World Cup final in Qatar: the face of migration

This Sunday the final of the 2022 World Cup is held, and, beyond the football analysis, two teams face each other that show in their faces and surnames the migration of which they were part in their history.

The migrant workforce has created the urban aesthetic of Qatar that emerges as one of the main attractions of the event held. The architectural design of its cities and public infrastructure plays a preponderant role in the construction of the national identity and symbolic integration of this small country, which wishes to be recognized internationally beyond its primary wealth associated with the production of hydrocarbons.

The urban-architectural dimension, with its political and cultural derivations, are long-standing components in the greatest celebration of world football, having been present since its inception. The planetary football event originates from the success that the competitions of this sport had had in the 1924 and 1928 Olympic Games, for which the French lawyer Jules Rimet proposed at the FIFA Amsterdam Congress in 1928, the organization of a world championship of nations. The Oriental Republic of Uruguay, whose team had won Olympic gold in 1924 and 1928, took up that challenge. It was a decision that was not exempt from controversies and reservations on the part of the European countries, since the event would take place on the other side of the Atlantic, in a country with a short history and outside the focus of Euro-centrist decisions.

In 362 days, a record time for that time, the main venue for the 1930 sporting event was built and inaugurated: the Centenario Stadium, with a capacity for more than 70,000 spectators, which was nicknamed the temple of soccer and is today a Monument History of World Soccer. Its design, by the Uruguayan architect Juan Antonio Scasso, was circular and not rectangular, as were most of the stadiums in Europe, which was totally revolutionary and futuristic for the beginning of the 20th century. Yugoslav, Greek, Italian, German workers participated in the construction of this sports complex, a diversity of cultures that account for how European migration changed the demographic composition of the small Atlantic country, in a sort of updating of the Tower of Babel.

According to Uruguayan historian Andrés Morales, the organization of the 1930 World Cup and the Centenario stadium project are part of an effort by the ruling elite to “construct a national identity and the invention of what is Uruguayan and Uruguayan.” The sports arena was conceived as a “monument to the wealth and industrialization of an emerging and proud country.” However, behind this hegemonic narrative uncomfortable realities were hidden. The image of a modern and thriving nation turned its back on a rural world considered backward, did not take responsibility for the massacres against the indigenous peoples of the Uruguayan territory and also evaded the deep global economic crisis that at the beginning of the 1930s would affect strongly to the popular sectors.

Today, 92 years later, a similar concealment exercise is taking place in and around the burning streets of Doha. A paradigmatic example is the Lusail Stadium, where the World Cup final will be played. It is a symbol of its projection as an emirate from an Arab fan, a huge coliseum for 80,000 people, with state-of-the-art technology, which generates its own energy with solar panels. It is located in the new city-island of Lusail, a pharaonic urban project designed to house some 250 thousand people, located 15 kilometers from the lavish capital of the emirate.

Thus, the inhabitants of the world also observe from Qatar the unfolding of a national narrative that seeks to install the image of a prosperous, futuristic country, and brimming with wealth. It is a story that shows a facet of the state with the highest per capita income on the planet, but that covers up the dramas and abuses associated with the biggest global sports festival: migration, the more than 6,000 people who died during the construction of the works that allowed shelter the world cup, as well as the permanent and systematic violations of human rights.

José Albuccó, academic Silva Henríquez Catholic University and creator of the blog Heritage and Art

World Cup final in Qatar: the face of migration