Qatar is a peculiar country. In 2019 international migrants represented 78.7% of its population. It is the home of Al Jazeera, political close to the Emir but also a rather liberal media entity in the Middle East. Since 2011 it harbours a Taliban office outside Afghanistan. It sponsors islamists in the Middle East and North African region. But the most defining characteristic is that it is rich in oil (15th of the world) and it is currently one of the world’s three largest LNG exporters. This is why tiny Qatar can box above its weight in the international arena.
In the discussion about Qatar, labour rights, human rights and the World Cup there is another party connected to football: the military and the arms industry.
First of all Qatar supports it allies with arms. Notorious is the support for factions, included radical parts, in the Syrian war. Qatar was one of the most hawkish in the Syrian civil war, trying hard to further isolate the Assad government. It was also since the start involved in the turmoil in Libya by sending arms, munition and troops to topple Qaddafi. The Guardian reported already in 2012: “Financed by Qatar, Libyan rebels who toppled Qaddafi have brought weapons and experience to Syria, where the Kornet [a Russian produced anti-tank guided missile, MB] is used by the regime’s forces.” The supply of military knowledge and arms eventually stopped in 2022.
Qatar itself is a top client on the international market for weapons. In a recent publication by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute SIPRI it is estimated that the country bought 4.6 percent of all arms imported globally in 2017-2021. Five countries imported more in the same period (India 11%, Saudi-Arabia 11%, Egypt 5.7%, Australia 5.4%, and China 4.8%). The three main suppliers of arms to the Emir were the USA (46%), France (36%) and Italy (6.1%). Information provided by the European Union shows that Germany and the United Kingdom are also major suppliers. The Netherlands sold military equipment valued € 107 million in 2012-2021 (for 2021 see p. 49).
Arms to secure football
The Qatar football World Cup has boosted Swiss arms exports. The Gulf State bought Swiss air defence systems worth nearly € 161 million to help protect stadiums, according to the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs. In September the Swiss government declared it had found “no overriding reasons” to block the export of 6,000 27mm pieces of ammunition for cannons of the European-built Eurofighter to Qatar. The sale followed a much bigger one in the previous year. That deal shot Qatar to the top of the list of Swiss arms exports, which rose more than 40% to € 510 million in the first half of this year.
Italian military industrial giant Leonardo will safeguard the air space during the World Cup by a network of Kronos radars and associated command and control centers. Another Italian company, Ficantieri, sold seven naval ships to secure the sea. France, Italy and the United States will counter drones.
Deployments to protect football
Not only the arms industry, also international forces are involved in the World Cup. Turkey will send thousands of uniformed personnel (troops and police), including riot police, special forces and bomb detection experts as part of the close relationship – including on military issues – between both countries. US armed forces will also support the Qatar military during the World Cup. France said it will be sending one of its Air Force’s four E-3F Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), which can track hundreds of targets. The UK will patrol the skies and “The skyline of Doha will become a familiar sight to aircrews of the joint RAF-QEAF squadron over the coming weeks in their mission to help protect the FIFA World Cup.” The UK fighters are equipped with MBDA advanced short-range air-to-air missile, Meteor air-to-air missiles and a Lockheed Martin Sniper targeting pod. It is expected these patrols will help British Aerospace to raise its sales. Is this about football? It looks more like advertisements for weaponry and expansion of military relationships. Qatar borders will are be controlled with foreign help, like from France.
The Qatar World Cup must be one of the most militarized world cups ever, almost a military operation instead of a sport event. Aviation Week stated: “Football fans gathering in Qatar during November and December to cheer on their national teams in the FIFA World Cup likely will be blissfully unaware of the enormous security operation that has been developed to protect them. Part of the Arabian Gulf state’s much enlarged armed forces will be devoted to the event’s security.”
This World Cup shows that football has turned from sport into politics; from a game into business; players are PR-puppets on a string as well as athletes; even fans become part of the political circus. No World Cup was ever so awash in financial resources as this one. The Emir is complaining about the criticism on labour loss of life and lacking human rights in his country; this is bad return on his investments. Let us hope it backfires even more to the tiny Emirate, with its large footprint bought by money and strengthened by arms. Football was never played so wrong.
Martin Broek November 2022