Another week and a half and then the controversial World Cup soccer starts in Qatar. The way in which Qatar pulled into the event and violated human rights and workers’ working conditions has long been the subject of debate as to what extent we should ’embrace the World Cup’. Michael van Praag, former Ajax and KNVB chairman, believes that the World Cup should never have taken place in Qatar, he says during Haarlem Today.
“In principle, Qatar has the same right to try to win a tournament as the Netherlands or as Luxembourg and Germany. Every FIFA member is equal. The criteria for awarding such a tournament is that it must do something for the development of football in that country,” begins Van Praag. “That in itself is strange because there are only 300,000 people living in that country and there is almost no football.”
“Of course this has nothing to do with fair and decent voting”
Michael van Praag, former Ajax and KNVB chairman
In 2010, Qatar was chosen by the then FIFA board to host the 2022 World Cup, at the time the Netherlands were in the running to host the 2018 World Cup along with Belgium, but that honor went to Russia. “That was until six months later the first rumors came that there was a bribe,” says Van Praag.
Honest and decent
“It kept getting bigger and bigger, and that in itself should be a reason to say ‘we’re withdrawing that tournament,'” continues Van Praag. “Because of course this has nothing to do with fair and decent voting.”
Listen to the entire interview here. The text continues below the fragment
Then FIFA president Sepp Blatter admitted to the media this week that awarding the World Cup to Qatar was a mistake and that he was actually hosting America for America himself. “He could have easily done that, but he didn’t, and so we were left with the baked pears,” says Van Praag.
In the years that followed, the uproar surrounding the World Cup in Qatar only increased when it emerged that the working conditions of the workers who built the stadiums were abysmal, with many thousands killed. “We must be critical of that, and we must also be critical of human rights. But once word got out about what was happening in these stadiums, it was too late to leave Qatar.
According to Van Praag, the financial damage would have run into billions. The resulting demands had also caused the KNVB to collapse, he explains. We could not have known in advance that bribes would be accepted and that the working conditions would be so severe, but that Qatar does not take human rights very seriously and homosexuality is even banned there, we knew that well before 2010.
“The tournament is here. Whether we like it or not, it’s there”
Michael van Prag
Van Praag agrees. “So one would expect that FIFA has given sufficient guarantees in the awarding of that tournament to be able to do something about it, but apparently that is not the case. Apparently that didn’t happen. It has since been added that both UEFA and FIFA will include such clauses in the bid agreement for the future. “Actually, you can only have one pray do so if you meet certain requirements, with resolute effect. It is a huge advance that you can do it now, but it was not the case then.”
Despite the controversial World Cup in Qatar, a delegation from the Dutch government is traveling to Qatar, King Willem-Alexander has not yet decided whether he will also be present. If it is up to Van Praag, the king will travel to Qatar. “The tournament is here. Whether we like it or not, it is there. There are a number of criteria why I think both the government and the king should go. First of all, because otherwise we would be the only country in the world that wouldn’t go. Of course it’s already idiotic, then you’re making yourself a bit ridiculous. It’s a statement that doesn’t help at all.
His second point, however, is that the government should weigh the interests against each other. “They have to take into account the trade relations, of course they also take into account the fact – and it is mocked that we need their gas.
“If the head of state goes, the emir will receive him and it is the right time to raise what we think about Qatar in this area.”
Michael van Prag
But according to Van Praag, there is ‘one more thing’, but ‘he doesn’t hear anyone about it’, he says during the radio interview. “The same Qatar helped the Netherlands a year and a half or two years ago by helping 352 compatriots flee Afghanistan from the Taliban. With their diplomacy and with their planes. We also needed Qatar for that,” he says. “Maybe we’ll need them in the future.”
“Of course they must condemn human rights violations, and they will not hide that. But all things considered, I can therefore imagine them saying: ‘We will go, but we will go appropriately'”, says Van Praag. “And when the head of state goes, the emir will receive him, and that is the beautiful moment [..] to raise what we think of Qatar in this area.”
Whether the king goes, time will tell. It is certain that Van Praag follows the WC. “I will definitely look. Certainly in Holland, but I will look closer.”
The FIFA World Cup kicks off in Qatar on Monday 21 November. The Netherlands play their first match against Senegal on Monday 26 November.