The FIFA World Cup Is Driving Change In Qatar, But Will It Last?

Qatar has significantly transformed since it won the 2022 FIFA World Cup bid. In the 12 years since, more than $220 billion has been invested into building an entirely new city, a new metro line, and hundreds of new hotel and apartment buildings.

The development is not just a boon for Qatar; it also means that Qataris are exposed to international ideals and shifting cultural and societal norms as they witness the influx of over a million football fans to their tiny country.

All eyes are on Qatar

The World Cup is the nation’s first swing at hosting a major international event. It’s also the perfect opportunity for Qatar to prove that it can be a leader in human rights issues.

The country has been under intense pressure in recent years to enact legal changes, especially those related to its treatment of migrant workers.

Previously, there had been little international and national attention on the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar. However, that changed after Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup.

But questions remain as to whether the reforms will stick around once the World Cup ends and the world’s gaze shifts away from the nation.

The Qatari organizers insist that those changes are here to stay. 

Leaving a positive legacy beyond the World Cup

One of the biggest challenges of hosting a World Cup is keeping the momentum going after it’s over. The reforms enacted now must continue to leave a positive legacy. And as previous World Cups in London, Brazil, and Russia have demonstrated, change often ends when the final whistle blows. It is up to Qatar to show the rest of the world that their change will last beyond the tournament’s final game.

Qatar has some work to do if it wants to ensure a lasting change. Human rights groups say there’s still a lot of room for improvement in Qatar’s labor laws and practices. Just one month before the commencement of the World Cup, Amnesty International said that Qatar’s labor reforms had not been implemented or enforced correctly. It also noted that Qatar still lacks freedom of expression and discriminates against women and LGBTQ people in law.

The question, now, is, if the reform wasn’t correctly implemented before the World Cup with the eyes of the world on Qatar, what chance does it stand after the World Cup ends?

Fans are divided

While some have demanded a boycott of Qatar due to its treatment of LGBTQ individuals, others have argued that traveling to Doha and expressing support for the LGBTQ community can result in long-lasting change.

Others, however, see Qatar’s hosting of the event as a slap in the face to human rights activists. Lise Klaveness, the president of the Norwegian football association, made a scathing speech at FIFA’s 72nd annual Congress in April. She called FIFA’s decision to award Qatar the tournament “unacceptable.”

The true impact of the World Cup on the tiny Gulf state won’t likely be known for months or even years. Future major projects are expected to be subjected to similar scrutiny, which is a promising sign. However, whether it will result in widespread reform remains to be seen.