Football fans have been offered a free World Cup trip to Qatar, including tickets to see the matches in the coming weeks, but there's one big catch: participants must report other fans that openly oppose the host country.
From 20 November to 18 December 2022, the 22nd FIFA World Cup competition will be organised in Qatar, an Arab country notorious for its human rights abuses and abusive laws to stifle critical voices. Just one month before the World Cup kicks off, Amnesty International revealed that abuses of migrant workers remain rife across the country.
While preparations for the World Cup are underway, Qatar launched the Qatar Fan Leader Network, another scheme to suppress disparaging views of the host country. The network offers football fans aged 18 or older and living in a country participating in the World Cup free travel and tickets to matches, free accommodation during the tournament and will even give them some spending money.
"We are looking for individuals who are passionate about football and keen to share key information with their friends and contacts about Qatar's hosting of the FIFA World Cup 2022™," reads the website where fans can sign up for the scheme, financed by Qatar.
It constitutes another bid by the organiser to suppress negative news about the tournament which has been heavily criticised for human rights violations and the treatment of migrant workers. Analysis by The Guardian newspaper estimates that 6,500 migrant workers have lost their lives constructing venues for the competition.
An Amnesty International report published this year noted that thousands of migrant workers of all ages and occupations had died in Qatar between 2010 and 2019 and that in many cases, the cause of death is never investigated.
Reporting by the New York Times and Dutch broadcaster NOS shows that the scheme imposes strict conditions on participants: fans may only travel to the country and attend the sports event on Qatar's terms, which are stipulated in the "code of conduct,".
Carefully selected fans have to abide by various rules set out in the contracts they must sign. Although these state that participants don't have to be a mouthpiece for Qatar, "it would obviously not be appropriate for you to disparage Qatar the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC), or other relevant entities related to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 or the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022TM."
The contract also states that Qatari authorities can monitor all information and communications participants post on social media, blogs or websites to consider whether they can become a "Fan Leader" and once they have been selected.
"You understand that SC will be monitoring your posts for compliance with this code. SC has the right to address non-compliant posts including by requiring you to amend or remove the post so as to comply with this code," the code of conduct reads.
Most controversially, it asserts that fans taking part in the scheme must report “any offensive, degrading or abusive comments” by other fans who are critical of Qatar. The World Cup noted it reserves the right to terminate the agreement if supporters do not comply with all rules, meaning they will lose access to all the benefits granted.
They are also required to take part in a five-minute fan-themed segment during the opening ceremony which will see them perform a chant or song specific to their country, selected by tournament organisers.
No shortage of applicants
Despite these strict, and many would say contentious, conditions attached to participation, hundreds of football fans from all of FIFA’s confederations have reportedly signed up since the invitations were sent out in late September. The scheme aims to attract the most well-connected and well-known fan leaders.
"Featuring a community of more than 400 fan leaders and influencers from 60 countries, the Fan Leader Network contributes to tournament planning through fan insight, research, content creation and message amplification," the Qatar World Cup said on its website about the programme.
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Yet some have declined. One French fan who was invited by the host country told Le Parisien that the conditions attached to the offer felt like a step too far.
Representatives of Qatar’s World Cup organising committee, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, have since tried to downplay the requirements, saying there was no obligation to promote or report anything.
The Royal Belgian Football Association has not responded to questions about how many fans will travel to the Gulf state from Belgium at Qatar's expense.