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Ahead of World Cup, bishop calls for ‘critical look’ at situation of Christians in Qatar

The international soccer competition kicks off on Sunday, Nov. 20, in the State of Qatar

Ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the “sports bishop” of the German Bishops’ Conference on Thursday called for a critical look at conditions in the competition’s host country, including the situation of Christians.

The international soccer competition kicks off on Sunday, Nov. 20, in the State of Qatar, an emirate on the northeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula.

Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau, who is the current sports commissioner of the German Bishops’ Conference, said in a statement published Nov. 17 that he did not want to give soccer fans “a bad conscience,” even if people were “asking how it came about that Qatar, of all places, was chosen by FIFA as the host country 12 years ago.” 

“Enjoyment of sports, including worldwide mega-events, has its own right, even if it may be clouded by the extreme commercialization of soccer in particular. But it is nevertheless right to take a critical look at the political and social conditions in Qatar.”

Bishop Oster noted that the emirate applied for the 2022 World Cup to underscore its international importance and reputation. “So it is only appropriate that the spotlight of the public is directed on the country these days and that the problematic aspects are also illuminated.”

Bishop Oster said the emirate had been “catapulted into a new era in recent decades by its oil and gas wealth. Today, a conservative-traditional Islamic society and an economic hypermodernity coexist. It would be unfair to ignore this special situation in the necessary criticism of questionable conditions. But it would also be inappropriate to gloss over limited human rights.”

“Non-Islamic religions, including Christianity, which are strongly represented among migrant workers, are granted freedom only to a limited extent,” the German prelate said.

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Bishop Oster also said the role of women was “set back” and sexual minorities were prosecuted.

“Experience shows that major sporting events such as world championships and Olympic games do not usually improve the social and political situation in the host countries in the long term,” he added. 

“For this very reason, it remains the task of the international community to continue to support the reform forces in the country even after the conclusion of the World Cup in Qatar and not to let up in its attention to human rights.”

The bishop said the “living and working conditions of the migrant workers who built the sports facilities and developed the country’s infrastructure in recent years deserve special attention.” 

Describing conditions on construction sites as having been catastrophic, “leading to an immense number of accidents and far too many deaths, especially during the construction of the stadiums,” the bishop said problems had not been satisfactorily solved, despite improvements.

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