On November 20, Qatar will become the first Muslim country to host the World Cup. In this episode of Neighborhoods & Nations, Steven Morales talks about the unseen problem behind Qatar’s World Cup and encourages Christians to pray for God’s work in Qatar.
The FIFA World Cup is kicking off next week, but are you going to watch it? If you’re in the States chances are maybe not. And that’s not a huge surprise. In the U.S. soccer’s far behind American football, Baseball and basketball when it comes to viewers. But it’s not like that in the rest of the world. All right. So I don’t want to start any wars here, but if we’re talking about global influence and impact, I mean, let’s look for a moment, a quick social experiment, at Tom Brady’s Instagram follower account, 12.8 million. That’s not bad. That’s like the population of Illinois.
Let’s look here now at Cristiano Ronaldo, 494 million. That’s like the population of the U.S., Mexico, and the rest of Central America combined. I mean, if we’re talking about global influence, I don’t know. You tell me.
Who is Qatar
But this video is not about the biggest sporting event in the world. It’s about where it’s taking place. Have you ever heard of Qatar? So in 2010, FIFA, that’s the international governing body for fútbol, made huge news when it announced that Qatar had won its bid to host the 2022 World Cup.
But not everybody was celebrating. Allegations started flying that the whole process was corrupt from the start. And many reports have come in that a lot of workers building the infrastructure needed to host such a huge event were suffering under all kinds of abuses.
Qatar clearly wants the world’s recognition right? But take a closer look at what’s happening there and you’ll find that Qatar’s leaders don’t even recognize the basic human rights of many people in their own borders. And that includes some pretty vulnerable Christians. So when the spotlight falls on the World Cup next week, a lot of unseen people will still be in the shadows. As believers, I feel like we should try to see those people, even if it’s from far away.
So what’s so surprising about Qatar hosting the World Cup? Well, for starters, it’s the first Middle Eastern country to do it. And it’s really small, 100 miles long, 50 miles wide. It’s about the size of Connecticut. Second, It’s really hot. The average temperature in the summer is about 113 degrees Fahrenheit. In fact, it gets so hot, the organizers upended the whole schedule by holding the games five months later than usual just to make the temperatures tolerable for players and fans. And third, it’s mostly desert, making it hard to build a city, which is part of the reason why only about 3 million people actually live in Qatar. That’s less than half the population of New York City. That’s like one-fourth of Tom Brady’s followers. I’m just saying it’s not that many.
Now, there’s nothing inherently bad about these things. But how did a tiny nation in the desert with not that many people get picked to host the largest football tournament in the world? Well, there’s not a lot of people, but there is a lot of wealth. A few months ago, Global Finance Magazine reported that Qatar is the fourth richest nation in the world (2022). The US? Ninth. Meaning that Qatar could step up and compete with bigger countries to host the World Cup. But some say that all that money may have also led to a wealth of corruption in the entire process.
The web of accusations is so vast and complicated, it’s hard to follow. But Qatar has denied wrongdoing and insists that the Middle East is a good spot to expand the sport into new places. And they’ve done everything possible to make sure their World Cup will be top-notch.
So maybe you’re still wondering, why do people care so much about this. And maybe to help you understand, let me show you this. This is something kids around the world grow up with. It’s called the Album Panini, not paninis, Panini. It’s a collectible sticker album with all of the players from this year. Since I was a kid for as long as I can remember, I have always bought one of these and tried to fill it up. I can still remember where I was for the 2002 Korea World Cup when I filled one of these up and filling up one of these was like finding all of the Infinity Stones or catching every Pokemon. For kids like me and billions of others around the world, the World Cup was like a Christmas that came around only every four years.
So getting the opportunity to be the host of all of this sounds pretty good for Qatar, right? Well, not for everyone in Qatar.
Who Lives in Qatar?
The truth is, most of the people who live in the country aren’t Qataris at all. In fact, they only make up about 11% of their own population. Most people who live in Qatar are actually migrant workers who come from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and other countries. And the country’s population grew by more than 40% after Qatar won its World Cup bid. And a lot of those people are workers who came to build a huge World Cup complex that includes eight state-of-the-art stadiums, costing reportedly about $200 billion. Qatar obviously wants to be seen as a world-class country, but does the futuristic skyline and a collection of fancy football stadiums mean Qatar should be seen as a modern nation?
Depends on what you think about conditions for migrant workers and about the reality of living in a strict Islamic state.
Conditions for Migrant Workers
Reports on working conditions for migrant workers are not good. Some say they’ve gone unpaid for weeks and are living in squalid conditions. One human rights organization reported that Qatar companies even used forced labor.
Malcom Bidali: I used to be a security guard in Qatar in just the shortest amount of time you can be covered from head to toe in sweat like you’re drenched, completely drenched. It’s that hot. I wrote an article describing just the reality of what we go through, like on a day-to-day basis. My company gave me up. They… They handed me over to the authorities. For the first two weeks, I had no contact with anyone. I was blindfolded. You know, all those things, handcuffed. So I didn’t really know where I was. I didn’t have any hope.
Steven: But people from other countries aren’t the only ones suffering in Qatar. Qatari women live under a strict form of state Islam that serves as a main source for laws in the country. That means that even though some women can go to school and even sometimes hold high-level jobs, the same women often can’t marry, travel, or even drive without a male guardian’s permission. One woman told the human rights group that many Qatari girls live in a constant state of quarantine.
That doesn’t exactly sound like a modern nation. Even if Qatar does have stunning skylines and impressive stadiums. Because the truth is, how we treat people matters. And how we treat people usually flows from what we believe.
Recent stats say about 88% of Qatar’s population is Muslim and somewhere around 6% are Christian. But most of those who identify as Christians aren’t from Qatar. They’re usually migrant workers from other countries. That means that many, maybe even most Qataris are strangers to the Gospel of Christ.
So all we need is for Christians living in Qatar to tell Qataris about Jesus, right? That’s not as easy as it sounds. The Qatar government says outsiders are free to practice their religion, but there are some restrictions, including a pretty big one. They aren’t free to share their faith with non-Christians. Well, that’s not freedom at all. Since sharing our faith is one of the central things the Bible tells us to do. Still, even if a Muslim citizen heard the Gospel, it’s illegal for them to convert to Christianity.
Open Doors reports that Christians in Qatar especially those who convert from Islam to Christianity, remain under extremely high pressure from the government and society, risking discrimination, harassment, police monitoring, and intimidation.
Even one’s family can be dangerous in a culture that sees conversion as a betrayal. The report goes on to say that converting to Christianity means losing your status property and even custody of your children. So what should Christians make of this?
I recently saw a commercial for the World Cup and the tagline said “Joy to the World.” It’s kind of ironic to use a Christmas hymn to advertise an event being played in a country that opposes the spread of Christianity. But it’s actually also kind of the perfect song to keep in mind during the World Cup because even with all the hardships for Christians in Qatar and with all the Qataris who have never heard about Jesus, we still have this hope.
He comes to make his blessings flow as far as a curse is found. Nothing can stop God’s blessings when he decides to move in any place. Christ is King. So let’s pray for the true gospel joy to come to the nations, including Qatar. And let’s pray that Jesus will show them the glories of his righteousness and wonders of his love.