Church leaders express concerns ahead of FIFA World Cup in Qatar

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The drumbeat of international criticism over a range of issues has bruised the small but hugely wealthy emirate

A view shows the Lusail Stadium in Lusail ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup football tournament in Qatar. (Photo: AFP)

Posted: Nov 18, 2022 05:32 GMT

Updated: November 18, 2022 at 05:39 GMT

European church leaders have called for awareness of human rights issues during the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, amid continued criticism that the Gulf state was allowed to host the tournament.

“Women continue to be held back in Qatar, while non-Islamic religions, including Christianity, enjoy only limited freedom and sexual minorities are subject to criminal prosecution. All of this expresses, not only from a Western perspective, a repressive state and social order,” said Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau, who heads the German Catholic sports association DJK Sportjugend.

He said questions were still being asked about the 2010 decision by FIFA, the international football governing body, to award the tournament to Qatar, which has no footballing tradition. The Bishop issued the statement on November 17 as final preparations were underway for the 2022 World Cup, which runs from November 20 to December 20. 18.

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“Like other states on the Arabian Peninsula, the Emirate of Qatar has been catapulted into a new era thanks to oil and gas wealth – today a conservative traditional Islamic society and a hypermodern economic society coexist,” said Bishop Oster. “While it would be unfair to ignore this particular situation by criticizing questionable conditions, it would also be inappropriate to remain silent about human rights restrictions.”

The bishop said Qatar’s mostly foreign population was subject to “strict regulations”, while domestic workers were often isolated and struggled to “enforce their rights against employers”.

The situation worsened, Bishop Oster said, during the construction of stadiums and other venues for the World Cup. He said health and safety standards had been “abysmal”, with “countless accidents and far too many fatalities” among low-wage workers.

Meanwhile, the Austrian Catholic Diocesan Sports Association has also expressed concern about Qatar’s record of ‘human rights abuses, exploitation of migrant workers, corruption and environmental destruction’. , and said estimates of up to 3,000 deaths in the build-up to the tournament suggested “a lack of transparency and possibly slave-like working conditions.”

“Greed always seeks more profit and superlatives – instead we must return to the roots of the sport by promoting its ability to unite,” the association said on November 13.

“Future world events such as world championships should not be awarded to countries governed in a totalitarian manner, unless they promise legally binding improvements with concrete timetables.”

Catholics, mostly from Europe, India and the Philippines, are one of eight registered Christian denominations in Qatar, whose citizens are subject to Sharia, Islamic law, and are not allowed to display symbols religious or to make their faith known.

Government permission must be obtained to import Bibles and other Christian literature into this desert country, where 88% of the 2.5 million inhabitants are foreign citizens.

Although at least 60,000 fans are expected for the November 20 World Cup opener between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium in Doha, many bars and restaurants across Europe have sworn not to screen the contest to protest anti-LGBT laws in the country.

Churches in Germany have recommended church services and campaign events to raise awareness of rights issues during the month-long competition and have also called for changes to the way World Cup host countries are chosen.

In a Nov. 12 interview with the Italian bishops’ news agency SIR, Bishop Paul Hinder, head of the Apostolic Vicariate of North Arabia, which includes Qatar, said the great Church of Our Lady of the Rosary in Doha would remain open for “prayer and meditation”. by World Cup fans.

He added that the country had made “enormous progress” towards improving conditions, preventing Catholics from being stoned when they gathered to pray and celebrate the sacraments, but said progress was still needed on “human rights, social rights and labor standards”.

“The very decision to award the World Cup to Qatar was, as we read, problematic,” Bishop Hinder told SIR. “But I ask arriving fans to respect the local culture, just as Westerners ask those visiting to respect the rules in our countries.”

In a report published in mid-November, the Netherlands-based ecumenical organization Open Doors said the treatment of Christians had deteriorated during preparations for the World Cup in Qatar. The report said only 61 of Qatar’s 157 religious buildings were allowed to reopen after the 2020-2021 coronavirus pandemic, due to a review of government guidelines.

In his statement, Bishop Oster said he did not wish to make World Cup supporters feel guilty, but added that it was right to cast a critical eye on Qatar, which had applied to host the tournament. most-watched event in the world, “to underline its international importance and its gain in notoriety.”

He added that “symbolic actions” in Europe to highlight rights violations should not suggest “moral and cultural superiority”, and pointed out that many hotel workers, taxi drivers and other service workers in Qatar “supported their families at home, often on very small salaries.”

“The many dead and wounded remain the dark underside of a monumental construction work that must not be forgotten amidst the glamor of the completed bullrings,” the German bishop said.

“Experience teaches that major sporting events generally do not improve the social and political situation of host countries in the long term. It is precisely for this reason that it is incumbent on the international community, even after the end of the Cup of the world in Qatar, to continue supporting reforming forces and drawing attention to human rights”.

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