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December 19, 2014 1:28 pm

Qatar Should ‘Give Gaza’ 2022 Soccer World Cup to Ease Middle East Tensions, British Analyst Says

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Migrant laborers in Qatar are living and working in appalling conditions. Photo: Twitter

A British journalist and commentator with extensive experience of both Israel and the Arab countries is turning to the healing power of soccer’s World Cup competition as a force for good in the Middle East.

In an article for The Guardian, Tom Gross argued that Qatar, the Gulf Arab emirate that will host the 2022 World Cup, “should give the World Cup to Gaza.” The oil and natural gas-rich state “should pay for it too,” Gross wrote.

Speaking to The Algemeiner, Gross explained that his proposal would benefit both the Palestinians and Qatar. The Palestinian Authority and Hamas would, he said, be able to demonstrate their commitment to improving the lives of Palestinians by staging the world’s biggest sporting competition, creating jobs and driving up tourism. As for Qatar, Gross said, the “public relations disaster” that has overwhelmed media coverage of the 2022 World Cup – Qatar has been accused of bribing executive members of FIFA, the governing body of soccer, in its bid to stage the competition – could be alleviated by an act of practical solidarity with Gaza.

“The regime in Qatar may eventually regret holding the World Cup,” Gross said in his interview with The Algemeiner. “They are able to get away with all sorts of human rights abuses, for example against the migrant workers they’ve brought in to build the World Cup stadiums and other infrastructure, more than 2,000 of whom have died while laboring in slave-like conditions, because unfortunately the world doesn’t care that much. But the world does care about soccer, and the World Cup is such a popular event across the globe that a much wider section of humanity is going to learn about the abuses in Qatar.”

The challenge now, Gross said, “is to find a way for Qatar to give up the World Cup without losing face.” Offering the competition to Gaza, he conceded, “may seem a bit ridiculous and far-fetched.” But, he continued, “it could work for Qatar as a goodwill gesture. And it could also work for supporters of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because Hamas will lose a great deal of power in Gaza if it has to work with the whole world to do something positive, instead of building terror tunnels and launching rockets.”

Hamas, Gross said, would “find it very difficult to go on firing rockets at Israel for the next seven years while there is World Cup infrastructure being built. They would have to cooperate with Israel and Israel would have to cooperate them – doing so within the context of the World Cup could defuse tensions enormously.”

In his Guardian piece, Gross made two pertinent observations about the Palestinians; first, a wild enthusiasm for soccer that they share with many other nations, including Israel, second, that Gaza’s “key problem is not money, but rule by militant Islamism, combined with hopelessness.”

“We’ve got to find a force that is bigger than Hamas, or more popular than Hamas, and soccer may just be it,” Gross said. Staging the World Cup in Gaza would, he added, change outsiders perceptions of the region as being mired in conflict to one where cooperation is both possible and desirable.

Gross pointed to other factors that militate against holding the World Cup in Qatar, not least that temperatures there soar to 104 degrees in summer, when the competition is traditionally held. As a fast and highly physical contact sport, soccer is normally played in lower temperatures; concerns about the heat in Qatar have even led to proposals for air-conditioned stadiums, which would involve a major risk to the health of players, as such a method has never been tried before.

For its part, FIFA remains committed to holding the World Cup in Qatar. Yet the bribery allegations – which took center stage again this week, following the resignation on Wednesday of Michael Garcia, the former United States attorney for the Southern District of New York who was appointed as FIFA’s ethic investigator, in a row over FIFA’s refusal to publish his 450-page report detailing various instances of corruption, many of them related to the Qatar bid – are not going away.

Today, FIFA announced that what it described as a “legally appropriate version” of Garcia’s report would eventually be made available to the public. At the same time, FIFA President Sepp Blatter confirmed that the bidding process for the World Cup competitions of 2018 and 2022 in Russia and Qatar would not be reopened.

In theory, at least, Blatter’s decision would not prevent Qatar from voluntarily giving the World Cup to another party. And, as Gross pointed out in his Guardian piece, other countries in the region would also reap the rewards of such a move: “if Gaza is too small to host all the matches, why not also allow Ramallah, Cairo and even Tel Aviv to host a few?” he suggested.

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