Is FIFA paving the way slowly to World Cup games in Saudi Arabia?


The nauseating spectacle of some 2022 World Cup games being held in Saudi Arabia has edged closer. Quietly.

At a sports conference in Dubai, FIFA president Gianni Infantino suggested ‘neighbouring countries’ might be needed for the 2022 tournament. Qatar’s neighbours included Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Oman and, largest of all, Saudi Arabia.

“If we can accommodate some of the neighbouring countries in the Gulf region which are very close by to host a few games in the World Cup this could be very beneficial for the region and the entire world.

“There are tensions in this particular region and it’s up to their respective leaders to deal with that but maybe it’s easier to talk about a joint football project than more complicated things.

“If it can help all the people in the Gulf and all the countries in the world develop football and bring a positive message to the world about football, then you should give it a try.”

Saudi Arabia has been in the news lately for the alleged state sponsored killing of Turkish journalist Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi who was allegedly assassinated at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul by agents of the Saudi government on 2 October 2018.

The Kingdom’s policy on homosexuality and women’s rights make it wholly unsuitable for mass tourism, not to mention its alcohol laws.

The United Nations has already put Qatar on notice for slavery for its treatment of workers building the stadia, and a Dutch women who was raped, was charged with adultery there. According to Human Rights Watch,

“Saudi authorities in 2018 continued to arbitrarily arrest, try, and convict peaceful dissidents. Dozens of human rights defenders and activists are serving long prison sentences for criticizing authorities or advocating political and rights reforms.

“Authorities systematically discriminate against women and religious minorities.

“In 2017, Saudi Arabia carried out 146 executions, 59 for non-violent drug crimes. A Saudi-led coalition continued an airstrike campaign against Houthi forces in Yemen that included the use of banned cluster munitions and apparently unlawful strikes that killed civilians. “

The latter sentence relates to the civil war in Yemen which has resulted in a humanitarian catastrophe in which the Saudis are accused of indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas populated by Shia Muslims, regarded as apostates by the strict Sunni kingdom.

The bribe to get such a controversial vote through civilised nations would be to increase the tournament from 32 to 48 countries.

“If you think it’s a good thing to have 48 teams in the World Cup, why not try four years before, that’s why we are analysing whether its possible to have 48 teams already in 2022,” Infantino added.

“The World Cup will take place in Qatar with 32 teams. Obviously, if we can increase it to 48 teams and make the world happy we should try it.”

At the time Qatar was awarded the games it lacked sufficient hotel capacity to act as a host to 32 teams. It has been building furiously ever since  to meet the demand. According to a report by the a report by Samba Financial Group, the number of hotel rooms required by FIFA for the showpiece is 60,000, a significant increase on the country’s 13,551 that Qatar Tourism Authority recorded at the end of 2013.

The Qataris promised to build 55,000 more rooms, but Plan B was to put some fans up in Bedouin tents as that early promise was downgraded to 46,000 in January 2016.

As much as Qatar is wholly insufficient to host a cup with 32 teams, increasing it to 48 would involve other countries accommodation. Bahrain and the UAE.

Bahrain’s Human Rights Watch report is barely better than Saudi Arabia’s.

“Bahrain’s human rights climate continued to deteriorate.

“Courts convict and imprison peaceful dissenters, including prominent human rights defenders and opposition leaders, and file trumped-up charges against their relatives. Security forces use excessive force to disperse peaceful assemblies.

“Police forces and officers at the National Security Agency ill-treat, threaten, and coerce alleged suspects into signing confessions. Authorities have failed to hold officials accountable for torture.

“Courts have stripped the citizenship of hundreds of citizens and deported dozens of them, including dissidents, journalists, and lawyers, as punishments for offenses that, in reality, include peaceful opposition to, or criticism of, the government. Authorities in 2017 shut down the only remaining independent newspaper in the country.”

That so many changes are being mooted long after the vote to award Qatar the finals should come as no surprise after the date was changed from summer to winter.

But the decision to offer an economic boon to one of the most authoritarian and cruel regimes on the planet will surely be a step too far even for football.

We hope.

World Cup 2018

Richard Fleming: An ugly scene at the beautiful game; Putin, Infantino and Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud

External – Join the campaign to stand with Saudi feminists



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