The World Cup in Qatar was widely praised by millions of fans and officials in Doha and beyond, with many describing it as “the safest”.
The FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 was able to “break down cultural barriers and misperceptions” throughout the major tournament, the first to ever take place in the Middle East, Doha’s envoy to Washington Sheikh Meshal bin Hamad Al-Thani said
In an opinion piece for the Washington Post, Sheikh Meshal stressed that the sporting event “epitomised what every World Cup should aspire to be”.
“A unique global opportunity to promote unity, discover commonalities, and break down cultural barriers and misperceptions, with soccer as the unifying force,” the Qatari envoy explained.
The diplomat’s piece was also written in response to a previous editorial by the Washington Post headlined “This was a World Cup of human rights horrors”.
Published on 18 December, that piece described Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup as “a huge mistake” despite the numerous praise that the Gulf state received from fans and officials globally.
The previous editorial appeared to echo numerous controversial headlines by western media outlets that continued to criticise the Gulf state’s hosting of the tournament even after it ended.
Officials in Doha and beyond have previously pointed to the criticism stemming from racist motives given Qatar’s role as the first Arab and Muslim country from the region to host the World Cup.
In his response, Sheikh Meshal said the Gulf state was “honoured to have hosted the first World Cup in the Middle East, helping to represent more than 440 million Arabs in a region that has often been misunderstood and stereotyped.”
“We are proud that more than 1.4 million visitors traveled back to their homes with a better understanding of our culture and a connection to our people,” Sheikh Meshal said.
The Qatari diplomat used the famous ghutra, a traditional headdress worn in the region, as an example of what became “a global symbol of pride for so many international fans”.
Millions of fans from all over the world proudly wore the traditional Qatari headpiece as well as the thobe, a long white piece of attire worn by men. Fans were seen donning the traditional clothing as they walked around the streets of Doha and the stadiums.
Similarly, the bisht, a traditional black cloak known as a symbol of royalty in the Gulf, became another fan favourite. This came after Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani honoured Argentina’s Lionel Messi for his victory using the traditional garment.
Despite criticism from western outlets that claimed Qatar, the host of the World Cup, covered Argentina’s colours with its own cultural symbol, Argentine fans were quick to get their own from the local Souq Waqif.
“The dramatic final was a fitting way to bring one of the best-ever World Cups to an end. The presentation of the bisht — a symbol of pride, honour and respect in our culture — by His Highness the Amir to Lionel Messi,” Sheikh Meshal noted.
The Qatari official added that the move “embodied the tournament’s central message of cultural exchange and understanding.”
Safest World Cup
While some of the criticism has focused on women’s rights in Qatar, many said they felt safe in the Gulf state, especially with the ban on the sale of alcohol near football stadiums.
“We are proud to have successfully delivered an open, inclusive and safe tournament for all. Even some of our staunchest critics admit that the Qatar World Cup has been the safest, most family-friendly and most accessible World Cup yet,” the Qatari official said.
The ban on alcohol, which came just days before the World Cup kick-off, was also the focus point of many western headlines. However, the u-turn on the decision quickly appeared to contribute to what has been widely described as the safest World Cup.
“Many supporters, especially women and families, have highlighted the enhanced safety and experience provided by alcohol-free stadiums, while our tradition of warm hospitality ensured that all fans were able to enjoy the World Cup, each in their preferred ways,” Sheikh Meshal noted.
Some criticism, which evolved over time, had focused on Qatar’s policies towards the LGBTQ+ community despite continuous statements by Doha officials that assured the country’s openness to all visitors.
“Millions of visitors have experienced our country, witnessing our warm, welcoming culture that values the rights of all people, ensures women are respected and embraces diversity of backgrounds,” Sheikh Meshal wrote.
The previous editorial also criticised remarks made by FIFA President Gianni Infantino during a press conference held ahead of the World Cup, in which he called out western hypocrisy and said Europe should apologise, not give ‘moral lessons’.
In his piece, Sheikh Meshal said the tournament’s opportunities to “discover shared values and challenge prejudices should be celebrated as a success for all.”
Meanwhile, Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers has remained an issue of concern both in the lead-up to and after event.
The Qatari envoy stressed that the Gulf state “has always been open to criticisms and new ideas, and acted swiftly to address challenges.”
“We embraced engagement with critics and worked closely with international experts, including the International Labor Organization, to introduce sweeping reforms at a remarkable pace. Progress on the ground has been highlighted through regular, independent ILO reports,” he said.
The previous editorial piece described the sporting event in Qatar as “a World Cup of human rights horrors” while citing alleged death records of workers that were published by the Guardian and Human Rights Watch.
However, the Guardian’s article, which put a false number to the death of migrant workers, has been the centre of scrutiny and slammed by officials as baseless.
The Supreme Committee has consistently stated that since the World Cup’s stadium construction started in 2014, there have only been three migrant work-related fatalities.
Qatar has repeatedly stressed that it responded to criticism by introducing major reform, most notably the dismantling of the controversial kafala, or sponsorship, system. Sheikh Meshal said that last year alone, 420,000 workers switched employers.
According to the Qatari official, since 2015, “more than 1.6 million workers are covered by the Wage Protection System, which ensures wages are paid in full and on time.”
“New mechanisms have been introduced to facilitate better access to justice for workers. This includes the Workers’ Support and Insurance Fund, which is effective in providing compensation for workers and their families, reimbursing workers with nearly $320 million this year alone,” he added.