The endless criticism of Qatar is both grating and hypocritical. The west’s sense of moral superiority shouldn’t be allowed to overshadow a great spectacle.

When Qatar and Ecuador kick off at the 60,000-capacity retractable-roof Al-Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, it will make history in more ways than one. If you leave aside the initial competitions played before World War II – England and other select nations didn’t even bother to participate until 1950 – this will mark the first time that a host nation is also making its debut at the biggest sporting show on Earth.


It will also be the first time since 2002, when the Teranga Lions of Senegal shocked France, the defending champions, that a team making its debut in the competition is part of the opening fixture. Qatar has spared no expense – estimates suggest that the final cost will be over $200 billion – to put on an unforgettable show, but the build-up to the tournament has been dogged by controversy almost from the time Qatar was announced as host in 2010.


A lot of the criticism is either misplaced or comes from the west’s sense of moral superiority. Not content with having pillaged the rest of the world over the past 500 years and more, they now want to teach the rest of us how to live. Every other culture or belief system is inferior, and we all need white saviours.


This is not to say that Qatar is some paradise. As with most other countries, there is much to do in terms of workers’ rights and disadvantaged groups. But this is a young nation, established in 1971. The United States of America introduced minimum-wage legislation in 1938, while the United Kingdom expanded the scope of the legislation only in 1998. Six of the 27 member states of the European Union – including Denmark and Switzerland, who are playing the World Cup – have no minimum-wage laws. Instead, their workers’ unions negotiate on behalf of all employees for optimum working conditions.


The Qatari minimum wage of 1000 Rials a month (approximately 22,500 Rupees) might seem like a slave’s income for someone sitting in London, but for a young man or woman trying to escape grinding poverty in India, Bangladesh or Nepal, it certainly isn’t that. For many families in the subcontinent, those wages are their door to relative economic freedom.


Before anyone get holier than thou about salaries, it was only in 1963 that Justice Richard Wilberforce declared that Newcastle United’s refusal to sell George Eastham to Arsenal amounted to “restraint of trade”, and that the retain-and-transfer system was unacceptable. It took another three decades and more for the Bosman Ruling to stop the manipulation of players’ contracts.


Cristiano Ronaldo may be earning more than 500,000 pounds a week, at least until Manchester United rip up his contract, but before 1960, the English footballer’s wage was capped at 20 pounds. Every society has taken time to improve working conditions, and it’s nothing but hypocrisy to point the finger at Qatar.


The vitriol directed at Qatar has become an avalanche in recent weeks. And anyone who attempts to give a more balanced view is immediately shouted down. In October, James Cleverly, the British Foreign Secretary, said: “I have spoken to the Qatari authorities in the past about gay football fans going to watch the World Cup and how they will treat our fans and international fans. They want to make sure that football fans are safe, secure and enjoy themselves.


“And they know that that means they are going to have to make some compromises in terms of what is an Islamic country with a very different set of cultural norms to our own.”


Hugo Lloris, the France and Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper, has also been savaged in the western media for saying he wouldn’t be wearing the rainbow-coloured captain’s armband’s in Qatar. “When we welcome foreign visitors to France, we often would like them to respect our rules and our culture,” he said. “I will do the same when I go to Qatar.”


No sane person would have issues with what Lloris said. When someone is gracious enough to invite you to their home, do you walk in there demanding that you want this and that? Do you set the menu or the liquid refreshments?


Some of the stories in recent days have been nonsensical. Fans celebrating the arrival of England and other teams in Qatar were dismissed in some media reports as ‘paid’ fans. If the reporters had made some effort to talk to them, they would have learned that most of them come from countries who have never qualified for the World Cup.


Indian and Bangladeshi fans who support the likes of Argentina and Brazil start preparing for the competition months in advance. The fervour and support in places like Kolkata, Dhaka, Kerala and Goa is easily comparable to that in Rio Di Janeiro or Buenos Aires. To tar them with the ‘fake fans’ brush is just a grotesque example of the arrogance of those intent on lecturing us based on their sense of superiority.



The next month will see a festival of football. Hopefully, the host nation and its stars – Bassam Al-Rawi, Akram Afif and Almoez Ali – will set the tone on Sunday night, and it will be football rather than hypocritical finger-pointing that makes the headlines in the days ahead.

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