The World Cup is underway in Qatar amid a frenzy of controversy and rows that has seen many question why the tournament is being hosted in the country, and FIFA on the defensive.
The tournament was awarded to Qatar in 2010 which resulted in a spate of controversy as allegations of corruption ensued.
The host nation has denied any wrongdoing in how it emerged with a successful bid for the competition to be hosted in their country.
As the opening of the tournament approached, questions began to ramp up over the country’s human rights abuses and stance on LGBT rights.
FIFA have come to the defence of the host nation, with FIFA president Gianni Infantino taking aim at European critics of Qatar on the eve of the tournament kicking off.
“We have told many many lessons from some Europeans, from the western world,” he said, a day out from the tournament opener between the hosts and Ecuador.
Fans gather at the Al Bayt stadium for the opening game of the Qatar World Cup. AMR ABDALLAH DALSH
“I am European. I think for what we Europeans have been doing the last 3,000 years we should be apologising for next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons to people.”
He added: “We should all educate ourselves. Reform and change takes time, it took hundreds of years in our countries in Europe where we think we’ve achieved the top. I wonder if that’s the case.
“The only way of obtaining results is by engaging, dialogue. Not by hammering, insulting. When your child does something bad at school and you tell him you’re an idiot, you’re useless and you put him up in his room, what do you think his reaction will be?
“If you engage with him, he will recognise that and he will be better. I don’t want to give you any lessons of life, but what is going on here is profoundly unjust.
“Europe is a heart of multicultural tolerance but even in Europe there are things that are not good. We should look at ourselves before criticising others.”
Questions over the country have extended to England’s playing squad and manager, Gareth Southgate, with many calling for a boycott.
Gareth Southgate believes England have “made a rod for their own back” by speaking out on human rights at the World Cup but will not stop his players from talking on such issues in Qatar.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino wrote to all 32 competing nations earlier this month urging them to focus on the on-field action and “not allow football to be dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists” during the contentious tournament.
Southgate has been asked about human rights issues in Qatar right back to England’s qualification campaign and his players have also fronted up when questions surrounding the treatment of the LGBTQ+ community and other societal talking points have been raised.
Harry Kane is one of several national captains planning to participate in the ‘OneLove’ campaign during the tournament to oppose discrimination while England travelled to Qatar on Tuesday on a plane named ‘Rain Bow’ – the symbol of LGBTQ+ pride.
Ecuador fans soak up the atmosphere at the opening game of the Qatar World Cup. MATTHEW CHILDS
Leicester midfielder James Maddison was the first player to face the media and was asked about LGBTQ+ rights, saying the squad “stand for diversity and inclusivity”.
Southgate – who along with his squad on Thursday met migrant workers at England’s Al Wakrah training base – believes the expectations on players to speak out on political points has risen in recent years but, while he is keen for it to not impact on performances, he wants them to voice their opinions.
“We are now asked more of those types of questions than ever before,” he said.
“Perhaps it’s because we’ve made a rod for our own back in that we’ve dealt with some pretty hefty issues fairly well, I think, as a group.
“But the reality is, very few of us were university educated, we’re doing our best to make sure that we’re as informed as we can be and I think we will speak up when we think we can make a difference.
“I think that the background to why they have had that awareness and have had that impact is because their upbringings have been so diverse.
“I think the diversity of the team brings that difference in thinking because of the experiences in their own lives.”
A further controversy that arose just days before the tournament kicking off was the banning of alcohol to fans at World Cup stadiums.
o one attending matches will be able to consume alcohol within the stadium perimeter, with the exception of corporate spectators.
FIFA released a statement on Friday confirming the removal of sales points of beer from the stadium perimeters “following discussions between the host country authorities and FIFA”.
It is understood Qatar, as hosts, are concerned about the impact of alcohol sales on fans for whom drinking is not part of the culture – not just Qataris but people from other parts of the Middle East and Asia more widely.
Supporters will still be able to consume alcohol in designated fan zones, but the incident throws into question the degree to which FIFA has control over the tournament.
Fans attend a FIFA fan festival in Qatar. HANNAH MCKAY
It will have an unhappy sponsor on its hands in Budweiser. The brewing company is reported to pay FIFA 75 million US dollars (around £62.86m) every four years to be one of its top-level partners, and it will be interesting to see what impact this has on the commercial deal.
The company tweeted from its main account on Friday: “Well, this is awkward” – a post which was then deleted.
The Football Supporters’ Association criticised the lateness of the decision and accused organisers of a “total lack of communication”.
“Some fans like a beer at a game and some don’t, but the real issue is the last minute U-turn which speaks to a wider problem – the total lack of communication and clarity from the organising committee towards supporters,” a spokesperson said.
“If they can change their minds on this at a moment’s notice, with no explanation, supporters will have understandable concerns about whether they will fulfil other promises relating to accommodation, transport or cultural issues.”
FIFA said in a statement: “Following discussions between host country authorities and FIFA, a decision has been made to focus the sale of alcoholic beverages on the FIFA Fan Festival, other fan destinations and licensed venues, removing sales points of beer from Qatar’s FIFA World Cup 2022 stadium perimeters.
The tournament kicks off in a clash between the host nation, Qatar, and Ecuador.
The home nations will be represented in the tournament by England and Wales, who will also be competing in the same group.