FIFA world cup is currently going on in Qatar, which indeed is the first Arab and Muslim country to host this global megaevent. Although Qatar is a country of just three million mostly expatriates from South Asia but it will welcome around three million visitors for a month. An estimated five billion worldwide will watch the games. But this world cup is likely to be the most controversial soccer tournament in FIFA’s history. Even before this global sports event could see the light of day, it was caught in the storm of several controversies. As the tiny Kingdom of Qatar is making every effort to Islamise the sporting tournament. Just two days before the inaugural match, the Qatari officials took a shocking U-turn. It was announced that fans won’t be allowed to drink beer at any of the eight stadiums reserved to host the World Cup matches. It was a complete reversal of its earlier stand. Shockingly FIFA is acting as the mute spectator and has virtually kneeled before the Qatari government. It didn’t oppose the unilateral reversal of Qatar’s liberal policies and banning alcohol.
Ironically, FIFA arm-twisted Brazil to change its federal laws to lift the ban on alcohol. The football-crazy nation of Brazil enacted a ban on alcohol sales after violence erupted in its stadiums because of intoxication. But in 2014, FIFA pressured the hosting nation Brazil to lift the liquor ban. It’s a globally accepted belief that sports should be free from other controversial activities. But contrary to this belief Qatar has misused this event to push its Jihadist agenda and has shown its blatant conservative Islamic ideology in the most explicit form possible. The most controversial Islamic preacher who is banned by several countries Zakir Naik is been welcomed by Doha. Apparently, the radical speaker is expected to deliver religious preaching throughout the competition.
n addition to this Qataris have shown total disrespect for the beliefs and practices of other faiths. Jewish organizations have said that Qatar has backtracked from the promise of offering kosher food to visitors at the 2022 FIFA Football World Cup. According to The Jerusalem Post, Qatar will not allow any cooked kosher food to be sold or offered to visitors. As per the report, Doha did promise to allow Jewish prayer services during the games but has backed out now claiming they could not ‘secure’ this type of activity and proceeded to ban it completely. It is also a great challenge for foreign visitors to practice their faith openly. Qatar allows non-Muslim religious practices only in designated areas like Doha’s Religious Complex and not in open public spaces.
Since the inauguration of the World Cup Qatar is trying its best to Islamise the whole event, visitors are made to feel that they are attending an Islamic event rather than a grand sporting tournament. The FIFA World Cup 2022 ceremony opened with the recitation of verses from the Quran. This has happened for the first time in the history of football world cups. Islamic exhibitions are being organized by the government of Qatar to introduce the world to Islam. They changed muezzins of mosques and brought those with beautiful voices. Microphones are put in stadiums for Azan. Dress code restrictions for the spectators coming from outside Qatar have been placed. And the murals of Hadiths are being displayed on the streets of Qatar in a bid to introduce the incoming fans, from all over the world, to Islam.
No doubt Qataris undertook great efforts to push their political and religious agenda in this FIFA world cup. But they didn’t pay enough attention to the security arrangements which is a must for hosting any global event. That’s why the governments of Israel, Germany, Norway, and France each issued stern safety and data security warnings and recommendations to citizens traveling to Qatar for the world cup. Israel, which has no formal diplomatic relations with Qatar, launched a campaign urging visitors to downplay any visible Israeli presence and Jewish identity by hiding symbols such as Israeli flags or Stars of David. As they can be an easy target for many extremist and Jihadi outfits which have permanent offices in Qatar.
Qatar’s government has ties to multiple extremist groups, including Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the Taliban, and Hamas. Qatar is currently harboring multiple sanction-designated or wanted individuals, including former Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, current Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, several al-Qaeda financiers, and members of the IRGC. Although these individuals have been publicly sanctioned by the United Nations, or are the subject of INTERPOL arrest warrants, they are able to live with impunity and in luxury within Qatari territory. Qatar has also lent support to Al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Muslim Brotherhood, and Syria’s Al-Nusra Front through direct money loans, shady ransom payments, and supply transfers.
Qatar’s role as the tournament’s host has been the subject of international criticism because of its ties to international extremists and terrorism. But despite this petrodollars and energy resources are making sure that Qatar still remains an indispensable ally of the West. However international community should watch the 2022 FIFA World Cup with a sense of deep disquiet, even horror, at where it is being played.
(Manish Rai is a columnist for the Middle East and Afghanistan-Pakistan region and Editor of the geo-political news agency ViewsAround)