The soccer World Cup in Qatar will mark two significant milestones when it begins on Nov. 20. It will be the first World Cup played in the Arab world, bringing the globe’s favorite game to one of the regions where it is most loved. It will also be the first to be held in the Northern Hemisphere during its winter — essential in a nation where in June and July, when the tournament is normally held, the average daily high is around 107 degrees.
Qatar is one of the world’s smallest, but richest, countries: a tiny peninsula of land, barely the size of Connecticut, jutting into the turquoise waters of the Arabian gulf. It will host all the games in Doha (the capital) and its satellite communities. The nation is using the global sporting and culture event to showcase itself on the international stage. Its brand-new stadiums, hotels, roads and metro system — built at hundreds of billions of dollars of expense — are designed to paint the picture of a futuristic hub of sports, tourism and education.
But negative headlines have dominated the World Cup’s lead-up.
Human rights groups have called attention to unpaid wages, restrictive labor practices And unexplained deaths Some of the low-income immigrants who built the stadiums that will host the games were also among them. Soccer fans have criticized the decision to hold the world’s largest party in a country where homosexuality is illegal — and to one with too few hotels and very expensive beer. The F.B.I. investigation of corruption in global soccer has cast a shadow over Qatar’s hosting of the tournament.
Qatar’s gloss and grit speak to its broader contradictions. Prior to the discovery and use of hydrocarbons, Qatar was one the poorest nations on the planet. Its economy was dependent upon pearl diving. It now boasts an almost limitless amount of wealth and ambition. It prides itself on being a beacon for free speech and education. But the local news media cannot officially quote the country’s ruler without written permission. Despite the accusations of abuses against workers, thousands of migrants continue to flock to that country in search for a better lifestyle.
Here are five books that will help you understand the region better.
Hugh Miles, Al-Jazeera: The Challenges of Arab TV News in the Global Media Landscape (2005)
This is a very readable account of satellite news service, which caught Western attention with its coverage on the U.S.-led conflict. “war on terror.” The book charts the channel’s birth and development, helping to demolish myths and misunderstandings about the Arab world along the way.
Sophia Al-Maria, The Girl Who Fell To Earth: A Memoir (2012)
This moving and hilarious memoir is by a Qatari American artist. It provides a rare insight into the life of Qatari citizens, who account for only 11 percent in Qatari population. They are known to be reticent around strangers.
By Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, Qatar and the Gulf Crisis (2020).
Qatar’s biggest modern crisis unfolded from 2017-21 when, without warning, its neighbors placed the country under economic and political embargo, in a dramatic escalation of a long-running regional rivalry. This account moves from origin to (almost) conclusion, capturing how badly the initiative backfired, strengthening Qatar’s independence and global standing.
Red Card: FIFA & the Fall of the most Powerful Men in Sports by Ken Bensinger (2018)
There are many books that cover FIFA corruption and the awarding rights to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. This one is by a New York Times reporter. It’s praised for its speed, clarity, and unrivalled access to F.B.I. I.R.S. — the key instigators of the huge (and ongoing) corruption case being brought against many of those who run the global game.
Geoff Harkness (2020), Changing Qatar: Culture. Citizenship. Rapid Modernization.
A cleareyed account of Qatar’s many communities by a sociologist previously based in Doha. The author is sympathetic to the country’s challenges, but doesn’t pull his punches when exploring issues around free speech, sexuality, and the treatment of migrant workers.
John McManus is the author “Inside Qatar: Hidden Stories from One of the Richest Nations on Earth,” An account of life in the country as seen through the eyes and experiences of those who call it home.