When the final whistle blew, along with 33,000 other Wales football supporters at the Cardiff City Stadium in June, I leaped out of my seat in ecstasy. Wales had beaten Ukraine 1-0 and qualified for our first World Cup in 64 years.
While I’m ridiculously excited about cheering the team on in the tournament, I’ve got no plans to make the trip to Qatar.
For a start, I probably wouldn’t be able to get tickets for the matches. The Wales supporters’ club – Y Wal Goch (the Red Wall) – has been allocated just over 2,000 tickets for each of our three group matches. Supporters of other teams have similar allocations, with the English Football Association advertising 2,500 tickets.
The stadiums hosting the tournament have seating capacities between 40,000 and 80,000! What has happened to all these tickets? Are we not allowed to go to support our teams?
Even if I was able to get into the matches, the trip wouldn’t appeal to me – a travesty really considering we’ve been waiting for so long.
Qatar has little-to-no football tradition or culture. The Qatari national team is ranked one of the lowest in the tournament and has never previously appeared at a World Cup.
It was awarded the 2022 hosting rights by Fifa, the world football’s governing body, in 2010. During the selection process, two members of Fifa’s executive were suspended under suspicion of accepting money for votes. And they weren’t the only allegations.
Fifa has a chequered history. In 2015, 14 people connected with FIFA were indicted by the FBI for fraud, racketeering, and money laundering.
Qatar has a poor human rights record. The Al-Thani family has ruled as a near-absolute monarchy for almost 200 years.
Seven of the eight World Cup stadiums have been built or rebuilt specifically for this purpose, in a short time frame, in slave-like conditions. Over 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar, according to the Guardian.
Homosexuality is illegal and, on paper, could even carry the death penalty. So how can we simply take the regime’s word that LGBTQ+ supporters will be safe during the World Cup? And even if it’s true, it’s not acceptable to simply leave the LGBTQ+ people in Qatar living in fear again once the tournament has finished.
Alcohol consumption – an essential part of an away trip for many supporters – is forbidden. Under pressure, officials have stated that this will be allowed during the tournament.
I’m half-Arab myself and feel a real emotional connection to this part of the world. But unfortunately for working-class people in the region, capitalist imperialism has a real financial connection to it as well.
Many Arab countries sit on plentiful oil supplies. This means that regimes such as Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s most brutal dictatorships, exist in harmony with US capitalism, which supplies weaponry for the brutal war in Yemen.
For imperialism, human rights go out of the window where there is a profit to be made. But the masses in the Middle East and North Africa have the power to overthrow dictatorships and imperialist stooges, laying the basis for a voluntary democratic socialist confederation of the Arab world. The magnificent uprising of the masses in the 2010-11 ‘Arab Spring’, showed this huge potential, but for the absence of a revolutionary leadership with a socialist programme.
To change how the World Cup is run, Fifa needs to be fully democratised and brought under the control of supporters’ associations and professional footballers’ trade unions. All corrupt officials must be immediately removed. Decisions, such as bidding for tournaments, should be held with fully open public scrutiny of the bids received and the process that a decision is arrived at.
Supporters clubs need to show up the brutal nature of the Qatari regime and support the struggle for human rights, democracy, and the rights of workers and LGBTQ+ people. We need to make Fifa’s corrupt decision into an opportunity to fight back, and support the Arab masses in their heroic struggles. The Arab working class has enormous power to overthrow capitalism and imperialism, and international socialist solidarity is key to bringing that to fruition.