For nearly a century, football fans across the globe have relished the opportunity to watch their nations compete in the ultimate knockout competition; the FIFA World Cup. With 32 teams from six different continents all vying for glory and the adoration of millions of fans worldwide, it is unquestionably the biggest stage in world football.
With all that being said, the host country for the tournament has an incomparable amount of pressure riding on its shoulders. In the case of the 2022 World Cup, host nation Qatar is facing exorbitant controversy before a ball is even kicked. Human rights violations, LGBTQ+ issues, and a ban on the sale of alcohol outside of stadiums, to name a few. Despite this, a new accusation has emerged: Qatar is ‘buying’ World Cup fans.
Dutch broadcaster NOS first reported on October 30 that Qatar invited select international football fans to attend the World Cup and covered the expense of their flights and hotels in exchange for positive social media reach. The Supreme Committee (SC), which is responsible for the organization of the tournament, created an initiative known as the Fan Leader Network, which aims to recruit "individuals who are passionate about football and keen to share key information with their friends and contacts about Qatar's hosting of the FIFA World Cup 2022."
Qatar’s Supreme Committee denies that the fans were compensated in exchange for “coordinated promotion for the World Cup” and, in turn, issued a statement claiming that the allegations were “absolutely false.” According to the SC’s “Code of Conduct,” fans are contractually obligated to “support the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 by ‘liking’ and re-sharing third party posts about the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022” and utilizing hashtags #IAMAFAN and #Roadto2022.
Likewise, fans who are participating in the Fan Leader Network were informed that the SC will be “monitoring” their posts as well as demanding that content be deleted if it breaches the “Code of Conduct.” In these instances, it is essential to read the fine print. An appendix on “Good Posting Principles” stated that “it would not be appropriate for you to disparage Qatar, the Supreme Committee … or the FIFA World Cup 2022.”
Stipulations such as these raise many an eyebrow regarding Qatar’s seemingly innocuous self-promotion techniques, with many supporters believing that the oil nation is attempting to ‘buy’ fans who will view the country positively. On November 11, footage of thousands of fans from participating nations parading through the streets of Doha was seen all over social media brands Twitter and TikTok. According to DW news, these supporters mainly were migrant workers from India. The rare demonstrations initialized a wave of social media users to question the authenticity of the videos.
At this point, it cannot be confirmed whether or not these mass demonstrations were a deliberate attempt by Qatar to sanitize its public image. That being said, while the world eagerly anticipates the beginning of the tournament, let us not forget the tragic loss of lives that went into the construction of the stadiums and infrastructure for our entertainment.
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