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Why shouldn’t Qatar host the World Cup?

David Beckham in a promotional video for the World Cup

Ignore the “indignant pundits”, says The Economist. Qatar is a “perfectly good choice” to host the World Cup. Yes, its migrant workers are often mistreated, and yes, there is less sexual freedom than in the West. But the same is true of Russia, the previous hosts, and China, which put on the most recent Olympic Games last winter. And unlike those countries, Qatar is moving towards democracy rather than away from it: the previous emir introduced elections “of a sort” and set up a news channel, Al Jazeera, that is much more outspoken than its Arab rivals. Compare that to Moscow and Beijing, where “no peep of political dissent” is tolerated. Hell, “the Argentine junta that hosted the World Cup in 1978 threw critics out of helicopters”.

Qatar really isn’t the “despicable despotate of cartoonish editorials”. Gay sex is banned but so too is all sex outside marriage, in line with rules in “much of the developing world, and in almost all Muslim countries”. And while it may have used bribes to secure hosting rights, that says a lot more about Fifa than it does about Qatar. “The world is always going to have rich countries; it needs sporting authorities able to guard against undue influence.” We should be happy that the World Cup is being held in the Middle East, and a Muslim nation, for the first time. Besides, if we limited hosting duties to “blameless” countries, the tournament would have to “rotate among Finland, Norway and Sweden”. And no one wants that.