Tensions regarding Russia’s attitudes towards human rights and homosexuality have been furiously bubbling for some time now.
Tensions regarding Russia’s attitudes towards human rights and homosexuality have been furiously bubbling for some time now. So, with the Winter Olympics, taking place in the surprisingly non-snowy city of Sochi, came an ideal opportunity for some serious protesting.
Fuelled by the media and social networks, petitions calling for a boycott amassed thousands upon thousands of signatures, as documentaries such as Channel 4’s ‘Hunted’ appalled viewers, highlighting the shocking treatment of the Russian LGBT community.
Western media sent out some not-so-subtle hints against Putin (if you still haven’t seen Gay Mountain, get on it), Google went for a rainbow doodle in support of the LGBT community, and the German Olympians turned up at the Opening Ceremony in some fabulously awful rainbow-coloured outfits.
Even members of the Russian Olympic team weren’t convinced, with one volunteer asking Putin himself why their uniform was covered in a rainbow pattern. These outbursts, despite their ineffectiveness in actually achieving a boycott, as leaders such as David Cameron decided that, ‘We have a better chance of influencing Russia by engaging and challenging prejudices than by boycotting,’ shows that people are, quite rightly, prepared to use high profile events as platforms for bringing human rights issue into the spotlight.
Comparing and contrasting
So, what about Qatar, the Middle Eastern nation set to host the 2022 World Cup? There are number of similarities between Sochi and Qatar. The first is that neither are exactly appropriate in terms of climate. Whilst Sochi has no snow, Qatar enjoys a hot desert climate: a heatwave in the UK is a Qatari winter. Perfect for football, obviously.
However, there are more sinister points of comparison between the two. We’ve already seen the appalling human rights violations taking place in Russia. However, whilst the world proclaims its outrage, similar incidents are commonplace in Qatar.
Although the World Cup is six years away, already concerns have been raised regarding the treatment of migrant workers, and the treatment of women and homosexuals under Sharia law.
The Guardian has published a chilling estimate that 4000 workers will die during the construction of World Cup venues: surely, not worth it, especially for the sake of an event which presents itself as fostering cohesion between nations. Meanwhile, homosexuality is actually illegal in Qatar, whilst women are given a second-class status, subjecting them to inescapable incidents of violence, discrimination and abuse.
One potential reason for the lack of action against Qatar’s human rights violations is the source of Qatar’s controversial views. Whilst in Russia, homophobes point out an apparently fabricated link between homosexuality and paedophilia in defence of their behaviour, Qatar’s views run much deeper.
A diplomatic strain?
To protest against Qatar’s treatment of women and homosexuals would, arguably, be to protest again Islam itself. And in a world where relations between the West and the Arab World are so fraught anyway, this could be a factor that will prevent action from the West.
However, it goes without saying that the World Cup is going to make Qatar, an already very rich country, even richer. This brings about the question of whether we should be more reluctant to contribute to the wealth of a nation, which treats its own people so appallingly.
As we’ve seen, there is already widespread debate regarding Qatar’s suitability as a World Cup host. However, whether it is in our interest to protest is another matter altogether. It may be so small that you can barely point it out on a map, but Qatar’s oil has made it the richest country in the world. And, quite frankly, who wants to fall out with the richest country in the world?
In 2007, The Telegraph published an article citing Qatar as ‘the UK’s new best friend’. And indeed, Qatar has made a number of, sometimes surprising, financial ventures in the UK, including investments in the Shard, Harrods, Barclays, Sainsbury’s, the Olympic Village, the London Stock Exchange and even a 20 per cent stake in Camden Market.
So, clearly, it is not in the UK’s interest to force UK-Qatari relations apart, and it’s unlikely that any other nations will feel all too differently.
Of course, it could simply be that it is too soon for people to take a real interest in the World Cup in Qatar. Perhaps in the run up to the competition, we’ll see protests and calls for boycotts like those against the Winter Olympics in Russia.
However, it probably isn’t all that cynical to predict that even if they do happen, they’re unlikely to be effective.
What do you think? Should there be a boycott of Qatar leading up to the World Cup? Have your say in the comments section below.
Image: Nikon / Wikimedia Commons