Updated: Jul 19
In an eyebrow-raising, but less-than-surprising decision, FIFA has re-stated its policies regarding following all laws in countries that host the FIFA World Cup—Which this year means no premarital sex, no public drinking, and a restriction on openly homosexual relationships. In Qatar, if athletes or fans are caught engaging in premarital sex or enjoying a beer in public, they could be charged with up to seven years in prison, and any suspected homosexual relationships could subject each party to a year in prison.
Being a country with such intense punishments, many thought that FIFA (soccer's governing body) would relax its normal policies of strict obedience and deference to the host country's laws. However, no such relaxation will be present. FIFA reiterated that all laws of the host country must be obeyed by all athletes and all fans for the duration of the tournament, which lasts from late November through December of this year.
Now, I don't know how familiar you may be with soccer fans or players, but they are not normally known as a dull or sober crowd. Fans enjoy consuming alcohol at events, and players are regularly found after games in clubs and bars either celebrating their wins or drowning their losses. Going hand in hand with this party atmosphere, I'm willing to bet that many fans and players alike are engaging in premarital sex either with long-term partners or “one-night stands,” and a combination of both of these things being banned in Qatar is going to pose some interesting and high profile issues as the World Cup gets underway.
While the move by FIFA to reaffirm its stance is certainly eyebrow-raising, it comes as no real surprise. FIFA is reluctant to set a precedent of requiring relaxation of strict laws in host countries because of what it means for future events and future headaches that this would create, as well as understanding that it really lacks the authority to “require” a sovereign nation to change its rules to host an event. But this is where my understanding of the issue ends.
At a time where, in most of the western world, drinking with friends at or after a sporting event and premarital sex are daily occurrences, and where being homosexual is not seen as being a crime, this is definitely major negative press for FIFA. It will certainly impact the number of people who are willing to go watch the World Cup. So, why does FIFA still choose to have the World Cup in Qatar? It's a simple answer to a simple question, and one that we hear again and again—money.
Qatar paid handsome fees to FIFA for the opportunity to host the World Cup and has invested approximately 200 billion dollars into infrastructure and associated expenses, with approximately 10 billion being allocated to actually building the stadiums. FIFA just simply couldn't ignore the prospect of earning that much money from hosting fees, and FIFA apparently is turning a blind eye to blatant human rights violations committed by the country as a result.
On top of all of the issues with imprisonment for what is largely considered “normal” behavior in most of the soccer-playing world, there are questions about the labor conditions of workers building this infrastructure and these stadiums. Reports have circulated that over 6500 migrant workers have died while working to build these stadiums since construction began, further showing a lack of concern for not only human rights, but also human life—all of which FIFA has inexplicably ignored due to its own prospects for profits.
Unfortunately, stories like this are all too common where a governing body ignores issues of human rights or health and safety, despite stated initiatives to increase diversity and inclusion, all in the name of cash. I understand, as do many of us, that (as much as we don't like to think so) all sports leagues are businesses that need to make a profit to continue to exist. But as a fan of sports in general, it's frustrating and disheartening to see such blatant and transparent money grabbing from these leagues and how far they are willing to compromise their own stated beliefs and policies to the whims of the highest bidder. I understand that FIFA's hands are tied in the position that they are currently in with Qatar, but it's important to remember that FIFA themselves is the ones that created the situation in the first place.
Going forward and from a management perspective, I can only hope that at some point the negative press and consequences of making decisions like this that compromise the human rights of patrons and athletes who will be attending events like the World Cup will mean that it's not financially viable for organizations to ignore these issues. As much as I hope for this, the economist in me understands that there's always going to be money in these places and also very little social change, so issues and conflicts like this one will continue to occur—continuing to reduce the validity and believability of leagues’ statements promoting “diversity and inclusion.”
Zachary Bryson is a graduate from Wake Forest University with B.A. in Economics and a Minor in Entrepreneurship. He is currently JD candidate at Elon University School of Law, Class of 2023. You can connect with him via LinkedIn or follow him on twitter at @ZacharySBryson.