29 days, equivalent to approximately half Qatar’s population. The FIFA World Cup remains one of the largest sporting events in the world with FIFA President Gianni Infantino announcing in May that the tournament is expected to be watched by five billion people globally, with the 2018 World Cup in Russia generating over five billion USD in revenue.

Qatar is the first Middle Eastern and the smallest nation to ever host the World Cup, although controversy has continued to surround the event as far back as 2010 when Doha was originally awarded the tournament. Allegations that corruption led to Qatar being awarded the World Cup have persisted despite there being no chain of evidence to support such a claim. Not only has FIFA conducted their own inquiry and found no significant concerns, but Qatar has maintained its innocence in any allegations of corruption. However, questions appear to have remained as a result of FIFA having ignored previous standards set on what countries must be able to offer to host the prestigious tournament. Evidencing this, on 8 November, former FIFA President Sepp Blatter called the awarding of the tournament to Qatar a “mistake”, despite having been presiding over the organisation in 2010, and alleged political pressure had led to the decision. Claims FIFA and Qatar continue to deny.

A pertinent question surrounding Qatar’s selection was the lack of available infrastructure to be used for the tournament. In order to address this, Qatar has built seven football stadiums as well as a new airport, metro system, major road infrastructure and an estimated 100 new hotels. Moreover, an entire city is reported to have been built around the new Lusail Stadium. Consequently, as Qatar has striven to build the required infrastructure, questions have arisen over the country’s treatment of the 30,000 foreign labourers who were hired across ten years. Highlighting the extent of concerns, in February 2021, a report by the Guardian estimated that about 6,500 workers from South Asia have died whilst working in Qatar since being awarded the tournament, a figure the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has called an underestimate. Qatari authorities, however, pointed to the fact this was a blanket figure, rather than being directly related to the World Cup, instead outlining that only 37 deaths were amongst workers directly related to the construction of World Cup stadiums, of which 34 were classified as “non-work related”. However, Doha does acknowledge the high number of deaths related to the event, with rights groups such as Amnesty International continuing to criticise Qatar’s failure to investigate the deaths. Broader questions have also been raised on the treatment of migrant workers who are reported to have lived in poor conditions, forced to pay recruitment fees whilst wages and passports are also alleged to have been withheld. As such, the treatment of migrant workers has been seen as a microcosm of wider concerns surrounding human rights in Qatar.

As the tournament draws closer, attention has shifted to the potential treatment of foreign travellers as they go to watch the football, with a specific focus on the LGBTQ+ community as a result of homosexuality being illegal in Qatar. Concerns were most clearly demonstrated on 8 November when, in an interview with German broadcaster ZDF, Qatar’s World Cup ambassador, Khalid Salman, is reported to have described homosexuality as “damage in the mind”. Moreover, he argued that, as visitors arrive in Qatar for the World Cup, "they have to accept our rules", stating that homosexuality is "haram", meaning forbidden. Additionally, on 24 October, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report that detailed six separate cases of alleged police abuse directed toward members of the LGBTQ+ community between 2019 and 2022, claims Qatar deny.

Criticism of Qatar has continued to grow louder in recent weeks, including public calls for a boycott of the tournament as part of the Boycott Qatar 2022 campaign. Most recently, across the weekend of 12-13 November, thousands of fans in Germany called for the country to boycott the tournament by holding banners at a number of Bundesliga football matches in Hamburg, Berlin and a number of other major cities. Despite this, by this point, any form of boycott is unlikely with 12 years of criticism having not led to any country to pull out of the tournament.

Analysis and Implications

With controversary having only added to the enormity of the task Qatar has undertaken to host the FIFA World Cup, , Qatar has implemented an array of safety and security architecture in a bid to ensure the tournament runs as smoothly as possible. Notably, Qatar has spent an estimated 220 billion USD to host this year’s tournament, compared to the estimated 14.2 billion USD spent by Russia in 2018 and the 11.6 billion USD by Brazil in 2014.

Regarding the potential for attack, Qatar has not experienced a terrorist attack since 2005 when an Egyptian national carried out a suicide car bombing at the Doha Players Theatre, killing one person and injuring 12 others. The attack led to a legacy of heightened security measures surrounding locations most frequented by travellers, which have only increased further ahead of the World Cup. Security services believe there is currently no credible threats of attack against the World Cup, with a large security presence set to be notable. However, the influx of tourists to Qatar could be seen as an attractive target for those seeking to carry out a mass-casualty attack, most likely related to the large US military presence in the country. Consequently, travellers are advised to remain clear of the Udeid Air Base, currently home to approximately 10,000 American service personnel. Although the potential for militancy is always present, particularly as a result of the high-profile nature of the tournament, the likelihood of an attack remains low.

In a bid to mitigate against the potential threat an extensive security network is reported to have been implemented under a counter-terrorism operation dubbed “Operation World Cup Shield”. As part of this, Qatar is said to have struck an agreement with Turkey who has deployed a warship, an Ada-class ASW corvette named TCG Burgazada, to the port city of Izmir. Ankara is also reported to have deployed 3,000 riot police to Qatar in support of their security operations. Doha is also said to have struck a number of agreements with international partners including the UK, which has deployed a squadron of Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 aircraft to the country. Security deployments are reported to have begun on 1 November, in the build-up the tournament, before security levels will be reduced on 18 December in a bid to ensure that visitors are protected following the end of the tournament.

The World Cup has also put a spotlight on several human rights issues in Qatar, which may spark protests during the event, posing security concerns for the tournament. Civil unrest in Qatar remains rare, meaning that any materialisation of protests is most likely to come because of actions by international groups or foreign travellers. Protests could be organised, coming from a group looking to utilise the heightened attention placed on the country to address domestic human rights concerns. Human rights and civil society organisations have long criticized Qatar’s labour laws, claiming foreign workers are denied basic rights and freedoms and may use the World Cup as a platform to try and highlight this to a larger audience. Protests also have the potential to be reactionary, probably in response to the acts or decisions made by security personnel towards visiting fans. Incidents which would most likely evoke the strongest response could include the arrest of travellers alleged to be in violation of Qatar’s conservative traditions and laws, such as previous incidents recorded by HRW against members of the LGBTQ+ community. Protests are most likely to remain small, with a swift security response likely to mitigate against escalation. However, reactionary incidents still have the potential to lead to unrest or even violence. Such incidents have the potential for foreign travellers to be deported from Qatar. Evidencing this, according to human and labour rights advocacy group, Equidem, on 22 August, following a rare demonstration, an unconfirmed number of migrant workers were deported as punishment for their alleged participation. Thus highlighting the potential consequences of protest action.

In a bid to avoid any potential disruption, the UK government has advised that travellers “be aware of your actions to ensure they don’t offend”. This is said to include avoiding “overt public displays of affection so not to attract unwanted attention” and dressing conservatively, minimising the amount of skin exposed and avoiding tight clothing. Women have also been advised to cover their hair entirely whilst tourists are advised that hotels may ask for proof of marriage in order to check in.

Additionally, travellers, journalists and content creators have been warned to exercise caution due to the potential legal repercussions associated with distributing disinformation or any publications critical of the royal family. In January 2020, a new law also made the publication of “fake news” punishable by up to five years in prison or a fine of 100,000 riyals (27,400 USD). As such, numerous journalist detentions have been reported in recent years. All travellers are advised to avoid taking photographs of any locations that could be deemed sensitive, such as government buildings, military bases and religious sites. Travellers are also advised to remain vigilant virtually when utilising social media platforms. It comes as UK Foreign Affairs Select Committee chair, Alicia Kearns, recommended in November that those attending the tournament “buy and use burner phones” due to concerns surrounding possible cyber and communications monitoring by Qatar. Whilst the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office clarified this recommendation does not reflect the UK’s official position, they also outlined that care should be taken online.

Concerns also surround the small geographical area in which fans will be gathering for the matches, with the population of Qatar expected to swell by over 400,000 per day, making it more difficult to keep crowds of fans separate. This brings the potential for bouts of hooliganism leading to both violence and vandalism that has been recorded at previous major tournaments including both the FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Finals. In a bid to redress concerns, Qatari officials are reported to have established a multi-national security presence featuring personnel from various countries said to include Turkey, France and the UK. Moreover, countries worldwide have announced bans to football fans who have previously been convicted of disorder in relation to domestic leagues, with the UK’s Home Office having banned over 1,300 people from attending the tournament.

Additionally, the World Cup is the first to be held in a Middle Eastern nation with strict controls on the sale and consumption of alcohol, which will also likely reduce the potential for hooliganism. Authorities in Qatar have reportedly received special training to handle public intoxication and other unruly fan behaviour that is not typically seen in the Gulf country. This purportedly includes refraining from sending individuals who commit minor infractions to prosecution. Still, travellers are advised to be conscientious of local customs and avoid consuming alcohol in public due to the potential legal repercussions.

Similar to any crowded public event, a major threat posed to World Cup visitors is likely to stem from street crime. While the overall crime rate in Qatar is low, with reports of petty theft, including purse snatching and pickpocketing, infrequent, the influx of tourists to Doha during the tournament is likely to cause such incidents to spike temporarily. As in larger cities around the world, reasonable precautions can mitigate the risk of becoming a victim of many forms of crime. Individuals are advised to avoid conspicuous displays of wealth, which could result in targeting by criminals. Travellers should also avoid carrying large amounts of cash and valuables on their person. Foreign nationals are also encouraged to have coloured photocopies of their passport and visa. Furthermore, personal belongings should never be left unattended in public locations.

Violent crime is also uncommon in most areas of the Gulf country, including Doha. However, visitors are advised to avoid Qatari labour camps, where living conditions are generally poor and fuel occasional bouts of unrest. The Industrial Area on the outskirts of Doha houses a large number of migrant workers and may play host to such clashes.

Due to the relatively small size of Qatar, the country will contend with almost all visitors residing in or around Doha. Only 53 miles separate the northern and southernmost stadiums, leading to a high concentration of tourists in the capital which will inevitably place strains on the country’s transport infrastructure. Moreover, road closures as a result of the tournament are expected to further disruption throughout the city, with major congestion anticipated throughout Doha. The group stages of the tournament, between 20 November and 2 December, is set to be the most intense period of transportation disruption, with all most every day having fans travel to the four matches taking place. Beyond the stadiums, major congestion should be anticipated around the FIFA Fan Festival located in al Bidda Park which has a capacity of 40,000 and will remain open throughout the tournament.

From 1 November to 23 December, the only tourists allowed to enter Qatar will be visitors with Hayya Cards, with international visitors only able to ascertain one if they hold a match ticket. The Hayya Card is an identification card that serves as an entry permit to Qatar and a stadium access pass. However, ticket holders can reportedly link their Hayya Card to three non-ticketed visitors to enter with them during the World Cup. Regarding COVID-19, Qatari officials repealed most of the country’s restrictions on 1 November, with PCR or rapid tests no longer required to gain entry to the country.

In addition to tourism in Qatar, the World Cup is expected to fuel travel throughout other Gulf countries as well, given the relatively short distance between Qatar and its neighbours. In light of possible accommodation shortages, airlines in Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE are expected to operate 160 daily shuttle flights for ticket holders intended for fans to watch a match and return to their city of origin within 24 hours. As such, weekly flights from Saudi Arabia to Qatar are expected to increase from the typical six to 240 during the tournament and thousands of visitors are expected to enter Qatar through the Abu Samra border crossing. Consequently, transport disruptions should be anticipated when travelling to any of Qatar’s neighbours including Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Concerns have also previously been raised on the preparedness of Qatar’s Hamad International Airport with British news outlets in October having previously alleged that the transport hub is “not ready”, a claim Doha has described as “misinformed”.

With the World Cup beginning in the wake of the COP27 climate summit, the increased number of flights from neighbouring countries to Qatar, as a result of the country’s small geographical area, has also received criticism. Such criticism has the potential to bring about climate related protests in any of the associated locations. This comes in spite of Qatar advertising that the tournament will be the first “carbon neutral” World Cup, with Doha pointing to new energy projects to balance the footprint including the commitment to plant a million trees and further convert transport options into electric energy. Despite the alleged goal, climate groups do not believe the tournament can be described in this manner.

Advice

  • Be ready for possible transport and business disruptions when travelling throughout Qatar, particularly Doha, due to the major influx in travellers.
  • Regularly monitor national and international news reports for situational updates and plan transport routes in advance to minimise disruption.
  • Exercise heightened caution if near large groups and immediately move away from scenes of violence or unrest. Tensions can rise with little to no warning during demonstrations. Always adhere to authorities.
  • Be mindful of cultural sensitivities and aware of both Qatari laws and unofficial codes of conduct.