An Inclusive World Cup in an Ethnocentrist Setup

As the start of the Qatar World Cup is just hours away, the world is still divided on whether Qatar should have been awarded the right to host the World Cup in the first place. Their grave ignorance towards UDHR (Universal Declaration of Human Rights) has been a massive concern. There is also uncertainty surrounding Qatar’s approach towards players and fans from the LGBTQ community, as homosexuality is illegal in Qatar. It has been reported that about 6500 migrant workers died during the construction of stadiums and other facilities leading up to the tournament.

Qatar is on the brink of becoming the first West Asian nation to host a FIFA World Cup. Qatar will be the first Asian country to host the coveted Soccer fest since the Korea-Japan World Cup in 2002. Ban on beer consumption in and around the stadium during the days of match is the latest in Qatar’s series of controversial decisions. Amid serious controversies and protests, a community’s representation would stand tall in the World Cup. It would be the first World Cup where an exponential number of the South Asian population could go to the stadiums and watch the World Cup. A diaspora of almost 19 million lives in Gulf countries. About 780000 Indians live in Qatar itself. To justify the large population of Indian community in Qatar, India has been placed at 7th rank in total ticket sale beating the likes of soccer heavyweights Brazil and Argentina.

With about 1.9 billion people, the South Asian region accounts for 24 per cent of the world population. Though, not a single South Asian country could reach football’s grand stage, the FIFA World Cup. India came close to competing in a World Cup in 1950 due to the ban inflicted on Germany and Japan citing their involvement in the Second World War. Burma, Philippines and Indonesia, the Asian contingent, withdrew from the tournament, which led to India’s eventual qualification. It has been widely regarded that the ban on playing barefoot was the reason that India did not participate in the World Cup, but these rumours were fake as the then Indian Captain proclaimed it was not true, and there were other reasons as well. It was the lack of funds and under preparedness that made the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to decide not to send India to Brazil. Sailen Manna, the then Indian Captain, also said that India taking Olympics more seriously than the World Cup is one of the reasons for India’s withdrawal from the tournament.

Despite cricket taking centre stage in South Asia’s sports affairs, there are millions of football fanatics as well. The 1986 Mexico World Cup was the first to be televised in India. Maradona’s god-like performance earned him and Argentina a significant fan base in the Indian subcontinent. With the national team not playing in the tournament, people fell in love with teams worldwide, especially the Latin American giants Brazil and Argentina.

The World Cups in Brazil and Russia in 2014 and 2018, respectively, were extremely expensive for an average South Asian – to travel solely to watch a World Cup match. The tickets alone cost fortunes, let alone the travel expenses and other miscellaneous expenses. That makes this World Cup unique. It is certain that South Asian’s living in the Middle East will travel to Qatar as it is feasible and easily accessible.

This accessibility came with a cost as well. Of the thousands of migrant workers, who lost their lives while building world-class stadiums and facilities, a massive chunk of them were South Asians. According to the data collected by the Guardian, 2711 Indian workers died from December 2010 to November 2020, along with 824 Pakistanis, 1641 Nepalese, 1018 Bangladeshis, and 557 Sri Lankans. The actual number could be even higher, and it has been widely criticised that Qatar authorities were reluctant to do proper autopsies to determine the cause of death. Seventy per cent of the deaths were because of natural causes, as per the Qatari authorities. The Qatari authorities often ignored the prolonged request for fair labour laws and a friendly work environment from human rights organisations and NGOs. Unemployment, poverty and better payday were the reasons for South Asian migration to Qatar and other Middle Eastern countries despite the adverse working conditions.

The South Asian diaspora in Qatar, especially India and Bangladesh, is ready for the World Cup. They worked rigorously to make it possible, be it Lusail stadium, the biggest one in this edition of the World Cup or Stadium 974, made out of shipping containers. Even though the Qatari government is as ignorant as ever, teams which are participating in the World Cup expressed their solidarity with the workers and acknowledged their hardship. The USMNT (United States Men’s National Team) took one step ahead and even invited migrant workers to be trained with them.  

This World Cup edition would undoubtedly be successful, given Qatar’s investment in every sector. It is unfair that Qatar is receiving all the condemnation. According to a section, FIFA deserves equal blame as well. Sepp Blatter, the then president of FIFA, recently admitted that awarding Qatar the right to host the World Cup was a big mistake. Qatar was reported to have offered FIFA $400 million even before their success in the bid, making the corruption accusations of being on a solid ground. It was not until 2010 that Qatar began violating fundamental human rights and banned practices of homosexuality and equal rights for women. People who gave Qatar the right exactly knew how it was going to play out, and whining at the last minute is not more than crocodile tears.

As a blessing in disguise, South Asia’s population would actively participate in this edition of the Soccer World Cup, ranging from working as a volunteer to be involved in managerial gigs. However, a vast number of spectators are also there to watch superstars like Messi and Ronaldo in action. The introduction of the Indian Super League in 2014 was a deal breaker. Ever since then, the popularity of football has been increasing tremendously in India, and it is expected that the World Cup in West Asia will also be exponential for the growth of football in South Asia. As Giani Infantino, the reigning FIFA president, pointed out, India is a sleeping giant. World Cups are the best junctures to wake that giant from sleep. Undoubtedly, the South Asians, especially the Indians in Qatar, would see to it.

Amal Rahman
Amal Rahman
Amal Rahman TS is doing post-graduation in Politics and International relations, with a specialisation in Sports Diplomacy and Latin American studies.