The 2014 World Cup will be remembered for many things, not least of which are the hundreds of thousands of Brazilians who gathered in the streets to demonstrate against the millions of dollars spent at the expense of the nation’s underserved citizens. As the memories of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil give way to dreams about 2018 and 2022, that spirit of protest is evident in criticisms of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association’s (FIFA) decision to award the 2022 tournament to Qatar. Even one FIFA member has predicted that the World Cup will be moved, if only because the summer heat in the Middle Eastern nation will make play all but impossible.
There are more substantive critiques to be leveled against Qatar, however. Critics of FIFA’s decision allege “that Mohamed bin Hammam, a Qatari billionaire, essentially bought the 2022 bid.” Meanwhile, more damning evidence reveals that Qatar, a nation of substantial wealth, is exploiting migrant workers in the construction of new facilities for the tournament. According to ESPN’s documentary, Trapped in Qatar, 184 Nepali workers already have died in the extreme desert conditions, and as many as 4,000 could die by 2022.
When critics such as Dave Zirin and John Oliver skewer the World Cup and make plain the economic disparities between FIFA and average workers and citizens, it is because the contrasts are so dramatic. Much of the justification for hosting an event like the World Cup is rooted in fantasy—the idea that international sport brings the world together in the spirit of healthy competition, all while showcasing and fostering economic growth.
This attitude is what drives the video I feature in this commentary. Produced to promote the virtues of Qatar—all rooted in the spectacle of sport and capital—the video envisions a world in which cultural diversity and international cooperation are enabled through shopping, fine dining, sparkling skyscrapers, and even good football. Nowhere to be seen, of course, are the workers who will risk their lives to make it possible or the citizens for whom Qatar’s wealth remains out of reach. At the 1:48 mark of the video, the following words appear: “A Country Redefining the Boundaries of Possibility.” In the wake of World Cup 2014, and in the context of global capitalism, we would be well served to ask, “Possibility, for whom?”