The 2022 World Cup in Qatar is a human rights atrocity disguised as a football tournament. More than 6,500 migrant workers have died in the petro-dictatorship since it won the tournament, and more than two dozen perished during the rush to build stadiums. But Qatar’s ruling al-Thani family has a backlash for those who criticize their bloody organization of the Cup: billions upon billions of dollars to buy positive publicity ahead of the month-long mega-event. They present the World Cup – one of the most watched sporting events on Earth – to inflate their regime, but the fallout around the deaths of migrants has been so widespread that they have been forced to buy favorable relations in cities too happy to take their money. This is a form of what is often called “sportswashing”.
Take Los Angeles, which is set to host the 2028 Summer Olympics. LA Mayor Eric Garcetti quietly aided and abetted Qatar’s World Cup in return for funding for the struggling city. In 2020, his “Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles” accepted a $5 million donation from the Consulate General of the State of Qatar to help fight the spread of Covid-19. “This generous donation will save lives,” Garcetti said at the time. But the donation also serves to restore Qatar’s image as the lives lost in the construction of World Cup stadiums are relegated to the shadows.
Despite its name, the Los Angeles Mayor’s Fund is technically an independent nonprofit organization with no formal connection to Mayor Garcetti’s office. But Garcetti reportedly helped start the group in 2014, and it’s made up of Garcetti associates with close ties to Los Angeles City Hall. The Mayor’s Fund has received huge “imposed payments” — mostly unregulated donations — from giants like AT&T, Verizon and Paramount Pictures. Such payments provide “an ideal opportunity for the very wealthy and lobbyists to buy access to lawmakers,” said Craig Holman of consumer rights group Public Citizen. Michael Steinborn, researcher and activist for the anti-Olympics group NOlympicsLA, told us, “We don’t know what the end of LA is in this market. If we take X amount of money from Qatar, what do they get in return? »
The relationship between Garcetti and Qatar lasted a long time. In September 2016, the mayor visited the airport to personally greet Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar, upon his arrival in Los Angeles. Also in attendance was Dana Smith, then US Ambassador to Qatar, who also sits on the LA28 Olympics Board of Directors. The Qatari emir has been a member of the International Olympic Committee since 2002. Therefore, his visit was not only a sneaky circumvention of restrictions on visits by IOC members to Olympic candidate cities, put in place after the scandal. jaw-dropping corruption around the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002, but it also gives a glimpse of how self-made sports barons do what they want and get away with it.
Garcetti also hosted a banquet for the Emir at the Getty House, the mayor’s official residence. The Qatar Embassy reported that this event “was attended by high officials and businessmen in California”. Two months later, Garcetti accompanied the LA28 Olympic bid team on a trip to Qatar where they advocated for LA to host the 2028 Summer Games.
But of course, sporting mega-events like the Olympics and the World Cup have long assembled a privileged slice of the global 1%, no matter how shady. Among the many power brokers who attended Mayor Garcetti’s banquet and posed for photos was Tom Barrack, the billionaire real estate mogul who presided over Donald Trump’s inauguration. Barrack is due to stand trial in September for unlawfully pressuring the Trump administration on behalf of the United Arab Emirates. In his book Fire and Fury: Inside Trump’s White House, Michael Wolff dubbed Barrack, Trump and Jeffrey Epstein “a set of nightlife musketeers of the 1980s and 90s”. LA28 Olympics chairman Casey Wasserman, whose name appears on Epstein’s plane logs, posed with Trump for a photo op after the president allowed federal taxpayers to foot the Games security bill Olympics. The price of this security, which is not included in the obviously rising price of the Games, will be in the billions.
“Given the extent of corruption historically linked to the World Cup and Olympics bid, and in particular the Qatar World Cup, it is definitely worth examining these past dealings and what ‘they mean,’ said NOlympicsLA’s Steinborn.
What we do know is that the bond between Qatar and Los Angeles is united by more than business relations: a parasitic form of solidarity allows the super-rich and powerful to use events like the World Cup world and the Olympic Games to present one face to the world and another to the people on whose bodies these events are erected. This is reminiscent of Angela Davis’ concept of “disposable populations”, which she says are made up largely of “people of color and immigrant populations from the Global South”. The sports and industrial complex, as seen here in Los Angeles and around the world in Qatar, relies on these “disposable populations” for their plunder and profit.