You know you have a problem when human rights abusers Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain cut diplomatic ties with you.
The gulf state of Qatar was recently at the centre of a diplomatic row when these Middle Eastern countries cut off all transport routes and diplomatic contact, accusing Qatar of supporting terrorist groups – notably Islamic State – and having a diplomatic relationship with Saudi Arabia’s enemy Iran.
Following the Arab Spring, tensions between Qatar and its neighbours rose due to the Qatari support of the former Egyptian President and Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Morsi.
The following three years were marked by soured diplomatic relations, but no embargos were placed on land, sea or air transport to the Qatar peninsula.
Now, the official Qatari media outlet Al-Jazeera has been banned from Saudi Arabia, and Qatari diplomats and citizens have been ejected from the aggrieved Gulf States. Supermarket shelves in Qatar have emptied, and Qatar has been ousted from the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in neighbouring Yemen.
This political posturing can’t be dismissed as the usual maelstrom of Middle East geopolitics.
Qatar is the richest country in the world per capita, fuelled by massive oil and gas reserves, but this wealth is distributed to only the 12 per cent of the population that are Qatari; not to the Indian, Nepalese, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan immigrant workers who make up the bulk of the population.
The Americans have a presence too – 10,000 military personnel at al-Udeid Air Base. The same America whose President recently did a $110 billion military arms deal with Qatar’s protagonist Saudi Arabia (where America also has a military presence).
Qatar is accused of supporting Hamas in the Gaza Strip, with the Qatari capital Doha being home to exiled Hamas official Khaled Mashaal since 2012. Meanwhile the beginnings of a political dialogue between long term enemies Israel and Saudi Arabia could derail moves towards an independent Palestinian state, and inflame tensions with Iran, further isolating Qatar.
‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’ does not even go close to explaining the complexity of the situation.
Be that as it may, in 2012 Qatar illegally purchased the rights to stage the 2022 Football World Cup. The FIFA, that paragon of sports administration, controversially overlooked footballing minnows America, Japan, South Korea and Australia and awarded the hosting rights to Qatar.
Despite the subsequent FBI investigation into the Qatari bid process, the need to air-condition the stadiums to beat the searing summer temperatures, the illegality of homosexuality and undocumented alcohol consumption, the FIFA claimed staging the World Cup in Qatar as an ‘opportunity to bridge the gap between the Arab World and the West’.
This ‘opportunity’ conveniently ignores several issues.
Firstly, the usual mantra that sport ‘brings the community together’ does not apply in Qatar. The immigrant workers of Qatar work in conditions which Amnesty International describe as ‘forced labour’, and the foreign press report the confiscation of passports and withholding of wages to prevent foreign workers leaving the country.
Human rights organisations estimate deaths of up to 4000 during the construction of the World Cup infrastructure.
Secondly, will spectators make the trip to a hot and distant plutocracy in the middle of a Middle East flashpoint? Will the players attend, or will there be individual or team boycotts?
Surely the Qatari bid is now so tainted by scandal, and political unrest, that the hosting rights will be withdrawn. Anyone with the least interest in sport could see from the beginning that the success of the Qatari bid was all about money and influence, and as far removed from grassroots sport as it is possible to be.
It is not too late for hosting rights to be withdrawn ‘in the best interests of the sport’. It could not cast any more doubt over FIFA and its decision-making processes.
Yet it seems logic and Qatar are mutually exclusive.
* Greg Smart lives and works in Dubbo, and is keen observer of current affairs.
By his own admission, Greg Smart was born 40 years old and is in training to be a cranky old man. He spends his time avoiding commercial television and bad coffee.