Qatar 2022: A spectacle for the rich
Two young Iranian upper-class girls display symbols of local feminism during an Iranian national team match at the World Cup in Qatar.
The World Cup matches have attracted more than one million people to Qatar. Its hospitality infrastructure cannot be compared to that of previous venues, not least because the country is not of comparable size. The emirate administers approximately half the territory of the Spanish province of Badajoz, or 2,000 km2 less than the Buenos Aires conurbation.
Lodging is expensive: the cheap hotels cost more than 1,000€ per night. So to complete the offer, the waters of Doha have been filled with cruise ships that do not charge much less. Fans with less money can resort to rooms or small, not very well equipped apartments costing at least 200$ per night.
Not surprisingly, the protests that symbolically reach the stands are those of the affluent Middle Eastern petty bourgeoisie. No one else can get there. Certainly no Qatari worker.
Built on the most savage exploitation of workers
Workers at the construction site of one of the World Cup stadiums.
Because that $200 or $250 a night for a crappy room is little more than the theoretical minimum monthly wage of a local worker... before paying hefty fees in order to be exploited.
That is if they get to charge the legal minimum wage, a globalist concession to gain image, which only exists on paper. Moreover, even poverty wages often go unpaid. In Qatar, the employer who fails to pay wages routinely goes unpunished. Among other things because strikes are forbidden, surveillance is obsessive and hyper-technological and repression and deportation of those who protest for not having been paid, immediate.
And the conditions of class dictatorship are necessarily explicit in a country with a population of almost 3 million inhabitants, 91% of whom do not have Qatari nationality, they are migrant workers. Similar figures are found throughout the region with the well-known consequences for the working conditions of workers. Between Qatar, Emirates, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain they add up to, not counting works for the World Cup, 10,000 dead workers per year only among the migrants of Asian origin (Pakistan, Nepal, Philippines, etc.). A few seem to be coming from Kenya, Morocco, and other African countries.
However, this time we cannot say that it has been made invisible by the media in the run-up to the inauguration. From the Le Monde compilations to The Guardian's investigations over the last 9 years, the European press has echoed a massive catalog of abuses and recognized that the situation of workers during the construction of the World Cup infrastructure has even reached forced labor - known as modern slavery - and produced a real slaughter of thousands of workers out of the lack of minimum safety conditions.
Against a backdrop of pure and simple imperialism
FIFA President Infantini.
The question is, why did they talk about it this time? The answer is revealed once you get a little bit of perspective. During the last 40 years soccer became massively financialized and had become an enormous business that was beginning to be considered strategic by some large national capitals.
Nor does it escape Larraín's notice that FIFA Gate, was nothing more than the US assault on the -inevitably corrupt- world soccer structure to secure a portion of the revenues generated by international tournaments. The second big assault came last year when the attempt to create a Super League of major European clubs, which would have forced the major European states to import their own soccer by buying rights from U.S. networks, was thwarted.
Between one thing and the other, the concession first to Russia and then to Qatar of the last two World Cups were part of the same scenario of the rise of the imperialist conflict in a terrain which, after all, had historically grown and consolidated itself as part of the patriotic mobilization for war.
And if already with Russia there was no lack of journalistic denunciations, as soon as the World Cup was awarded to Qatar, a true global campaign began whose real objective was none other than to besiege a FIFA that the USA wanted to conquer and European capital, at the very least, to submit to control.
Believe it or not, FIFA does not group together particularly corrupt factions of the ruling classes of each country, although they are relatively alien to the determination of the great lines of national capital. Despite the evident political influence in some countries of big businessmen with soccer teams, they are rarely part of the strategic decision-making nuclei that determine the global positioning of their respective national capitals. In fact, they are either minor bureaucrats or characters with large personal fortunes and thus difficult to fit into the bureaucratic structures of state capitalism.
For these sectors, FIFA is pure business. And they don't care if the European press protests because the stadiums are empty or if, as Infantino reminded us, they make more money than ever. And not only with the World Cup. Qatar and the Emirates have been major investors and sponsors in the sector both in Europe and in other continents over the last two decades, or does no one remember Spanish teams with their names on their jerseys and famous British clubs financially saved by a providential sheikh?
So if the American or German press tries to question Qatar's suitability as a venue by pointing to the persecution of homosexuality or the brutal discrimination of women, Infantino and his colleagues resort to the same decolonial discourse that the American academy tries to globalize by claiming that Europeans (and Americans) should start by "apologizing" for "the last three thousand years" before criticizing the Qatari rulers.
Cynical evidently, but no less than blaming today's exploited whites, Westerners or males for the cultural forms historically adopted by the rule of their exploiters as does the original racialism, indigenism or feminism.
And certainly no less cynical than Macron declaring on the one hand the beginning of the Republican Reconquest of the neighborhoods controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood with the sponsorship of Qatar and on the other hand trying to redirect those investments, totaling more than 25 billion euros already, to where they reinforce French national capital. Or Spain, which on the one hand, through King Emeritus, got close with Qatar's main imperialist rivals -Saudi Arabia and the Emirates- to obtain large tenders, and on the other, enjoys with his son, the current king, the 5 billion injections promised by Qatari capital.
And in the end, the elephant in the room of the Qatari World Cup is the war in Ukraine and the gas hunger of the European industry. Of course Qatar has watered the opinion makers. But the important and decisive thing is that both the US and the EU and even the emirate's regional rivals - at odds with Biden over OPEC's pricing policy - have their hopes pinned on winning over the Qatari rulers. Which dampens imperialist tensions over the control of FIFA in pursuit of greater interests.
What is this World Cup all about?
- For the Qatari ruling class, it means the consecration of its imperialist policy misnamed "soft power": dominating the global media in Arabic with Al-Jazeera, winning the good media treatment in Europe with the sponsorship of big soccer clubs and the investment in big media and communication groups such as Prisa... while simultaneously financing the Muslim Brotherhood, etc. It is a strategy that allows them to gain room for maneuver in other states and territories to place capital and to increase their hydrocarbon sales and, now, AI and technologies of social control.
- In addition, its so-called "stadium box diplomacy" has worked to smooth things over and lower the level of conflict with both its main regional rivals, the Saudis, and the US.
- On the domestic front in Qatar, the World Cup has also served as an opportunity for an incipient nationalism to take root capable of joining a part of the resident Sunni Arabs with the few of those with nationality.
- As a result, for the petty bourgeoisie in the Middle East, it has become a showcase not only of their internal cultural and political claims, but also of their own nationalist ambitions.
- In the battle between national capitals for the control of world soccer, this Qatar 2022 has meant something more than a truce: the subjugation of the struggle to dominate FIFA to the panorama of balances, frictions and movements towards the formation of blocs. It is not that contradictions disappear, it is that other bigger and bloodier imperialist contradictions already occupy the scene. It is a matter more of controlling rather than besieging FIFA and its part of the business.
- For Gulf workers the World Cup has meant massacre, deportation, pain and redoubled exploitation. They have been guinea pigs for the new AI-powered technologies of totalitarian control. And they have taken the blows of the most brutal and unpunished repression.
- For workers in the rest of the world, this World Cup has entailed a new dose of nacionalism just as degrading, demeaning and warmongering in Argentina or Mexico as in Belgium, Morocco and the Netherlands. No wonder, that's what World Cups were for.