Since winning the bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar has undergone major changes. Around $220 billion has been spent on constructing an entirely new city, metro lines, and other amenities. 

There had previously been little international and national attention paid to the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar. That changed after Qatar was chosen to host the World Cup.

Qatar has made many changes to host the FIFA tournament in 2022, including abolishing the Kafala system. The Kafala system is a long-established regional labor practice in which companies and minority citizens exercise control over the movement, employment, and immigration status of migrant workers.

However, it remains to be seen whether the country will maintain the reforms once the tournament concludes and the world’s attention shifts away from the nation. 

Will major changes be upheld?

Qatar, a conservative Muslim nation, relaxed its alcohol laws in the run-up to the tournament, allowing fans to drink in designated areas. FIFA, however, announced just two days before kickoff that alcohol would not be sold inside stadiums.

The tournament has also allowed men and women to mix in an otherwise segregated country. Women and children have been seen in large numbers in fan zones and stadiums, watching games in traditionally male-dominated environments.

History demonstrates, however, that major sporting occasions like the World Cup rarely serve as long-lasting catalysts for societal change. To portray itself as a tolerant nation, Russia allowed World Cup fans to carry rainbow flags, despite years of persecution of the LGBTQ community. 

However, as tensions with the West have risen, Russian President Vladimir Putin has shunned liberalism, and after invading Ukraine, Moscow has responded harshly to any subsequent anti-war protests.

On the other hand, research has shown that after hosting the 2006 World Cup, Germany’s reputation improved on a global scale, and a large portion of the new sporting facilities are still in use.

The ball is in Qatar’s court

The 2022 World Cup is a time for Qatar to show the rest of the world that the enacted changes will endure past the tournament’s final match. While changes to Qatar’s labor laws have been made, human rights organizations say more needs to be done. Amnesty International stated just one month before the start of the World Cup that the labor reforms of 2020 had not been properly implemented or enforced. Qatar still restricts women’s and LGBTQ people’s freedom of expression and association.

While people have called for a boycott of the nation due to its treatment of the LGBTQ community, others have argued that visiting Doha and showing solidarity with the LGBTQ community there can result in long-term change. The World Cup will benefit Qatar’s human rights record by encouraging tolerance and freedom, leading to long-term improvements.

Qatar’s hosting of the event is an insult to human rights advocates, said Lise Klaveness, president of Norway’s football association. She made a hard-hitting speech at FIFA’s 72nd annual Congress in April, calling FIFA’s decision to award Qatar the tournament “unacceptable” and urging the federation to do more to uphold its values.

It may take months or even years before the tiny Gulf state can fully assess the effects of the World Cup. It is encouraging that similar scrutiny is anticipated for upcoming significant projects. However, it remains to be seen whether this will result in widespread reform.