NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly talks to MSNBC host Ayman Mohieldin about what he calls Western double standards and prejudice in coverage of Qatar hosting the World Cup.
MARY LOUISE KELLY HOST:
Today was the fourth day of the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup in Qatar. This is the first time the tournament has taken place in an Arab and Muslim country. And before it even started, it was already arguably the most controversial World Cup in history. The choice of Qatar as the host country more than a decade ago was accompanied by a global corruption scandal that nearly destroyed FIFA. It is the governing body of football. And for years, there have been human rights concerns over the country’s treatment of migrant workers, as well as outrage over Qatar’s treatment of LGBT people.
Well, we at NPR have been reporting these issues for years. Today we want to bring to you the voice of someone who believes there is more to this story. MSNBC host Ayman Mohieldin argues that the barrage of criticism Qatar is receiving reveals, and I quote, “the depths of Western prejudice, performative moral outrage and gross double standards.” He will join us now. Welcome.
AYMAN MOHJIELDIN: Thank you very much, Mary Louise.
KELLY: Let me ask you about this quote you read on your MSNBC show over the weekend. How do you think the West is showing bias and double standards here?
MOYELDIN: Prejudice can take several different forms. First, it is the fundamental belief that Qatar, as a country, does not deserve to host the World Cup. And this is based on a whole range of factors that I have seen in Western criticism. There are images of the Qatar team as terrorists. There is an opinion that there is no sports culture in Qatar and, as a result, there is no right to host the World Cup. And they show, in my opinion, a certain bias and a certain prejudice, because if you look at the countries that have hosted the World Cup, whether it’s countries like the United States or countries like Japan and South Korea, the argument about Qatar’s lack of sports culture is nothing compared to what you’ve seen in other countries hosting the World Cup. The United States didn’t even have a professional soccer league when it won the right to host the World Cup in 1994.
KELLY: So let me lay out two specific points of criticism for you and give you a chance to respond. One of the big ones was the treatment of migrant workers who helped build stadiums and infrastructure for the event. Human rights organizations have documented that hundreds, if not thousands, of people died in the process. Do you have reason to doubt these figures?
MOYELDIN: Absolutely not. I want to be very clear about this. This in no way shapes or protects the treatment of migrant workers, not only in Qatar, but throughout the GCC. And I think that’s part of the context and the nuance that I’m criticizing that’s missing.
KELLY: So maybe it’s not anti-Arab prejudice, but pro-human rights outrage if migrant workers die building facilities for it?
MOYELDIN: No, 100%. I fully agree with you. And again, I want to be very clear here. I am not advocating or in any way explaining Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers. I believe that human rights organizations have done a painstaking job, and if they have documented these cases, we should all take them very seriously. The criticism is more about how the reporters covering this issue put it in the proper context and nuance to understand that there is a huge problem in the entire Gulf Cooperation Council, in the entire region, and it is part of the economic system. And if you take it out of context and try to focus exclusively on one country, you are doing your viewers, listeners and readers a disservice by not explaining the wider context of what is happening.
KELLY: Got it. Regarding LGBTQ rights, same-sex relationships are illegal in Qatar. What came to your mind about the armband controversy this week? I will explain. It was the captains of several countries – England, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and so on – they wanted to wear these rainbow armbands to promote diversity and inclusiveness at the World Cup. They were told that they would be punished. received a warning, maybe even had to leave the field. What’s on your mind?
MOYELDIN: In short, I was disappointed with FIFA’s decision. I think speaking personally here, I believe that athletes should have the right to express their political opinions on the field. We in the West tend to be very selective about what human rights issues we want to support. So we’ve seen this in the past with organizations trying to say that athletes might want to show solidarity with the Palestinians, or in this case Colin Kaepernick in the United States, what are we seeing? There is a huge backlash. We are told that athletes should shut up and dribble. We are told that athletes should not express their political opinions or their interests in the national arena.
KELLY: I think I’m trying to negotiate, if I understand you correctly, you support the right of these team captains if they want to wear a diversity armband. Yes?
MOYELDIN: One hundred percent.
KELLY: They’re banned because of Qatar’s anti-LGBTQ laws. So…
MOYELDIN: That’s wrong. It is not right.
MOYELDIN: FIFA made the decision not to let them wear those armbands. This is their interpretation of the bandage.
KELLY: So what you’re trying to do is… I mean, does your argument partly remove some of the criticism against Qatar that you think FIFA should be addressing?
MOYELDIN: One hundred percent, 100%. FIFA must be held accountable for the decisions it makes regarding many of these positions. And again I return to the central point even of the decision to award the World Cup. This decision was made by FIFA, and it should be held accountable for it.
KELLY: You are planning to attend the World Championships. This is right?
MOYELDIN: Yes, I hope so.
KELLY: Do you feel any — do you struggle personally to reconcile any misgivings about this, given all the criticism?
MOYELDIN: No, no, not at all.
MOYELDIN: I have no problem with that. I mean, to be honest, I live in America. I have to balance a lot of what America does as a government and as a society with sporting events and just the fact that I live in this country.
KELLY: It was MSNBC host Ayman Mohieldin. Thanks a lot for talking to us.
MOYELDIN: Thank you, Mary Louise. My pleasure.
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