One year before the first whistle blows, controversy mars the world’s most-famous sporting event. Qatar 2022 holds significance for a number of reasons, many of which come at the expense of the nation and its government.
For example, the issue of slavery and the construction of the modern stadiums has resulted in 6,500 deaths for migrant workers. Generally speaking, human rights in Qatar fail to live up to the standards of other developed nations across the world. Despite this, many of those nations’ citizens plan to travel to Doha next November to watch the tournament.
Of course, we could also break down the issues for players competing in the midst of their club seasons. The sheer number of games players expose themselves to is not healthy.
However, those issues pale in comparison to the greater human rights violations in Qatar surrounding the World Cup. News outlets cover these incidents, but there is a dilemma for sports broadcasters covering the event.
People argue to keep politics out of sports, which is inherently challenging due to the intertwining of international relations and a tournament like the World Cup. Moreover, the human rights violations in Qatar are near-indisputable.
We sit one year away from the tournament, taking place for the first time in winter months of November and December. TV broadcasters are starting to plan out their coverage and promotion of the event.
In the United States, FOX and Telemundo will have coverage, both of which will have crews live from Doha. Both of these organizations have the responsibility to discuss the issues happening in Qatar. If not, it seems as if they are complacent to the accounts of corruption, slavery and inhumane migrant worker conditions.
The relative silence of TV broadcasters
FOX and Telemundo paid a combined $1 billion for the rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Any investment with that much money incurs risk, especially if the United States or Mexico fail to qualify for the World Cup.
Of course, the World Cup does pull in monster numbers for even when two teams relatively unaffiliated with the United States play. The 2018 World Cup Final between France and Croatia topped at 15 million viewers on FOX.
Going deeper into the tournament’s coverage, posts on FOX’s streaming and social media platforms garnered over 550 million views. The World Cup games dominated the male target audience. However, the afternoon time slots from Russia may have helped.
On Telemundo’s side, the World Cup Final in 2018 pulled in roughly 5,320,000 viewers on the linear channel. Surely, additional viewers streamed the game via digital.
Millions of Americans watch these games, that much is not in doubt. Therefore, the broadcasters have an obligation to discuss the human rights violations in Qatar during their World Cup 2022 coverage. It is their duty as the broadcasters to inform the audience. To ignore the human rights abuses would be a disservice to the viewer.
In a press conference last week with U.S. reporters, Telemundo discussed its plans for coverage. Among the talking points, Telemundo brought up its coverage of games with a studio show live from Doha, relative ease of getting around in a one-city World Cup and the fact that commentators could be calling multiple games per day live from the stadiums.
Those stadiums, all newly constructed ahead of the World Cup, are among the points of controversy at the 2022 World Cup. Telemundo Deportes President Ray Warren commented on how Telemundo will deal with their coverage of human rights violations in Qatar.
“We’re not a news organization, we’re a sports organization… we go wherever the World Cup is played.”
Sure, Telemundo Deportes will go wherever the World Cup is played. To be fair, one could never expect the broadcasting company to simply not broadcast the World Cup. As stated, the monetary investment is simply too great to throw away.
That being said, the sort of blissful ignorance in not covering the human rights violations provides an inadequate representation of what this World Cup is.
Yes, the World Cup will transpire barring a massive change or a wildly unlikely development. That does not mean Telemundo should not cover the issues at hand.
As a broadcaster covering the biggest soccer tournament in the world, there is a certain level of responsibility awarded to Telemundo. The broadcaster does not have to talk about the issues throughout the entirety of its content. However, mentioning the violations and discussing the wealth of controversies surrounding the 2022 World Cup seems ethically right.
Let me add that this is not just on Telemundo. While the broadcaster did mention their commitment to sport over discussion of human rights violations, the issue is far deeper than one organization.
Would it help to have the principal Spanish-language broadcaster in the United States discuss what is happening in Qatar? Yes. In fact, it seems like something worth talking about as if it were any other news story during a sporting event. Ergo, Telemundo should bring up what other news-centric outlets cover. Albeit, it does not have to be such in-depth reporting.
The onus rests on each broadcaster, advertiser, team and organization affiliated with the 2022 World Cup. What Qatar did in constructing these lavish stadiums through the use of slave labor and unfair treatment of migrant workers cannot be passed over.
If that becomes the case, and those responsible for these actions remain unscathed, then those organizations contributing to or benefitting from the World Cup dishonor the integrity of the world’s game.
On the contrary, FOX Sports chose not to schedule a conference call with reporters to discuss World Cup plans. For this reason, U.S. soccer reporters did not have an opportunity to ask about FOX’s plans to cover human rights abuses.
The closest thing we got to any discussion was the following clip published by FOX Sports:
In it, FOX Sports pundit Alexi Lalas shares his excitement at going to Doha. In spite of this, Lalas fails to mention one word about human rights issues or restrictions on individual rights. Instead, he discusses Qatari weather, travel and culture. In the same manner, he talks about all of the infrastructure that has been built in Qatar — despite it being built by migrant workers who are trapped and exploited.
Voicing up against human rights violations in Qatar
When the European Super League news broke, players at smaller clubs wore shirts during their warm-up sessions against the concept. The shirts read “Football is for the Fans” and “Earn it”.
Clearly, players recognize when something awry takes place in the sporting world.
As stated previously, the circumstances in Qatar directly relate to the World Cup, but the violations extend into everyday lives. Therefore, it seems fitting that certain nations follow a similar suit to that of players against the European Super League.
Notably, Norway wore shirts that stated “Human rights on and off the pitch” ahead of a World Cup qualifying game.
Denmark, which already qualified for the group stages in Qatar, plans to bring its message to the tournament itself. Ahead of the country’s scheduled games, the Denmark Football Association, DBU in Danish, plans to wear shirts in support of human rights on their training kits.
England, also topping its UEFA World Cup Qualifying group to guarantee a spot in Qatar, is facing pressure to speak up against these issues. Recently, manager Gareth Southgate said he and his players will educate themselves on the issues in Qatar.
“There are clear cultural differences between the two nations. It is hugely complex but we will take the time to educate ourselves and if we feel there are areas we can highlight and help, we have always tried to do that and we will do that,” Southgate said.
Other major nations continue to wrap up spots in the World Cup. The trend seems to be in support of helping those suffering from human rights violations in Qatar.
If more football nations rise up and make protests about Qatar 2022, it will be irresponsible for FOX Sports and Telemundo to ignore the World Cup news.
Author: Kyle Fansler