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For some, focus on World Cup host Qatar highlights Western double standards

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Today was Day 4 at the 2022 men's soccer World Cup in Qatar. This is the first time the tournament takes place in an Arab and Muslim country. And even before it started, it was already arguably the most controversial World Cup ever. Qatar's selection as host more than a decade ago was followed by a global corruption scandal that nearly took down FIFA. That is soccer's governing body. And for years, there have been human rights concerns about the country's treatment of migrant workers, also outrage over Qatar's treatment of LGBTQ people.

Well, we at NPR have reported on those concerns for years. Today, we want to bring in the voice of someone who believes there is more to this story. MSNBC host Ayman Mohyeldin argues that the barrage of criticism that Qatar has been receiving reveals, quote, "the depths of Western prejudice, performative moral outrage and gross double standards." He joins us now. Welcome.

AYMAN MOHYELDIN: Thank you very much, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Let me ask you about that quote, which you read on your show on MSNBC over the weekend. In what ways do you think the West is being prejudiced and exerting double standards here?

MOHYELDIN: The prejudice comes in a few different forms. One, it's the underlying notion that somehow Qatar as a country does not deserve to host the World Cup. And that is based on a whole set of factors that I've seen in Western critiques. There are portrayals of the Qatari national team as terrorists. There is the notion that Qatar doesn't have a sporting culture and, as a result, does not get to have the right to host the World Cup. And those reveal, for me, a certain bias and a certain prejudice because, if you are looking at countries that have hosted the World Cup, whether it be countries like the United States or countries like Japan and South Korea, the argument that Qatar doesn't have a sporting culture doesn't measure up compared to what you've seen in other countries that have hosted the World Cup. The United States did not even have a professional soccer league when it won the right to host the World Cup in 1994.

KELLY: So let me put to you two of the specific points of criticism and let you respond. One of the big ones has been the treatment of migrant workers who helped build the stadiums and the infrastructure for this event. Human rights groups have documented - they say hundreds, if not thousands died in that process. Do you have reason to doubt those numbers?

MOHYELDIN: Absolutely not. I want to be very clear about this. This is in no way, shape or form a defense of the treatment of migrant workers, not just in Qatar, but really across the entire GCC. And I think this is part of the context and the nuance that I am critical of and that is missing.

KELLY: So is it not - perhaps it's not anti-Arab prejudice, but pro-human rights to be outraged if migrant workers have died building the facilities for this?

MOHYELDIN: No, 100%. I completely agree with you. And again, I want to be very clear here. I am not defending or in any way, shape or form explaining Qatar's treatment of migrant workers. I believe that human rights organizations have done diligent work, and if they've documented these cases, we should all take them extremely seriously. The critique is more about how reporters who are covering this issue put it in the proper context and nuance to understand that there is a tremendous problem in the entire Gulf Cooperation Council, the entire region, and it's part of an economic system. And if you take that out of context and try to singularly focus on one country, you completely do your viewers and listeners and readers a disservice by not explaining the broader context of what is happening.

KELLY: Got you. On the issue of LGBTQ rights, same-sex relations are illegal in Qatar. What went through your mind with the armband controversy this week? I'll explain. This was captains of a bunch of countries - England, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, and so on - they wanted to wear these rainbow armbands to promote diversity and inclusion at the World Cup. They were told they would be penalized. booked, maybe even forced to leave the field of play. What went through your mind?

MOHYELDIN: Well, in short, I was actually disappointed by the FIFA decision. I believe, personally speaking here, I believe that athletes should have the right to express their political beliefs on the field. We in the West tend to be very selective in which human rights causes we want to support. So we've seen that in the past with organizations that have tried to say athletes that may want to express solidarity with Palestinians or in this case, Colin Kaepernick in the United States, what do we see happen? There's a tremendous backlash. We're told athletes should shut up and dribble. We're told that athletes should not express their political beliefs or their causes on the national stage.

KELLY: I guess I'm trying to square, if I'm hearing you right, you support the right of these team captains if they want to wear an armband promoting diversity. Yes?

MOHYELDIN: A hundred percent.

KELLY: They're not allowed to because of laws in Qatar that are anti-LGBTQ community. So...

MOHYELDIN: That's not correct. That's not correct.

KELLY: OK.

MOHYELDIN: FIFA made the decision to not let them wear those armbands. That's their interpretation of the armband.

KELLY: So are you trying - I mean, is your argument partly offloading some of the criticism that is being leveled at Qatar you believe should be leveled at FIFA?

MOHYELDIN: A hundred percent, 100%. FIFA should be held accountable to the decisions that it is taking about a lot of these positions. And again, I go back to the central point of even the decision to award the World Cup. FIFA is the one that made that decision and they should be held accountable for it.

KELLY: You're planning to attend the World Cup. Is that right?

MOHYELDIN: Yes, hopefully so.

KELLY: Do you feel any - are you struggling to personally reconcile any concerns about this, given all the critiques out there?

MOHYELDIN: No, no, not at all.

KELLY: No?

MOHYELDIN: I'm not having a hard time with that. I mean, quite honestly, I live in America. I have to reconcile a lot of things America does as a government and as a society with sporting events and just the fact that I live in this country.

KELLY: That was MSNBC host Ayman Mohyeldin. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

MOHYELDIN: Thank you, Mary Louise. My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Linah Mohammad
Prior to joining NPR in 2022, Mohammad was a producer on The Washington Post's daily flagship podcast Post Reports, where her work was recognized by multiple awards. She was honored with a Peabody award for her work on an episode on the life of George Floyd.
William Troop
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.