Lee Wellings: Is ‘Open Season’ on Qatar fair?

In the three years since Qatar was awarded hosting rights for the 2022 World Cup I haven’t heard their Supreme Committee or anyone with power deny anyone the right to free speech, to question or to criticise the decision.

But what would be helpful is if the critics made sure they were accurate, well researched and fair.

Some chance.

It’s open season on the 2022 hosts, where many ‘commentators’ don’t seem to be able to make a legitimate point about without adding extra criticisms and speculation that amount to a form of prejudice.

First though, the legitimate and the serious.

The spotlight on Qatar 2022 was shifted from the winter switch to the plight of construction workers when an English newspaper further investigated the deaths of 44 migrant workers in the country, specifying Nepalese workers and alleging conditions that led to their deaths.

A horrifying scenario, important journalism and the very least the organisers and FIFA could do was swift responses promising the matter will be looked into and safer conditions ensured.

Questioning and challenging the governing body and the organisers on this matter is absolutely right and proper. The investigations needs to lead to better, safer conditions. Criticism won’t hurt – it’s action that will be needed here for when World Cup construction begins.

If only this level of journalism was being applied to other familiar areas surrounding the tournament.

1. The tournament was secured by unfair, corrupt means.

Really? Well let’s take the accusation as seriously as it needs to be. So Theo Zwanziger of the German FA and the accusers. Let’s see the evidence. And I don’t mean that flippantly or rhetorically. Evidence please.

2. That FIFA knew it would be too hot to play a World Cup in Qatar in temperatures pushing 50 degrees in June and July. And that it would surely have to be switched. You can cool stadiums but you can’t cool an entire country and so on.

But are you telling me the World Cup should not/should never be played in the Middle East? The fact there’s extreme heat in Qatar is only the half the story. A switch to winter is not a tragedy and should always have been considered.

FIFA admitted they made a mistake awarding two World Cups (2018 and 2022) together. It was messy, difficult and unnecessary. It was a fair, democratic vote but if people want to criticise FIFA Executive Committee members then it’s not up to me to defend the governing body. The criticism is fair comment and reasonable

But what people don’t seem to grasp is that Qatar is not an isolated state, an island cut off and of no significance to a region. A Qatar World Cup is a Middle East World Cup.

You see my opinion, formed with much consideration over a long period, is that FIFA has stumbled on to something hugely important. The need to take this tournament to the region. As I’ve said many times it is the WORLD Cup, not the European Championship.

And that means a switch to winter. Ideal? No. A nightmare for the English Premier League, yes. They need to be consulted and treated properly on this. A nightmare for the Bundesliga? Not necessarily. People need to dry their tears over a calendar switch and see this is a shade of grey. It’s not black and white. World Cup summer/European Leagues winter is a grossly over simplified way of looking at such a big issue.

3. The Aussies/Americans will sue, and rightly so etc

It’s incredible the way journalists will throw this thought into a piece criticising Qatar, often full of borderline racist swipes about the country.

On what grounds should they sue?

That they bid for a World Cup on the grounds it would be played in summer? It would be gently advisable for such columnists to actually do some research – some real work beyond the gob-on-a-stick schtick – and look at the legal situation. FIFA can play the tournament as and when they wish. Bottom line. I agree that doesn’t seem entirely fair, but what it does mean is that I don’t tell Al Jazeera viewers that FIFA could be successfully sued by an unsuccessful bid nation.

If a club or league challenge the governance of FIFA at some point over the next nine years – potentially even threatening to withdraw players – that’s different. Legally it’s difficult to say where this could all end up.

But this line ‘they should take the World Cup away from Qatar’ should always be met by ‘on what legal grounds?’. Lawyers and governing bodies will stick to that, even if the keyboard warriors don’t.

It’s also possible of course that a television network will complain, pressurise, threaten or even take legal action over clashes. One American network Fox is reportedly and understandably concerned, though there has been some unfortunate misrepresentation of its stance – journalists seizing on their columnists’ right to free speech and making columns appear to be an ‘official view’.

I write before heading to FIFA HQ in Zurich where item 25.2 on the FIFA agenda will cover the two big areas of concerning the World Cup Qatar.

The ‘winter of discontent’. How to harmonise a football schedule. Not a life and death matter.

Then a real life and death matter. Worker’s conditions.

Understand the difference and what’s really important.

Have you considered that you could do with a bit more information on the subject and that a complete open season on Qatar might not be entirely fair?

Lee Wellings is the Sports Correspondent for Al Jazeera English based in London. Contact him at ten.a1696128838reeza1696128838jla@s1696128838gnill1696128838ew.ee1696128838l1696128838. Follow Lee on twitter @LeeW_Sport