If Qatar Shouldn’t Host The World Cup, Neither Should the United States
Union of European Football Associations (UEFA)
Danish Football Association
Swiss Football Association
Koninklijke Nederlandse Voetbalbond
Football Association of Wales
When FIFA selected Qatar as the host for the 2022 World Cup, there was an uproar in the Global North regarding the country’s suitability to host an event of such magnitude. In the days to the kickoff between Qatar and Ecuador, the criticism grew louder, with some even calling for the event to be awarded to another country. Western celebrities, governments, media, football players, and NGOs have given several reasons Qatar should not host the World Cup. These include the lack of infrastructure, bribery during the bidding process, same-sex relationship criminalisation, extreme heat, restrictive alcohol consumption policies, disruption to the European league, and human rights abuses such as the working conditions of migrant workers used to build stadiums and women’s rights. England, Wales, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark and Switzerland Football Associations have led the righteous indignation against Qatar through its One Love Arm Band campaign.
Suppose we use the above reasons to question Qatar’s suitability for hosting the World Cup. In that case, the same yardstick should be used to disqualify the United States, which has been selected along with Canada and Mexico to co-host the 2026 FIFA World Cup. If you investigate the issues I will detail in the following paragraphs with an open mind; you will conclude that America is not morally fit to host the World Cup.
The 2026 World Cup will occur in several US cities, including New York, Dallas, Kansas City, Houston, Los Angeles, Seattle and Boston. As millions of fans from around the world congregate in America to watch the quadrennial event, their safety must be assured. Unfortunately, the USA is a very unsafe country. America has a culture of mass shootings where individuals go on a shooting spree. If someone takes a trip to the church, shopping mall, school or work, it could be that person’s last day on earth. This is because the right to carry guns is enshrined in the US Constitution. According to Small Arms Survey, an estimated 393,347,000 firearms are in civilian possession. In 2022, there have been over 600 mass shootings throughout the country. Children in school are not even spared from the carnage of excessive gun ownership. According to Education Week, in 2022, there have been 46 shootings in American schools and 139 such shootings since 2018. It is estimated that 106 people die every day from gun violence. The World Cup final will occur at the 82,500-capacity MetLife Stadium, 8km west of New York City. In April 2022, a gunman shot ten people at a train station in New York. There has been a 26% year-on-year increase in crime in New York City, including 327 murders, 1,249 rapes, 13,182 robberies, 19,819 felony assaults, 11,825 burglaries, 38,732 grand larceny incidents and 10,139 grand larceny auto incidents.
Many commentators describe America as the incarceration capital of the world. No country imprisons its citizens as the US. As of the time of writing, around 2 million people languish in US jails. The US operates a colour-coded imprisonment system in which predominately black and brown people are locked behind bars. Michelle Alexander states in her book The New Jim Crow, “No other country in the world imprisons so many of its racial or ethnic minorities. The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.” Should a country that detains its population based on skin colour be granted permission to host the greatest sporting event in the world? Another factor that should disqualify America from hosting the World Cup is her embrace of capital punishment. Capital punishment is legal in 27 states in America. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2019, American prisoners executed had been on death row for an average of 22 years. The American Civil Liberties Union notes, “The death penalty system in the US is applied in an unfair and unjust manner against people, largely dependent on how much money they have, the skill of their attorneys, race of the victim and where the crime took place.”
In addition, with the US hosting the world in 2026, it would have to rely on its police force to protect the millions of fans visiting the country. According to Human Right Watch, none of the American state law that governs the use of lethal force by the police comply with international law. Can a country notorious for its police using excessive force and engaging in the colour-coded extrajudicial killings of Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and George Floyd be trusted to protect sports fans of different colours and creeds?
While America prides itself in being a beacon for democracy, it is a DINO — Democracy In Name Only. We all watched in horror what happened on 6 January 2021 on the steps of Capital Hill. Voting suppression is rampant in the US. According to Brennan Center for Justice, a law and public policy institute, 27 states proposed around 148 election interference bills in 2022. It also reported that 18 states had passed 34 restrictive voting laws, which disproportionately affect voters of colour, since 2021. Furthermore, corporations have a greater say in determining democratic outcomes than the people. America preaches democracy but practices Dollarcracy, which is One Dollar, One Vote. This is unacceptable for a so-called civilised society.
America is also wanting in terms of women’s rights. It is one of seven countries that has not signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. This international convention protects the rights of women. In July 2022, the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women rebuked the US for violations of women’s human rights. In its country report, Human Rights Watch stated, “Indigenous women continued to experience disproportionately high levels of rape and sexual violence and lacked access to basic post-rape care. Additionally, Indigenous women continued to experience high rates of disappearance and murder.” Besides letting its women down, America has also abandoned its children. The United States is the only United Nations member state that has not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). This treaty sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children. Human Rights Watch noted that “US states overwhelmingly fail to live up to key standards set by the CRC.” According to the human rights organisation, 20 US states received an F score. According to Unchained At Last, child marriage is legal in 43 states in America, and over a quarter million children, some as young as 10, were married in the US between 2000 and 2018.
The US also implements a discriminatory vaccination border control policy that could exclude Africans and other people from emerging economies from attending the World Cup. Vaccination from COVID-19 is a condition for entering the US despite other countries such as Britain, Australia and Canada relaxing their COVID travel restrictions. Moreover, many African countries have low vaccination rates, such as Nigeria, Ethiopia and DRC, with vaccination rates of 2.1%, 3.5% and 0.1%, respectively. In short, the US has indirectly closed its border to many black and brown-populated countries. Why should America host an event if it implements policies that exclude black people worldwide?
A country with a track record of causing destruction and meddling in the affairs of other regions is not fit to host the World Cup. The USA currently has over 750 military bases spread over 80 countries. It has the largest possession of weapons of mass destruction, which it has used indiscriminately. According to the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, over 387,000 civilians have been killed in the US wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, and Pakistan since September 2001. The Airways Net and Investigation reported, “At least 22,679, and potentially as many as 48,308 civilians, have been likely killed by US strikes since 9/11.” By using drones to blow up civilians, America has breached several international laws. America is also a colonial empire as it has colonial control over American Samoa, Guam, and United States Virgin Islands, which the United Nations describe as non-self-governing territories. Should we entrust such a country to use the World Cup spectacle to sportwash its image?
Despite hosting the United Nations and preaching human rights to the outermost parts of the world, America is a serial human rights non-committal state. For example, the US is not a signatory to the UN Racism Convention and has not signed or ratified the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and the Convention against Enforced Disappearance. In addition, it withdrew from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court because it would expose American politicians and soldiers to being charged with human rights abuses and crimes against humanity. America’s ill-treatment of asylum seekers is also worth considering. Border authorities have subjected refugees at the US-Mexico border to inhumane treatment, contravening international laws.
Hate crime continues to run amok in America. The US’s historical dehumanisation of its black population is well documented and continues. Blacks are still at the bottom of the racial totem pole. The FBI reported that hate crimes have risen to a 12-year high, driven by attacks on blacks and Asians. According to the FBI’s Hate Crime Statistics, in 2020, 61.8% of hate crimes were racially motivated, and 20% were based on sexual orientation. As the west points to Qatar’s intolerance of same-sex relationships, is America different? A few days ago, five people were killed and 25 injured during a mass shooting at a gay bar in Colorado. Islamophobia is also rife in the US. According to ProPublica, “There were two hundred and twenty-one publicly reported hate incidents targeting mosques during the April 2013-June 2017 period.” In 2017, former US president Donald Trump instituted a travel ban for citizens of Muslim countries like Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. With the presidential elections taking place in two years, would it be worth taking the risk of granting the US hosting rights when these travel bans could quickly be reinstated with an executive order?
As the 2022 World Cup draws to an end, I hope you will use your righteous indignation to campaign for America’s exclusion from co-hosting the 2026 edition. In the event that the US co-hosts the event, if we don’t see western teams boycott the World Cup; if we don’t see western captains wear One Love armbands to protest racial and sex hate crimes; if we don’t see western teams cover their mouths during the team prematch photo shoots; if we don’t hear western capitals call for US to be stripped of the co-hosting rights; if we don’t see western football association threaten to sue FIFA; if we don’t see the western media pages filled with articles about the violence, crime and racism taking place in America, then it will be safe to conclude that the uproar regarding Qatar has nothing to do with human rights but more to do with western hegemony and western hypocrisy.
Ahmed Olayinka Sule, CFA