A California man who attended the 2022 World Cup says he witnessed racism in Qatar worse than in the American South.
Evan Ream, a teacher and author from Davis, spent two weeks in Qatar and attended 18 games, including the recent U.S. loss to the Netherlands in the knockout Round of 16.
He said he was treated with respect but felt uncomfortable witnessing how migrant workers were treated by Gulf residents during the tournament.
“We have a ton of problems in the U.S., but the racism and hypocrisy I witnessed in Qatar was something on a completely different level,” Ream said. “And I’ve been to the American South.”
The Qatari government and FIFA were contacted for comment.
He described seeing wealthy Gulf men in thobes—traditional Arab dress also known as a thawb—treat migrant workers disrespectfully.
Absolutely electric crowd here at Saudi Arabia - Poland pic.twitter.com/2Cnox3g7gZ— Evan Ream (@EvanReam) November 26, 2022
“The migrant workers aren’t looked at as human from most of the Gulf citizens I witnessed,” said Ream on Twitter. “Locals just walked up to migrants and started shouting demands at them, but treated me with kindness and respect.”
Qatari nationals make up about 12% of the country’s less than 3 million population. Meaning the majority of people living and working in the country are foreigners seeking work—from Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and elsewhere.
Those Qatari “ultras” singing at the games? Also imported.
International human rights organizations have accused Qatar of operating brutal and dangerous working conditions that have cost the lives of thousands since the country allegedly bribed FIFA to win the World Cup bid in 2010. Rainbow colored clothing, player’s OneLove armbands and homosexuality are also forbidden in the nation.
One prominent U.S. soccer journalist also claims to have been detained for wearing a rainbow T-shirt.
Just now: Security guard refusing to let me into the stadium for USA-Wales. “You have to change your shirt. It’s not allowed.” pic.twitter.com/TvSGThMYq8— Subscribe to GrantWahl.com (@GrantWahl) November 21, 2022
Elsewhere in the country, Ream saw wealthy Gulf residents routinely driving Lamborghinis and Rolls Royces around Doha.
“That’s the fucked up thing about all of this,” Ream said. “There are cool and interesting places to go, but a tournament like this should never have been hosted here. On a human level, it makes me feel sad that in 2022, people can still be exploited to this level and essentially nothing is done about it.”
‘Brand new and very stripped down to the basics.’
While spending $220 billion—15 times more than any other host nation ever has for a World Cup—has stopped Qatar fielding Fyre Festival levels of embarrassment, a certain sense of uneasiness lingers.
Another fan returning home this week to the Bay Area described witnessing breathtaking soccer—but not without feeling sad and awkward about the human cost it took.
Nestor Valle crossed an item off his bucket list when he made it to Qatar in November.
“I’ve been to a good amount of high-pressure games like [Warriors playoffs games], but those don’t compare to the intensity of these World Cup games,” Valle said.
The diehard soccer fan from San Jose told The Standard that while Doha is littered with brand new skyscrapers, air-conditioned malls and a public transit system that “puts BART and VTA to shame”—it felt odd to be a part of the first wave of people to visit the infrastructure.
“The place we stayed at was brand new and very stripped down to the basics,” Valle said. During his trip, he learned the apartment building he was staying in was built just for the World Cup and staffed entirely by migrant workers.
“The food and culture is very much driven by the [migrant] workers,” he added. “There’s authenticity in those countries, but none from Qatar.”
“I love that the Middle East is able to have a World Cup,” he said. “But I don’t agree with the way it happened along with all of the worker casualties that have been reported.”
What makes all of this extravagant nation-building possible? Qatar is currently the world’s largest exporter of natural gas. The country’s sovereign wealth fund also owns Harrods, billions of dollars’ worth of New York real estate and a minority stake in Volkswagen.
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