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University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation

Why Hosting the World Cup May Have Worsened Human Rights Abuses in Qatar

December 14, 2022
Pearce Edwards, Christian Gläβel, and Adam Scharpf

Blog

In analysis for Political Violence At A Glance, an IGCC-supported blog dedicated to political violence and its alternatives, Pearce Edwards, postdoctoral fellow at Carnegie Mellon University, Christian Gläβel, postdoctoral researcher at the Hertie School, and Adam Scharpf, an assistant professor at the University of Copenhagen, analyze the human rights abuses that follow the World Cup from Qatar to Argentina.

The much-anticipated finals of the 2022 FIFA World Cup will take place on December 18. The match will represent the climax of one of the world’s largest sports mega-events—one that has attracted billions of television viewers and shattered rating records.

The host nation, Qatar, spared no expense in building competition venues and infrastructure for visitors, and promoting itself to foreign audiences. The quasi-independent Qatari newspaper, Gulf Timesproclaimed the World Cup an “achievement” that is “expected to be the best in history” and that offers a “successful and comfortable” experience for its millions of visitors and spectators. Human rights NGOs, by contrast, urged foreign journalists to look beyond this image of peace and prosperity the Qatari monarchy constructed ahead of the competition. How has the regime reacted to this scrutiny?

Our research on dictatorships’ response to the scrutiny they face when hosting mega-events such as the World Cup suggests host regimes will take two actions. First, in the weeks and months leading up to a mega-event, the regime will arrest and detain opposition activists. If left on the streets, these activists could denounce and embarrass a host regime during the event when foreign spectators, press, and dignitaries are present. Second, this campaign of repression will ease once the event begins, as the host regime rolls out the red carpet for visitors. With the streets cleared, the regime curates for visitors an enjoyable experience. A smooth and successful event thus bestows legitimacy on the hosts.

These two actions were on display in Argentina around its controversial hosting of the 1978 FIFA World Cup. At the time, a repressive military regime ruled the country, and faced a boycott campaign from human rights groups. To prevent its domestic critics from speaking out during the competition, the regime ramped up its use of enforced disappearances and killings in the months before the tournament. These acts of violence occurred in cities hosting matches, and in areas nearby the hotels reserved for foreign journalists.

Read the full blog post at Political Violence At A Glance.