Why Qatar is done with saying sorry for human rights and equality issues | World Cup 2022


“Pipes. You need them. I got them right here.” The words, there, of Nasser Al Khater, chief executive officer of Qatar 2022, speaking in Doha on Thursday morning.

Actually that’s not correct. In fact this is a line spoken by an unnamed door‑to‑door crack cocaine salesman in the TV series The Wire, during a sequence where the Baltimore police department experiments by decriminalising drugs in an abandoned neighbourhood. Addictions reach desperation level. The city’s dealers create their own vision of entrepreneurial hell.

And everyone gets a lesson in life-or-death commodity capitalism.

Al Khater didn’t say anything about pipes. Instead, responding to some fairly mild expressions of concerns over LGBTQ+ rights from Gareth Southgate, he said: “Somebody with a lot of influence like Southgate, somebody with a big audience that listens to what he says has got to choose his words very carefully.”

Al Khater went on to imply Southgate was ignorant and that he had failed to investigate properly the issues raised. And the message was clear enough. The secretary general of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, who has spent a very long time listening politely to this stuff, and being emollient and conciliatory, isn’t going to take it any more.

Later that day Hassan Al-Thawadi, secretary general of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy of Qatar 2022, told the president of the Norwegian Football Federation, Lise Klaveness, that she needed to “educate” herself before presuming to express moral qualms about a World Cup procured via a Fifa committee riddled with corrupt individuals. Not to mention staged in a nation where, frankly, Klaveness would be ineligible to be president of anything because she is gay, and therefore a member of a criminalised class. So yeah. Education. Stay classy guys.

But one thing does seem clear as Qatar 2022 enters its extended countdown.

There has been a change in the ambient mood music. Qatar is done with saying sorry. It has instead gone a little more alpha, flaring its neck muscles, snapping its towel across those gleaming new-build stadiums. It isn’t hard to see why this is happening. And why it is probably also a good thing, or at least a little closer to the truth of this whole extraordinary episode.

Why the shift of tone? Basically, Qatar is having an absolute moment. The stars have aligned. The World Cup is all packaged up. Gas prices have spiked. War in Europe is bringing daily pilgrims doffing their caps and wringing their hands over petroleum prices. Only last November Boris Johnson was sidling up to Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani at the UN general assembly urging Qatar to do us a solid by becoming the UK’s “gas supplier of last resort”, which has a scary ring right now.

This is giddy stuff. Boycott? Protests? Get real. You’re all coming. And none of you are going say a word. OK, apart from you, Norway, with your carbon riches, your energy sufficiency. The rest of you, just keep eyes fixed on that sweet 200-year natural gas reserve. Take a hit. Suck it down. Pipes. You need them, we got them right here.

David Beckham at the Doha Forum in Qatar in March 2022
David Beckham in Doha ‘helping to pretend this World Cup is just about cool hotels and nice stadiums’. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

In this sense things have at least clarified a little. For those of us lost in the noise and colour it has been a bit like staring at a magic eye picture of history. It made no sense at all in Zurich in 2010. But fast forward to the current geopolitical map and it looks entirely logical.

Of course, Qatar is staging the World Cup. Historians charting the events of our anxiety-ridden age will be able to use these twin World Cups, Russia-Qatar, as a neat practical example of the way oil and gas have driven power, conflict and wealth around the world; the way sport has been not only a metaphor for this, but an active and willing part of the process.

Oil built the past two World Cups. Oil just won the Champions League. Oil has a lease on the Premier League title. They should probably just go ahead and fill the World Cup ball with natural gas, stick the winning team up on podium with an oversized camping cylinder they can light up like a Bunsen burner.

And so it probably is a good thing if Qatar decides to be bit more frank about all this. Most obviously because we are all complicit. Until we kick this addiction, until gas and oil can be dialled back or replaced, we are all bound up in the process, from uneasy consumers, to the strange double life of our politicians pawing about for a deal, a handshake, a tanker route.

Right up to the flaring hypocrisies of David Beckham, white knight of England’s own World Cup bid and generally sympathetic to things like inclusion and liberal values which are so hot right now; but seduced also by the lure of Qatari money, and transformed into a ludicrous popinjay by his own £150m deal to help pretend this World Cup is just about cool hotels and nice stadiums.

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But hey, Becks is only human. And in the end this is all a balance of those human needs. People close to the process have suggested for some time that the real reason Qatar wanted the World Cup in the first place is security. The morality stuff, the endless circular conversation about worker rights is a necessary soundtrack. But Qatar has one of the highest GDPs per capita in the world. Why would it care, really, what a small section of the liberal west thinks about aspects of its culture?

In reality this has been about concerns that seem more a lot more real right now. Qatar wants to be known. Qatar doesn’t want to be part of the mainstream. Qatar doesn’t want its neighbours marching over the border while the world tries to find it on the map. That goal has been attained and gloriously so. From here on in Qatar no longer has to make nice. The rest of us, well, we’re free to watch.



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