Qatar World Cup – where sportswashing meets greenwashing?

Qatar World Cup – where sportswashing meets greenwashing?

The FIFA World Cup – one of the most prestigious sporting events in the world - is typically watched by approximately half of the global population. This weekend the 2022 competition will kick off with the host nation Qatar taking on Ecuador.

In previous years the build up to the World Cup has tended to focus on the participating nations’ chances of winning the competition. On this occasion the hype has been overshadowed somewhat by criticism of the host nation and FIFA itself.


From climate scientists to mainstream and social media commentators, the issues facing the Qatar 2022 World Cup have been well documented. Many of these issues, such as the environmental impact and concerns over human rights and working conditions, remain in place. However, efforts to address these concerns continue to be made.


Tackling the environment

FIFA and Qatar have committed to making the 2022 World Cup the first ‘Carbon Neutral World Cup’. They aim to achieve this through “energy-efficient” stadiums, green-building certifications, low-emission transportation, and sustainable waste management practices. The remaining emissions will be offset through voluntary carbon offsets (from the Global Carbon Council – the Doha-based carbon credit registry).


It's a bold commitment from a country that has spent the past 12 years on a construction spree, building seven new stadiums, hotels, high-rises, and roads for the event. FIFA and Qatari organisers have projected that the World Cup will produce 3.6 million tons of carbon dioxide from activities related to the tournament between 2011 and 2023 – roughly 3% of Qatar's total emissions in 2019.


Climate scientists and experts have said that FIFA and Qatar’s plans won't counteract the event's carbon footprint in the manner they suggest. Some sceptics have estimated that the carbon footprint is likely to be in excess of 10 million tons of carbon dioxide, and that credits issued by the registry are of dubious quality; it is not clear they are additional or will fund carbon-reducing projects that would not have otherwise existed.


Qatar famously moved the tournament to the winter to protect players and spectators from extreme heat. Regardless, all eight stadiums will be air conditioned, of which seven stadiums are opened to the sky – questioning the validity of “energy efficient stadiums”.


Despite these challenges, Qatari organisers insist the country is on track to host the first carbon-neutral World Cup. They point to the visibly green elements of Qatar's clean purchases: 800 new electric buses, 16,000 trees and nearly 700,000 nursery-grown shrubs, plus a new 800-megawatt solar power plant that was recently connected to the grid.


Worker’s rights – changing the rules

Another aspect of the Qatar World Cup project that has been firmly in the spotlight is worker’s rights, and human rights in general. The extent to which this is a concern is highlighted by Denmark’s decision to design an alternative, black kit with no sponsor shown to honour migrant workers who died during construction work for the tournament.


Until recently, Qatar operated under the ‘kafala system’, a system requiring all migrant workers to have an in-country sponsor, responsible for their visa and legal status. The system required workers to obtain exit permits to leave the country, and no-objection certificates to change employers. Expatriates make up most of Qatar’s population, and many of them are low-income migrant workers.  Human rights groups say the system has permitted developers to exploit workers - exposing them to arduous working conditions for little pay and not allowing them to go home until projects materialise. The kafala system, however, has been abolished and a minimum wage policy established. As a result, sentiment towards work in Qatar has improved. The International Labour Organization (ILO) conducted a survey of 1,000 low-wage workers and found that 86% of respondents felt that the labour reforms had positively affected their lives.


Max Tuñón, Head of the ILO project office in Qatar recently said in an interview: “Changes to the kafala system have led to labour mobility. Now workers can negotiate for better conditions, and employers are incentivised to provide them in order to attract and retain talent. Legislation has also been introduced on the minimum wage, on protecting outdoor workers during the summer months, and on the election of migrant worker representatives within companies.”


In terms of the minimum wage, workers will now receive at least 1,000 rials a month (£245). The minimum wage, however, is a drop in the ocean compared to how much has been spent on preparing for the World Cup. But it is progress, and while many human rights activists remain unconvinced by Qatar’s efforts to improve working conditions, some progress is better than none.


There has also been calls, from the likes of Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, for FIFA and Qatar to set up a compensation fund for migrant workers and their families who have experienced injury or death while employed in Qatar. Qatar has rejected these calls, calling it a “publicity stunt” and that the nation is already handing out hundreds of millions of dollars of unpaid wages.


A win for active engagement

Clearly there is more work to be done, including in areas such as governance where bribery claims continue to plague FIFA in particular. But no large-scale sporting event has faced more scrutiny than the Qatar FIFA World Cup, and that is encouraging. People, now more than ever, are taking a real interest in the treatment of individuals and the carbon footprint of events.


And this level of scrutiny appears to be having an effect. The Gulf nation has taken steps to move away from a fossil fuel reliance, electrifying transport fleets and feeding renewable energy into the grid. It remains to be seen of course whether Qatar will use these games as a catalyst to continue to invest for a greener future.


As sustainable investors, it is part of our investment process to engage with the companies we invest in – mainly through our shareholder voting rights – in order to highlight poor practices and to push for change. We welcome a similar level of scrutiny being applied to government activities and large events such as the Qatar FIFA World Cup.






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Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022: New report discredits carbon neutrality claim - BBC Sport; FIFA – FIFA Carbon Neutral claims; Qatar World Cup: Fifa's carbon neutrality claim 'misleading and incredibly dangerous' - BBC Sport – 10mn emissions claim; FIFA 2022 World Cup’s “carbon neutral” claim is far-fetched and spurious - Carbon Market Watch

wcms_859839.pdf (

Has the World Cup really improved workers’ rights in Qatar? Five experts give their verdict | Qatar | The Guardian

Qatar introduces minimum wage of $275 – Human Rights & Public Liberties (

Qatar: Joint letter to Gianni Infantino regarding remedy for labour abuses - Amnesty International

Qatar: labour minister's dismissal of worker compensation campaign 'hugely disappointing' | Amnesty International UK / Qatar rejects compensation fund for World Cup migrant workers (– “publicity stunt”

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