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In November 2022, Qatar will become the first country in the Middle East to host the men’s football world cup. 32 teams will participate, including England and Wales.

The tournament was debated in the House of Commons on 20 October 2022.

Since the country was awarded the competition, there have been allegations that football officials were bribed to vote in support of Qatar’s bid, concerns over the treatment of migrant workers working on world-cup facilities, and for the rights of LGBT+ people in the country. To its critics, Qatar attaches a low priority to human rights, but its defenders have pointed to improvements in the rights of workers from the late 2010s.

This briefing addresses key questions on the tournament. For background on Qatar’s politics, the wider human rights situation, including for women, and its relations with the UK, visit the Library’s Qatar: Country profile briefing.

Was Qatar awarded the tournament fairly?

Allegations that Qatar bribed officials to support the country’s bid and engaged improperly with them prior to the Fédération Internationale de Football Association’s (FIFA) decision, have not been proved. There are ongoing investigations in France and the United States, however, into aspects of the decision. Qatar rejects the allegations as false.

A 2014 FIFA report, which was published in 2017, concluded nothing inappropriate occurred in the decision to award Qatar the tournament. It did, however, recommend reforms to the bidding process such as greater transparency and engagement with independent experts to evaluate bids.

How are migrant workers treated in Qatar?

According to Qatar’s Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs, there are more than 1.9 million migrant workers in Qatar. They are mostly from South Asia and Africa. As non-citizens, they lack many rights and until reforms in 2020 had to seek their employers’ permission to change jobs and to leave and enter the country. In 2021 a minimum wage for all workers was also introduced.

The most significant allegation against Qatar is the high number of worker deaths in Tournament infrastructure. Eight stadiums have been built or refurbished for the tournament. In 2021, the Guardian estimated more than 6,500 workers from five Asian countries died from 2010 to 2021 (this data does not relate solely to world-cup related activity). Qatar argues this to be an overestimate.

The UN’s International Labour Organization (ILO) has also criticised Qatar for gaps in data recording. The ILO estimated that 50 workers died and 500 were severely injured in 2020 (including in activity beyond world cup preparations).

With the tournament now approaching, scrutiny is now focusing on whether the 2020 reforms are being implemented and on the rights of hospitality workers .

How are LGBT+ people treated?

Same-sex sexual relations between both men and women are illegal in Qatar, and it is possible for men engaged in such acts to be sentenced to death. However, there are no reports that this has been applied. Civil society groups have cited examples of hostility to LGBT+ communities, including online surveillance and censoring of LGBT+ content.

Qatari authorities have said transgender and gay fans will be welcome, but emphasise public displays of affection by anyone is “frowned upon.” Security officials have suggested rainbow flags may be confiscated to “protect” fans.

The UK Government has said it will continue to work with Qatar to ensure all fans are welcome. It has produced foreign travel advice for LGBT+ people.

What general advice is there for visitors on clothing and public displays of affection?

Regardless of sexual orientation, Qatar’s tourism website states that visitors are expected to show respect for local culture by “avoiding excessively revealing clothing in public.” It cites examples of making sure knees and shoulders are covered. It also advises against public displays of affection by visitors. The UK Government warns any intimacy in public between men and women may lead to arrest.

Are any teams planning a boycott?

No team has committed to boycott the cup. In 2022, England manager Gareth Southgate said he was unsure what this would achieve, arguing that the team has “to use our voice in the right way at the right time.” 

Along with Wales and eight other European teams, England had planned to participate in the OneLove campaign for the tournament, where armbands would be worn by players. This was cancelled following threats of players being booked. FIFA is running a “No Discrimination” campaign, where team captains may wear armbands.

The UK Government has rejected a boycott. Instead, it said it would engage with Qatar to improve its human rights record. This stands in contrast to the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022, where the UK supported a diplomatic boycott (with public officials not attending) in protest at China’s human rights record.

Will the tournament be carbon-neutral?

Qatar has committed to hosting the first carbon-neutral world cup (PDF). It said this would be achieved through the use of public transport, recycling, renewables and carbon-offsetting (eg planting woodland).

Meeting the goal is likely to be dependent on high levels of carbon offsetting. In 2021, FIFA estimated the tournament will generate 3.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (carbon dioxide plus other pollutants). Travel, accommodation, and construction is estimated to be responsible for 96% of emissions.

Will alcohol be allowed?

Alcohol is not illegal in Qatar, but it is an offence to drink alcohol or be drunk in public. On 18 November FIFA said, following discussions with Qatar, that alcohol sales will be limited to select sites, not including stadium perimeters.

What military support is the UK providing?

The UK has a long-standing defence relationship with Qatar, with the country hosting the RAF’s Middle East headquarters. Two joint air squadrons have also been established. For the Tournament, one joint squadron will provide air security while on regular deployment to Qatar.

What support is there for UK nationals?

The British Embassy in Doha, the capital of Qatar, cannot provide legal advice, but can help provide local information (eg lists of lawyers, interpreters) and support if individuals are victims of a crime.

The UK Government has also published advice for those planning to attend the tournament.  

Update log

August 2022: Added section on UK military cooperation and updated sections on LGBT+ inclusion and worker rights. 

October/November 2022: Updated in advance of Westminster Hall debate on 20 October 2022. Updated sections on LGBT+ inclusion and OneLove campaign.

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