Qatar 2022: this World Cup has taken place in a crime scene | Marina Hyde

There has not been a single conviction and yet nothing changes with metaphorical bedsheets dutifully shielding the suspects

Two days out from the World Cup final, Qatar finishes hosting its tournament having very recently been declared “a frontrunner in labour rights”. “Today,” the declaration in question continued, “the World Cup in Qatar is proof of how sports diplomacy can achieve a historic transformation of a country.”

It feels only mildly unfortunate that the member of the European parliament who uttered these words three weeks ago is currently detained by Belgian police, after the discovery of almost €1m in banknotes in her marital home and a hotel room used by her father. After all, this has been a successful World Cup. Qatar has catapulted itself on to the world stage and won many plaudits. This timing is merely a freak coincidence.

In his closing speech, I hope Fifa’s president Gianni Infantino returns to a familiar rhetorical furrow, and riffs: “Today, I feel in police custody in Brussels. Today, I feel like an MEP with a suitcase of cash in her home. Today, I feel I am that MEP who denies any involvement in an alleged bribery and corruption scheme which also features the Moroccan intelligence services. Today, I feel I am the MEP’s husband who is reported to have confessed his role working for Qatar’s government.”

Before we go on, I should of course say there has never been any incontrovertible evidence uncovered that links Qatar to corruption in the manner it secured its World Cup. The arrests in Brussels last week are alleged to relate to Qatar’s attempts to bag an aviation deal and visa-free travel to the bloc. There is no smoking gun on Qatar’s successful bid, and Fifa’s no-doubt crack ethics committee found nothing in its investigations. The desert state would prefer you focus solely on its jubilation in that 2010 footage of Sepp Blatter opening the envelope revealing the word “Qatar”, while the cameras picked up representatives of England’s failed 2018 bid, including David Beckham, looking sad and shrugging. Beckham himself has since found a reported £150m from Qatar to cheer him up. So, you know – every cloud.

It was a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

Guardian reporting goes far beyond what happens on the pitch. Support our investigative journalism today.

It seems odd now to think back to the Fifa arrests of 2015. At the time, it was the biggest story out there – so big that you could hardly believe what you were seeing. It ran and ran – until the massive political shocks of 2016 eclipsed it entirely, and it suddenly seemed like some quaint old cops-and-robbers tale from a different time.

But back then we were gripped. Time and again I go back to that image of staff at Zurich’s five-star Baur au Lac hotel, where Fifa executives were staying on the eve of its annual congress, dutifully holding up bed sheets to shield the suspects after they’d been arrested in the dawn raid by the Swiss authorities at the behest of the FBI. It’s not so much that the Fifa executives were literally being led out under their own dirty linen – though there’s definitely that. It’s the continuing level of respect.

David Beckham watches England’s quarter-final against France in Qatar
There will always be people like David Beckham willing to hold up the metaphorical bedsheets for Qatar. Photograph: Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images

I have stayed in the odd fancy hotel over the years. If, however, I was arrested in one of them, I simply can’t get my head around the process that would lead to me still being treated as a valued customer even as I was led out to the police van. I mean, what do you do to get that service? Ring down to the concierge and say: “Good morning. Couple of things. One, the hollandaise on my eggs benedict was a bit tepid this morning. Not happy. And two, I’ve just been arrested on behalf of the FBI. Can you send up someone in a tailcoat to hold some linen around me while I’m hauled off?” You would think, guest-services-speaking, that you were on your own at that point. And yet, bedsheets borne by footmen were forthcoming. It feels a testament to the fact there really was no better customer than Fifa. And there still isn’t.

As for last week’s arrests, they allege Qatar’s continuing attempts to curry global influence. Some of these are in plain sight. A number of British MPs have accepted travel gifts and hospitality from the Doha regime, with £260,000 showered on 36 MPs in the past year alone. Faced with renewed interest on these unfortunate declarations of interest after the Belgian raids, some beneficiaries are sticking to their guns. The Conservative backbencher Jackie Doyle-Price, who took £7,374 in travel and hospitality, insists: “It is precisely to challenge them on their human rights record that we go on these trips.”

I sort of love this idea – that an autocratic regime which has repeatedly demonstrated its total disregard for human rights would lay on lavish all‑expenses‑paid trips for no-mark foreign politicians and then, when some irrelevant member for West Bollockshire raises the issue of migrant worker deaths in between bites of the Arabian oryx steak it paid for, decide that it should change its ways. As Labour’s regretful Chris Bryant, who himself accepted hospitality, put it: “They didn’t want to listen and it felt all wrong.” Well, yes.

So if it feels ridiculously on the nose that this Brussels raid should take place in the closing stages of Qatar’s World Cup, that’s just the game. You expect sensational upsets, but winning eyes remain on the prize. After the Belgian arrests, a member of the Strasbourg parliament intoned: “We are standing in the middle of a crime scene”. Big deal. For the past month, we’ve been watching the biggest sports event in the world take place in the middle of one.

There has not been a single conviction despite, reportedly, thousands of labourer deaths. Nothing has changed, because the system works. There will always be people like Beckham willing to hold up the metaphorical bedsheets and the caravan will always move on. Whoever wins out of Argentina and France, the ultimate winner has been Qatar. It got away with it.


Marina Hyde

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
There may be no clear conscience with this World Cup but we can focus on Fifa | Max Rushden
As we consume the football on show in Qatar despite knowing the brutal facts, we should at least force Fifa to make change

Max Rushden

14, Nov, 2022 @8:00 AM

Article image
Qatar would help Middle East peace by sharing 2022 World Cup, says Infantino
Move could support peace in the region, Infantino says, four years ahead of tournament

Exclusive by David Conn

21, Nov, 2018 @6:00 PM

Article image
When it comes to the Qatar World Cup, look north to find a moral compass | Barry Glendenning
Norwegian clubs and players have taken a stand for migrant workers, but who is prepared to follow them?

Barry Glendenning

25, Mar, 2021 @2:24 PM

Article image
Qatar police urged to show restraint during World Cup after Fifa talks
Secret understandings brokered between Fifa and Qatar officials suggest that LGBTQ+ fans will be allowed public displays of affection

Paul MacInnes

04, Nov, 2022 @5:42 PM

Article image
World Cup sponsors should pressurise Qatar 2022 over workers, says MP
Damian Collins has told Fifa’s big sponsors for Qatar World Cup they will have ‘blood on their hands’ if they don’t try and improve migrant workers’ conditions

Owen Gibson

18, May, 2015 @6:10 PM

Article image
Qatar ponders special courts to deal with offenders at 2022 World Cup
The World Cup host ponders special courts to deal with offenders as Hassan al-Thawadi vows tournament will be ‘fun’

Owen Gibson

08, Feb, 2016 @7:18 PM

Article image
Qatar World Cup chief bites back after criticism from Norwegian FA
Dispute over the legacy of staging the men’s World Cup in Qatar broke out on the floor of the Fifa Congress on Thursday

Paul MacInnes

31, Mar, 2022 @2:41 PM

Article image
Fifa urged to press Qatar on conditions for World Cup stadium workers
Fifa’s own advisory board on human rights has called for improved inspections and a review of standards after campaigners described the system for employing workers as akin to modern slavery

David Conn

09, Nov, 2017 @1:39 PM

Article image
Sepp Blatter says choosing Qatar to host World Cup was ‘a mistake’
Handing the World Cup to Qatar was a ‘mistake’ and a ‘bad choice’ according to the former Fifa president Sepp Blatter

Paul MacInnes

08, Nov, 2022 @1:47 PM

Article image
Fifa promises panel to ensure decent conditions for 2022 World Cup workers
Gianni Infantino has promised to set up a panel to ensure ‘decent working conditions’ for labourers building Qatar’s World Cup stadiums

Owen Gibson

22, Apr, 2016 @2:42 PM