There is disapproval for hosting the tournament in Qatar, net support for boycotting it in several countries, and a tendency to believe that international supporting institutions are too willing to work with undemocratic governments with poor human rights records
FIFA’s decision in 2010 to award the 2022 World Cup host to Qatar was a controversial one. Aside for allegations of bribery and corruption, as well as the fact that seasonal temperatures meaning that the tournament would have to be played during the winter, Qatar is an undemocratic country with a poor human rights record.
A new international YouGov survey, conducted in the five largest Western European nations – Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain – as well as the United States, asks people: how they feel about countries like Qatar being allowed to host such prestigious sporting events; whether international sporting institutions are too willing to work with undemocratic governments with poor human rights records; and whether they would support teams and other stakeholders protesting at the tournament or even boycotting it entirely.
Is it acceptable to hold the World Cup in Qatar?
Few among the countries surveyed have a favourable view of the country of Qatar. Germans are the least likely to, at 8%, while Italians (23%) and Americans (24%) are the most likely to.
While more people think it is acceptable for Qatar to host international sporting events, these numbers again tend to be low. Germans are the least likely to think it is acceptable, with 14% saying so compared to 70% who think it is unacceptable. By contrast Italians tend to think it is acceptable to host international games in Qatar, by 46% to 29%.
Americans also tend to see Qatar as an acceptable host for international games, although at 31% to 22% the results are characterised by a much greater level of uncertainty (47%).
Should stakeholders speak out against Qatar, or boycott it the World Cup?
In the European countries surveyed, at least half of people say they would support each of the groups we asked about raising awareness of or making criticisms about Qatar's practices on human rights, women’s rights and LGBT issues during the 2022 World Cup. This includes national football governing bodies, teams and players, broadcasters and pundits, and national dignitaries like politicians.
In the USA, support is much lower (37-47%), but there is still net support in each case. This is in part because Americans are substantially more likely to answer “don’t know”.
When it comes to boycotting Qatar, a majority of people in Britain, France and Spain support all groups we asked about doing so. There was also majority support in Germany, except for when it comes to the national team and individual players, where support fell below 50% (but was still significantly above opposition).
Support for boycotting the tournament is substantially lower in Italy than it is for attending and criticising Qatar, although still is still higher than opposition in each case.
There is once again no majority support in the US, but unlike in Italy the figures are largely unchanged between the two questions.
Are international sporting institutions too willing to work with undemocratic governments?
Qatar 2022 follows from Russia 2018, as well as this year’s winter Olympics in China – all controversial choices because of the respective host nations undemocratic governments and poor human rights records.
There is a tendency to think that international sporting institutions are too willing to work with undemocratic governments. In Britain, France, Germany and Spain between 50% and 58% say so, falling to 41% in Italy and 35% in the USA. Even in these latter two countries, this number still far outweighs the number who think they are too unwilling to work with undemocratic governments.
Most people in all countries think it is right for international sporting institutions to take a country’s human rights record into account when deciding whether to hold tournaments there. That figure is lowest in America (59%) and between 74-87% in the European countries surveyed (with that highest figure being in Spain).
The vast majority of those who say it is right to take human rights into account say it should either be the most important factor, or a major factor in the decision to hold events there.
Should countries with poor democratic and human rights records be allowed to compete in international sport events?
Aside from the matter of whether undemocratic countries with poor human rights records should be allowed to host international sporting events, there is also the question of whether they should be allowed to compete in such events.
There is no requirement for countries competing at major international sporting events like the World Cup and the Olympics be democratic or have good human rights records.
Those in Western Europe tend to disagree with this stance. Between 41-48% think it is wrong to allow such countries to compete, while 27-35% think it is right to allow them to do so. Americans are split, with 30% thinking it is right and 29% thinking it is wrong.
Football fans are more likely to oppose boycotting Qatar, but still tend to support them overall
Across all the questions asked, football fans in each European country either mirror the results of their wider societies, or are more likely still to take stances that are firmer on human rights (with the entire difference being that they are less likely to say “don’t know” than the general public) – except when it comes to boycotting the tournament. Across all groups we asked about, football fans in Europe are more likely than the wider public to oppose them refusing to attend, although there is still a substantial lead for those supporting a boycott.
By contrast, American football (soccer) fans are notably more likely to have a favourable view of Qatar than the US public as a whole (47% vs 24%) and are more likely to say it is acceptable to hold international sporting events there (49% vs 23%).
When it comes to international sporting institutions working with undemocratic governments, the response rate for every perspective is higher: 41% say they are too willing to work with undemocratic governments, compared to 35% of all Americans; 19% think the level is about right (against 12% of the wider public); and 21% say they aren’t willing enough to work with such governments (versus 13% of the US public).
When accounting for the differing rates of “don’t know” responses, this puts US soccer fans as slightly less likely than the wider public to think sporting institutions are too willing to work with undemocratic governments.
Compared to the wider public on whether they support or oppose players, teams and other stakeholders in protesting or boycotting the coming World Cup, US soccer fans are again more likely to have an opinion either way.
When accounting again for the fact that Americans in general are more likely to have answered “don’t know”, US soccer fans have comparable views on the question of highlighting issues in or criticising Qatar, but are less likely than the wider public to support any boycott attempts.