And when it does Qatar, like all host nations, will receive an automatic bid into the 32-team tournament. This isn’t a big deal when a country like Brazil plays host because their team would have qualified anyway. When we’re talking about a country smaller than Connecticut that is covered mostly in sand and has no real soccer history to speak of, things get a little dicier because the last thing anyone wants to see is some overmatched host country get destroyed in front of the entire world (insert your own joke about Brazil’s performance here).
As the New York Times recently reported, Qatar has turned to Africa to help bolster its team. According to Qatari officials, the nation has recruited talented but unknown African teenage players to move to Qatar to train against the Qataris who hope to represent Qatar in the 2022 World Cup. In exchange, the players are given room, board, access to state of the art practice facilities and coaching, and $5,000 to send back to their families in Africa each year. The Qatari officials explained that the competition presented by the African players would raise the play of the Qataris, hopefully to a level where they could compete against the world’s best by 2022. Anyone who is not a Qatari official saw exactly what was going on–Qatar was going to move these promising African players to Qatar at a young age, naturalize them as Qatari citizens, then trot out a team of African-born, Qatari-trained players for the 2022 World Cup.
Critics have decried Qatar’s “exploitation” of the African teenagers it has recruited over the last few years and pushed for rules that would prevent Qatar from continuing its plan. This struck me as an odd position. There is no evidence that these players or their families were forced to do anything against their will. Rather, they simply accepted an offer they believed would be beneficial to them. Conceptually, I don’t see this as any different than a college football player from Minnesota who decides to play for Florida State because Florida State has an exceptional program, a lawyer from Missouri who works in Dubai because it pays three times as much, or an Australian who decides to move to rural Wisconsin because…hey Mom, why did you ever do that?
I certainly recognize the problems associated with human trafficking, especially when the people involved come from third-world countries. But in this case where everything appears to be on the up-and-up (except for the issue of whether these African players should be considered “Qatari” enough to play for its national team), I don’t have a problem with it. These kids and their families were given an opportunity that they otherwise would not have had at home and they decided to take advantage of it. Sounds like one of the perks of globalization to me.