In 2010, when Qatar won the rights to host this year’s World Cup, Sepp Blatter, then president of football’s governing body (FIFA), proudly proclaimed: “We go to new lands.” In the twelve years since, FIFA’s first steps into the country have been largely defined by a frontier-like disregard for basic customs and conventions.
In bringing the World Cup to Qatar, FIFA officials—amidst credible accusations of bribery and backroom malfeasance—willfully ignored a number of concerns that would ordinarily have disqualified a nation from consideration. At the time of the vote, for instance, Qatar did not yet have a viable public transportation system. Nor did it have suitable accommodations to house athletes, media, and visiting fans. More conspicuously, the country didn’t have a single football stadium. There was also the issue of climate. Usually played in the summer, the World Cup had to be rescheduled for late fall, when desert temperatures drop low enough for ninety-minute matches to be held safely.
All of these were unprecedented concessions—although not entirely unreasonable: just like the beautiful game, diplomacy requires a deft touch. If there was any opportunity to sound the alarm about Qatar’s fitness to host the world’s most prestigious sporting event, it passed more than a decade ago.