Why the World Cup in Qatar is a betrayal of everything Jules Rimet stood for

FIFA President Jules Rimet presents Uruguay with their first World Cup (AFP via Getty Images)

FIFA President Jules Rimet presents Uruguay with their first World Cup (AFP via Getty Images)

A century has passed since Jules Rimet, the founding father of the World Cup, took over the Fifa presidency and began turning the wheels on for the first tournament in 1930. Even a visionary like Rimet would have had trouble imagining the immense success and global appeal the tournament would command a hundred years later, but it’s not hard to guess what he would have thought of the 22nd World Cup in Qatar.

Rimet came from a humble background, the son of a grocer in a tiny village in eastern France, and he climbed the class ladder by earning a scholarship to law school. His beliefs were simple: that football should be global and inclusive, fair and respectful. In a small Parisian café, he co-founded a sports club called Red Star, based on these principles of collaboration and equality. Red Star were rare in that they didn’t discriminate based on social status and included working-class players, and their football team still maintains those roots very much today.

As a devout Catholic, Rimet was accepted by Pope Leo XIII. to inspire Rerum Novarum, a letter issued after the Industrial Revolution setting out the principles of basic workers’ rights. It was partly an anti-exploitation doctrine and one that resonates as strongly in France in the 1920s as it did in the 2022 World Cup; What is exploitation if not the conversion of workers’ sweat and blood into someone else’s wealth or power? The World Cup’s origins lie with a man who fought against the class structure, and a century later the tournament begins in one of the most structured, racially divided class systems in the world, with many thousands of South Asian workers at the bottom of a brutally unequal class Society run by a few unfathomably wealthy sheikhs.

You will have heard many of the allegations against Qatar 2022 by now: a brazen act of sports washing by a young authoritarian nation trying to make waves on the global stage; a bid won through corruption, according to a US Justice Department investigation (which Fifa and Qatar officials deny); miserable working conditions not resolved; Thousands of unexplained worker deaths; the oppressive kafala system, finally abolished in 2020, stifling workers’ rights; in a country where women’s freedoms are dictated by male guardianship and homosexuality between men remains illegal. Then there is the startling lack of urgency with which Qatar has examined the many issues raised by human rights groups over the decade or so since it began the massive construction project needed to host the World Cup.

Fifa’s argument that Qatari migrant workers may now be moving into new, sunlit highlands is a fantasy. The small advances that have been made in Qatar so far, such as the abolition of kafala, came too late for the already exploited migrant workers, and their deplorable practices are reported to remain. Especially after the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and Brazil 2014, there were signs of a gradual improvement in workers’ rights in the construction industry following protests in both countries. But in August, 60 migrant workers protesting unpaid wages were arrested and in some cases deported by Qatari authorities, allegedly for “violating public safety laws”; this is the difference between democracy and dictatorship.

The Jules Rimet Trophy is named after the original driving force behind the World Cup (Getty Images)

The Jules Rimet Trophy is named after the original driving force behind the World Cup (Getty Images)

Rimet witnessed firsthand how his idea was abused by the dictatorship. The 1934 World Cup was awarded to Benito Mussolini’s Italy at a time of global financial crisis when there were few countries willing and able to host. The Italian government assured Fifa that it would cover any financial losses and this proved a convincing argument.

Mussolini skillfully used the World Cup both as a power projection abroad and as a propaganda tool at home. Posters and specially commissioned stamps flooded Italy in advance, and Mussolini himself drummed up enthusiasm by buying a ticket for the opening game – that classic populist ploy to present oneself as a man of the people. He commissioned a radio documentary that heralded 16th-century Italy as the true birthplace of football, leaving a whole nation rejoicing to see football coming home when the Italian team won the World Cup.

Fifa was criticized for giving such a platform to fascism and President Rimet later expressed his regret at what became an exercise in nationalist chest taps, saying: “I get the impression that it wasn’t really Fifa that organized this World Cup , but Mussolini.” The tournament is said to have cost Rimet the Nobel Peace Prize when he was nominated in 1956.

Rimet had mistakenly believed that sport could transcend politics – his grandson Yves Rimet described him as an “idealist” – but by 1934 it was becoming apparent that one could be armed with the other, particularly on a global scale. Trying to unite the world around sport in a pre-globalized age brought many challenges, and those early tournaments were all flawed in their own way, but perhaps that’s the point: that the World Cup is still relevant in the 21st century cannot be used for political purposes and cannot fulfill the basic expectations of mankind.

So here we are on the eve of a tournament to be played in glittering stadiums, mausoleums in the desert, ready to be taken down once everyone has gone home. On the surface, there will be a glittering World Cup; Look, there Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo are playing football in Qatar. But let’s not forget the values ​​of Jules Rimet, whose name awards the trophy that famous footballers will lift in Doha on December 18th. equality, this is not. As the joust blooms in the winter sun, you know it was sown in filthy earth and bred by bloody hands.


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