Qatar is hosting this year’s World Cup… but not everyone is happy about it. Allegations of corruption, human rights abuses, the mistreatment of workers, and dangerous conditions for players have caused the 2022 World Cup to be the most controversial in history! So, should we boycott it?

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Vocabulary List

To boycott (v) – to refuse to buy a product or take part in an activity as a way of expressing strong disapproval

People were urged to boycott the country’s products.

Controversial (adj) – causing disagreement or discussion

The book was very controversial.

To award (v) – to give something valuable, such as money or a prize following an official decision

Their company was awarded a contract worth $40 million by the government.

Bid (n) – an offer to do something when you are competing with other people to do it

Sydney made a successful bid to host the Olympic Games

Corruption (n) – illegal, bad, or dishonest behaviour, especially by people in positions of power

Political corruption is widespread throughout the country.

migrant worker (n) – a person who moves to another country or area in order to find employment, in particular seasonal or temporary work

The food industry is heavily dependent on migrant workers from other countries

To undermine (v) – to make something weaker

Scandals have undermined the government over the past year.

Appalling (adj) – shocking and very bad

Prisoners were kept in the most appalling conditions.



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I (Usually) Love World Cups!

I’m usually excited for international sporting tournaments. I love watching the very best elite athletes competing at the highest level: from the summer and winter Olympics to world championship boxing, to the current Rugby League World Cup happening in the UK. And the football world cup is no exception.

Growing up in the UK, football is a fundamental part of our culture. I grew up watching premier league football every Saturday and Sunday and watching the Champions League on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. And when the World Cup or European championships came around, I would usually try to watch every game.

My earliest memory of the World Cup was while I was at elementary school during the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea – we watched the England game at school! I remember rushing back from school to watch every game in 2006 and 2010 – and I would always buy the official magazines or sticker books and try to collect as many of players as possible. I loved the World Cup.

But this year, just a few weeks away from the start of the 2022 tournament, I’m not really excited. Maybe it is because the tournament is starting in November rather than the usual June? Maybe its because I’m older and less interested in sport now? But I think the main reason is that I’m a little disappointed the World Cup is in Qatar!

Today I want to talk about why Qatar is a controversial World Cup host – and I want to end by discussing whether we should boycott the event! And, at the same time, we can learn some new and useful vocabulary!

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The Qatar World Cup!

The 2022 World Cup is taking place from November 20th until December 18th in Qatar. The country was awarded the World Cup 12 years ago under controversial circumstances (I’ll talk more about this later) and has had to build and construct stadiums, hotels, and new transport links!

This year will be a World Cup of firsts. It is the first World Cup in the Arab world, and only the second to be held completely on the continent of Asia. It is the first World Cup to be hosted in the autumn and winter (well the northern hemisphere autumn anyway). Usually, world cups are hosted in May, June, or July. However, FIFA awarded Qatar, a country with summer temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius, the World Cup anyway… and years later recommended Qatar switch the tournament to November and December.

It is also the “smallest” or most compact area to host a world cup – the population is under 3 million and the land area is tiny. And, every stadium is within 55 km of Doha, the capital city of Qatar. Compare this to previous hosts Russia, South Africa, and Brazil, or future hosts the USA, Mexico, and Canada, and you’ll realise how unusual this is! It means it may be possible for one person to attend every single world cup game (although it would be impossible to watch the entirety of every game).

The World Cup in Qatar is also the most expensive World Cup in histo ry – some estimates suggest up to $220 billion has been spent so far. They have built $10 billion worth of new stadiums, expanded the airport to deal with increased numbers of travellers, and constructed the Doha metro service.


Why is the Qatar World Cup Controversial?

That was just a brief introduction into some facts and interesting points around the World Cup. The decision to award Qatar the tournament has been controversial since the day the decision was made.

Even Sepp Blatter, the man in charge of FIFA when Qatar was awarded the tournament, has recently spoken out against Qatar – he said “It was a bad choice. And I was responsible for that as president at the time,”

So… let’s take a look at why the Qatar World Cup has been so controversial!


The first controversial issue surrounding the World Cup is corruption – and I remember this issue being big news in the UK in 2010. 2010 was the year the World Cup was awarded to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022. These countries were competing against other bids, including a strong bid from my country – the UK.

Qatar always seemed like a strange place to host a World Cup. They had never qualified for a World Cup tournament before – and most people had no idea about the country’s ability in football or sport in general.

The conditions in the country also seemed less than ideal to host a tournament. It is brutally hot, it would be dangerous to play sport in the summer, and the country had a desert climate. Qatar’s World Cup bid contained claims about building massive, air-conditioned stadiums allowing players to keep cool in the hot summer.

Most football fans were left questioning how this tiny country in the Middle East was able to convince the rest of the world to support their ambitions to host a World Cup. And it wasn’t long until accusations of corruption surfaced – FIFA’s decision to host the World Cups to Russia and Qatar was considered suspicious.

There were allegations of corruption and bribery, vote-swapping (so FIFA officials agreeing to vote for each other rather than for the best bid), and suspicious connections to large trade deals. Although Qatar was cleared by a FIFA investigation, the presidents of FIFA and UEFA at the times (Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini) were both caught up in corruption scandals. And in 2020, prosecutors in the US accused 3 senior FIFA officials of receiving bribes to vote for Qatar.

While there has never been any proof or formal legal decisions, there will always be uncertainty and suspicion around the decision to give Qatar a World Cup.


Migrant Workers

Qatar is a small and wealthy country. Like other Middle Eastern nations, Qatar relies on migrant workers to perform much of the country’s labour. Workers from South Asia, Africa, the Philippines, and other countries are recruited on temporary visas to work in industries that Qatar doesn’t have enough people to fill.

I mentioned earlier Qatar has a population of around 3 million. Out of this 3 million, only around 300,000 are Qatari citizens – the vast majority of residents are migrant workers with immigration statuses based on work.

Migrant workers have been used by the World Cup organisers to construct the stadiums, roads, metro system, and new hotels needed to host the tournament. Yet, the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar has been the subject of controversy.

First, people have died during the construction of World Cup stadiums. According to the official organisers, there have been three work related deaths during stadium construction and 37 off-site deaths. Human rights organisations have said this is a vast underestimation. The Guardian reported last year that 6,500 South Asian migrants have died in the country since 2010. Many migrants are employed in low wage jobs, which often lack basic safety precautions and must work in the dangerous Qatari heat.

Amnesty International has criticised the “appalling living conditions” migrant workers have experienced in Qatar, comparing their treatment to “modern slavery.” Passports are often confiscated by employers, salaries are underpaid or inaccurate, and workers are often unable to leave their work accommodation without permission.   

Human Rights organisations like Amnesty have asked FIFA and World Cup organisers to compensate the thousands of workers experiencing awful conditions in Qatar. A number of FIFA nations, including England and Germany, have requested that FIFA take action to prevent to mistreatment of workers employed for the World Cup.


LGBT+ and Women’s Rights

The next issue has been particularly controversial in Europe over the past few months – the social climate in Qatar. Qatar is an ultra-conservative Muslim country – and as you would expect in a majority Muslim country the laws reflect some of the beliefs and teachings found in Islamic culture.

Homosexuality is illegal and punishable by imprisonment. LGBT fans have been warned against traveling to Qatar due to dangers of being arrested or discriminated against. FIFA, as an organisation, has tried to create an identity of being welcoming to all kinds of people – no matter their race, gender, or sexual identity. But the World Cup in Qatar has challenged this.

While the organisers of the World Cup have continuously claimed that everyone is welcome to attend the World Cup and no one should be scared, this idea is undermined by comments from people like official World Cup ambassador Khalid Salman who told a German broadcaster that homosexuality was a “damage in the mind.”

Women have also been warned about traveling in Qatar, especially with men to whom they are not married or related. Qatar has long been criticised for its conservative approach to women’s rights.

A number of teams and players are expected to stage protests during the World Cup. Denmark will wear a special kit to highlight Qatar’s human rights abuses and have decided to travel without families as they don’t want to support Qatar’s economy. Other players are expected to display the LGBT rainbow flag or other symbols aimed at highlighting abuses.


Difficult for Players

Qatar moved the World Cup from its traditional slot of early summer (in the northern hemisphere) to November and December. This has put a large amount of strain on many of the world’s elite players.

Most of the world’s top club football competitions , such as those in England, Spain, Italy, and Germany, run from August until May. This would usually give players around 1 month before the tournament to prepare and 1 month after the tournament to rest and recover.

Due to the changes in schedule, this year players have just around one week to prepare and one week to recover afterwards. Combine this with the extreme weather in Qatar, there is an increased risk to player health and the chance of injuries.



One of the less important controversies has been over alcohol. Alcohol is largely banned in Qatar, and only available in a few exclusive international hotel chains. Yet, alcohol is intimately associated with football and the World Cup.

Traveling fans from around the world expect to be able to buy and drink beers during and after games. And one of FIFA’s major sponsors in Budweiser, who have paid a lot of money to be the exclusive alcohol partner of the World Cup.

While it was announced that Qatar would allow alcohol sales in special fan zones and stadiums, FIFA announced just days before the commencement of the tournament that they will no longer be selling beer in stadiums.

Even if a fan is able to find a place selling beer, the prices are ridiculous – around $13 per drink.

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Should We Boycott the Qatar World Cup?

Now that I’ve highlighted some of the major controversies surrounding the Qatar World Cup, what should we do about it? Should we boycott the tournament? What should we do?

Personally, I think it is a complicated issue. Billions of people around the world love football and want to watch the best players competing agaisnt each other at the highest level. We want to support our countries and be entertained by the events on the pitch.

FIFA has asked the teams competing at the World Cup to stay away from politics and ideologies. And many people think similar things. While LGBT rights are increasingly accepted in Europe and North America, it is not the same everywhere. Many people believe you should accept the culture of Qatar when visiting.

And I don’t have a problem with a new country being awarded the World Cup. When Japan and Korea were given the tournament, it changed the sport forever in those countries – football began to rival baseball as the most popular national sports in those countries.

Despite this, something feels wrong with the Qatar World Cup. I watched images of a Danish news reporter being threatened by men on the street during a live broadcast. World cup ambassadors are making controversial public statements about homosexuality and women’s rights. The organisers have had 12 years to build facilities, but many World Cup fans have struggled to find affordable accommodation.

And most importantly, the World Cup matches will be played in stadiums built by abused and mistreated migrant workers. Migrant workers who, despite making up the majority of Qatar’s population, have few rights – they are often underpaid, lied to, forced to work in poor and dangerous conditions, and suffer illegal labour practices.

In my opinion, the tournament hosts should be criticised for their human rights violations and mistreatment of workers. But does this mean we should boycott the tournament? I don’t know… because I’m not sure if boycotts are fair and actually work.

Qatar’s human rights record is terrible – we all know this. But what about the US’s human rights record? Guantanamo bay, torture, the death penalty, mistreatment of workers… all of these things happen in the USA too. And for fans from Africa and Asia, they often point to the atrocities committed by the likes of Britain and France in the not-too-distant past. Perhaps it is hypocritical for western countries to criticise Qatar.

If we decide that World Cups can only be hosted in countries with perfect records on human rights, democracy, and respect for international law… that leaves very few countries who can host international tournaments. While there were complaints about China hosting the Olympics and Russia hosting the last World Cup, I feel as though criticism of Qatar has been much stronger.

One of the issues is that the people commenting about Qatar (I guess like me) have probably never visited the country and have little knowledge of the culture. And there are millions, maybe billions, of people around the world who identify with the kind of laws in Qatar.

I saw a comment online recently which gave an interesting perspective on the World Cup. Qatar is not hosting the World Cup to appeal to western countries or present itself as part of the West… instead it is trying to appeal to the Islamic world. Saudi Arabia has been the most influential Islamic country for years and Qatar is potentially using the World Cup to highlight themselves as a potential leader in the Islamic world!

So, should we boycott the World Cup? It is up to you to decide for yourself!

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Final Thought

Today I wanted to talk about why the World Cup in Qatar is the most controversial world cup ever. Corruption scandals, a dangerous climate, human rights abuses, the mistreatment of workers, changing of footballing schedules, and restrictions on fans behaviour have damaged the reputation of the tournament before it has even begun.

Some people have called for a boycott of the tournament. Is this the right thing to do? I’m not sure – boycotts sometimes work, but often don’t. And it does seem a little hypocritical to boycott one country but not places like the US with an extensive record of human rights violations.

However, I think it is fair, and correct, to criticise Qatar for some of its practices. In particular, the treatment of migrant workers is particularly concerning, as is the conservative attitude towards women and homosexuality.

But what do you think? Should we boycott the 2022 World Cup? Will you be watching the tournament? Do you think Qatar will be good hosts?

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By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

2 thoughts on “188. Should We Boycott the Qatar World Cup? (English Vocabulary Lesson)”
  1. thank you for this lesson, but it is not professional to use your opinion in somting about learning, I’m her to get clean vocabulary,and not a individual opinion.
    if you wana give that opinion you can go to Qatar and then give it, because you will change your opinion and maybe go to leave ther instad of UK !

    so thank you again and this is my replay about this think.

    1. Maybe you should find a different podcast? Every single episode contains my opinions, and if you just want neutral vocabulary lessons buy a textbook. The entire point of Thinking in English is to develop English thinking and communication skills for advanced learners.

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