The Ethical Challenge for Qatar 2022

by Ghanem Nuseibeh

In December 2010, the FIFA Committee awarded Qatar the right to host the World Cup in 2022. The day was historic on many levels: it was the first time a Middle Eastern country was awarded the right, the first time FIFA awarded two tournaments at the same time (with 2018 going to Russia), and it was the first time a country of that size was due to host such a major global event.

Almost immediately after the award, there was an unprecedented backlash from the football community. Questions were raised about the merit of the FIFA decision to award Qatar the 2022 games.

This blog post aims to assess the degree to which institutional corruption was present in the FIFA decision to award Qatar the 2022 games. It does not intend to address allegations of corruption in the legal and widely understood sense of the word. It does not address corruption as bribery or “[t]aking this (money) in exchange for that (special favour or privilege)," as mentioned by Lessig (2011).1

Lessig (2013) defines institutional corruption as being manifest “when there is a systemic and strategic influence which is legal, or even currently ethical, that undermines the institution’s effectiveness by diverting it from its purpose or weakening its ability to achieve its purpose, weakening either the public trust in that institution or the institution’s inherent trustworthiness."2

A month after the award to Qatar was announced, FIFA President Sepp Blatter announced his support for the idea that the tournament is moved to winter, given the high summer temperatures in Qatar. This would be the first time ever that the tournament would be held in the winter months. Qatari officials initially expressed opposition to the change of season and insisted on continuing with plans to air-condition the stadia. However, opposition to a summer tournament has waned, and Qatar now appears to accept a move to winter, leaving the decision to FIFA.

The discussion surrounding the award included allegations of corruption. However, this is not the subject of this post and whether or not allegations of this type of “conventional” corruption are proven, is incidental to institutional corruption that affects both FIFA and Qatar.

Qatar’s bid included two main pillars that appear to have played a role in the FIFA decision to award. The first was that Qatar is the first Middle Eastern country to host the World Cup. The second was allaying concerns about the temperature in the summer months in Qatar.

Zinedine Zidane, former French international player and ambassador to the Qatar FIFA 2022 bid, said that the victory of Qatar is "a victory for the Arab World."3 In fact, the whole Qatari bid team spared no argument in conveying this argument. Blatter confirmed in an interview with L’Equipe that "[t]here were interventions at different levels so that [FIFA 2022] would go to an Arab country." When it decided on Qatar for 2022, FIFA's intention was to award the tournament to the whole Arab World, especially given that Qatar was the only Arab country to bid for the right to host.

The price that FIFA was prepared to pay was to hold the World Cup in a country where the temperatures are too high for players to be able to play outdoors. Qatari officials made it clear that they intend to build air-conditioned stadia to enable them to host the World Cup in the summer months.

However, shortly after the award, key officials started expressing concern about the merits of hosting the World Cup in Qatar in the summer months. Greg Dyke, the England Football Association chairman said that “[m]y position, and I suspect the FA’s position, will be: ‘You can’t play it in the summer.'" FIFA then announced that it will discuss the possibility of shifting the World Cup in 2022 to winter. Moving the World Cup to the winter months will cause massive disruption to the annual football calendar, as national football associations will need to change their schedule to allow for the World Cup to go ahead.

The question is whether the controversy surrounding the award to Qatar constitutes institutional corruption. The two pillars of the Qatari bid cannot be considered in isolation. Would FIFA have awarded Qatar the 2022 bid, if part of the bid Qatar presented was that the 2022 World Cup would be hosted in winter?

The information currently available suggests that FIFA’s eagerness to award the World Cup to an Arab country did not include any illegal or unethical influence. In fact, one might even argue that FIFA’s insistence to award the 2022 to an Arab country is more ethical than not awarding it to an Arab country. It may also be argued that awarding the World Cup to an Arab country strengthens FIFA’s purpose of bringing football to the whole world. That is certainly the case, if the World Cup is held in the summer months. The public understanding when the award was announced was certainly that the event would be held in the summer. Moving the tournament to winter raises serious questions about the merit of awarding the event to Qatar in the first place. Will moving the tournament to winter weaken public trust in FIFA, and/or its inherent trustworthiness?

To figure out the answer, the following are some of the questions that will need to be addressed:

Wasn’t FIFA aware that the temperature in Qatar is unbearably hot during the summer when it made the award? If it did, it presumably accepted Qatar’s solution to the heat problem through building air-conditioned stadia. Why has this changed now? Have the engineers designing the stadia concluded that air-conditioning them is technically not possible, and therefore Qatar has in effect reneged on its promise to provide air-conditioned stadia? If that were the case, should the tournament still be hosted in Qatar?

With the facts publicly available, there are strong indications that institutional corruption was present in the process that led to the award of the 2022 tournament to Qatar. The question that remains is whether FIFA is concerned about this as calls for it to reform mount. Pielke (2013) has indicated that despite FIFA’s reputation being at “an all-time low,” according to the British Prime Minister (June 2011), “there appears to be little reason to expect that its public reputation will be anything other than a minor factor in any future reforms.”

If reforming FIFA will take a long time to rectify issues such as public trust, is Qatar willing to risk its reputation as a country and as a brand for the sake of hosting the World Cup?

FIFA has several options:

  1. Hold the World Cup in Qatar in the summer, as normal;

  2. Move the World Cup to winter but keep it in Qatar;

  3. Re-vote for the 2022 tournament;

  4. Find a compromise.

The first option (no change, as currently planned) has already come under significant criticism. It is becoming increasingly inconceivable for the tournament to be held in Qatar in the summer for a number of reasons, including the health and safety of the players and the fans.

From an institutional corruption perspective, the second option (holding the tournament in winter) is the worst. It will require dealing with dozens of national football associations and convincing them to move their tournaments to winter. It risks leading to further accusations of institutional corruption, and worse.

The third option, a re-vote, may be in FIFA’s best interest, and an opportunity to start a new page as far as its public image is concerned.

A fourth and final alternative can be drawn up that takes into account the desire to have the World Cup held in an Arab country, but at the same time not have to change the date. It could still remain a Qatari event, but have most of the games held in cooler parts of the Middle East and restrict the events held in Qatar itself to perhaps the opening and closing games. Whilst such an option requires amending the case that led to FIFA awarding Qatar the tournament, it may be the least damaging from an ethical point of view. Instead of leaving Qatar’s reputation damaged, it will enhance it regionally. It will truly make the tournament an Arab event, as Qatar wanted it to be.

FIFA—and, to a lesser extent, Qatar—have a massive task to deal with to clear their names from accusations of institutional corruption.


1 Lessig, Lawrence (2011), “Two Conceptions of 'Corruption,'” ch. 14 of Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress—and a Plan to Stop It (Twelve), 226-247, at 226. 

2 Lessig, Lawrence (2013), “Institutional Corruption Defined,” Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics, Foreword.

3 Pielke, Roger (2013), “How can FIFA be held accountable?,” Sports Management Review, Vol 16, 255-267.