Dean Clough

November 16, 2022

Portico Darwin: Sportswashing, Qatar Style


Flag of Ukraine.jpg

I have wanted to write something more about sportswashing for a while.  I've touched on LIV Golf before, and that's certainly one example of an awful country (Saudi Arabia) attempting to freshen its tainted reputation via sports.  But there's also the sportswashing facilitated by the Olympics and Formula 1; both have been held (and continue to be held) in some frankly awful places.

And now, we have the World Cup starting this Sunday in Qatar, in a sportswashing orgy - but one where the women must attend in burqas.   

So today, I really want to shine a light on how shitty Qatar is as a host for a quadrennial celebration of global humanity and good will. 

But it's a lot easier to simply cut and paste, especially when one finds a top writer that did the work.  Here is our fairly legendary SF Chronicle sports columnist Scott Ostler with his take on Qatar as the host.  This was published in the paper on November 7 and I could not put it better myself.  

Qatar’s Epic Feat of Sportswashing

Are you heading to Qatar for the hottest major sporting event ever, soccer’s World Cup, beginning (soon)?

Or are you simply planning to watch the action from home, enjoying the epic event vicariously, soaking up not only the matches, but also the fabulous fan experience?

Either way, we hereby present some handy Qatar World Cup tips.

Congratulate yourself.

By attending the Cup or supporting it with your TV viewership, you are an active participant in one of the greatest sportswashing campaigns in world history.  That’s saying a lot, considering the World Cup was last held in Putin’s Russia in 2018.

But Qatar is spending a lot more money than any country ever — including Nazi Germany for the ’36 Olympics, and Russia in the 2014 Winter Olympics — to put a happy face on its repressive and authoritarian government and its well-documented human-rights abuses, hoping to buy instant respect and respectability.

Ix-nay on the ooze-bay.

Qatar is a conservative Muslim country where alcohol is frowned upon. Don’t think you’re going to turn their frowns upside-down by showing the locals what a fun guy or gal you can be when you’ve had a few.

You’ll be able to get a drink in Qatar, but this won’t be your typical World Cup. I covered the Cup in Germany in 2006, camping and hanging with the fans for two weeks, and if I had been given a dollar for every sober person I encountered, I would have had enough to buy a hot dog with sauerkraut.

That kind of mass public 24/7 World Cup alcohol-assisted revelry won’t fly in the Q.  At first, Qatar wanted its World Cup to be absolutely alcohol-free, but relented to an extent.  Beer will be available at the stadiums, but not in the stands.  You’ll also find liquor in upscale hotels and restaurants.

Enjoy a beverage, but be careful when you stagger outside to get a breath of hot air.  Public drunkenness is punishable for up to six months in prison, plus a fine.

Keep a straight face.

LGBTQ people visiting Qatar can expect to be uncomfortable. How much discomfort is anybody’s guess.

Qatari officials claim LGBTQ visitors are welcome to fly rainbow flags at games, but multiple Qatari hotels have refused to accept reservations from same-sex couples trying to attend the World Cup.  Where lines will be drawn is anybody’s guess.  Holding hands in public, say, might be permitted, but Qatar’s ambassador to the U.K. recently said that anything more would be unacceptable, saying, “I think one has to be mindful of the norms and cultures of Qatari society.”  Another official said visitors would be expected to “respect the local values and cultures.”

What are local values?  A same-sex relationship can get you one to three years in prison.  Qatar is ranked among the 10 worst destinations for LGBTQ travelers according to “Out” magazine.  Human Rights Watch also documented several arrests and beatings for gender expression in Qatar between 2019 and 2022.

If you can dodge the regular police and the Preventive Security Department officers, keep a keen eye out for the many hired-gun security forces on hand to help with security in Qatar, including Turkey’s Polis-Ozel-Harekat, which is under scrutiny for human-rights violations.

Dress for the weather.

Sure, it’s crazy to stage a massive fan event for a high-endurance sport in nature’s sauna, but how else would the world learn of the wonderfulness of Qatar?

Note: Women are expected to dress modestly. Square that with temperatures north of 90 degrees this time of year there.

Marvel at the beautiful stadiums and modern infrastructure in Qatar’s instant cities.

It’s amazing what the world’s richest per-capita country can do with what many consider to be borderline slave labor.

Almost all the country’s construction, the stadiums and hotels, is the work of foreign laborers.  Many of the laborers have faced brutal and sometimes-deadly working conditions, squalid living quarters, and low and sometimes-unpaid wages.  Why don’t they just leave?  Because they are not allowed to do so.  Many had their passports confiscated as a condition of being allowed to work in Qatar.  They can check out any time they want, but they can never leave.

A week ago, thousands of foreign workers were evicted from their living quarters in Doha, on two hours’ notice, with no place to go.  The evictions took place in neighborhoods where the government has rented rooms to incoming fans.  So don’t complain about your room!

Enjoy the opening ceremonies.

Realize, however, that you missed the real opening ceremonies — the traditional bribing of FIFA officials by the prospective host country, in this case leading up to the 2010 awarding of this Cup to Qata
The American IRS and FBI indicted 14 people in connection with bribes for the Cup and for the FIFA presidential election.  Eight people pled guilty and gave back more than $40 million.

Netflix is releasing a documentary Wednesday, “FIFA Uncovered.”  So this World Cup is a sportswashing event not just for Qatar, but for FIFA as well — partners in grime.

Maybe that’s why FIFA recently sent a letter to all 32 World Cup teams, suggesting that this is not the time for protests and complaints.

“Please,” FIFA’s top officials demanded, “let’s now focus on football.”

Absolutely.  Sit back and let yourself be distracted by that particular shiny object.  Sure, you are being taken to the sportswashing cleaners, but if it’s anything like the Qatar weather, it will be a dry cleaning.

Thank you, Scott Ostler.   


Thanks to those of you that liked my poetry corner.  It's always good to hear from our friend and Bell System compatriot Lauren Ryder.

Thanks for sharing the poem.  It’s a good one, thought provoking!

And this from Rikki Aurich, she of the Tiburon Aurich's:

Nice, Portico.

Both of their replies were short and sweet - like Lauren and Rikki themselves.  Am I allowed to say that?

Thank you to any one that is reading this newsletter.


Desert music?  That would be the instrumental band Scenic.  This is their album Acquatica and I hope you'll give it a go - it's unlikely you're listening to stuff like this, now or ever.

About Dean Clough