Qatar 2022: the world’s most autocratic World Cup venue?

Football fans face a moral quandary. Do they avidly follow the World Cup? Or boycott and stay away?

The FIFA World Cup is one of the most anticipated sporting events in the world. But it is also being held in a country where serious concerns have been raised about human rights. These includes LBGTQ+ rights, but also working conditions for migrant workers.

World Cups have been held in non-democratic regimes before, of course. So how undemocratic is the location of the Qatar world cup in historical perspective?

The Varieties of Democracy Project provides an index score of the quality of liberal democracy since 1900 (and before…). A score of 1 is the highest possible level of democracy (or liberal democracy to be precise). A score of 0 represents the other extreme. The figure below maps the score against each world cup since 1930.

The headlines:

  • The World Cup to be held in the least democratic conditions was Italy in 1934 (a score of 0.35) when Benito Mussolini was in power – and the World Cup was used to promote fascism. This followed by Argentina in 1978 (a score of 0.048).
  • Qatar 2022 then has the third lowest democracy score – but not far behind with a score of 0.089. Perhaps worryingly, it follows Russia 2018 which also had a very low – and a downward trend.
  • We don’t yet know the 2026 democracy scores for the USA, Canada and Mexico who will host the next World Cup as we can’t look into the future. But they will most likely be much higher – and will be an important sift back towards holding World Cups in democracies
Liberal Democracy score (V-Dem) of world cup host countries

Prof Toby James, Professor of Politics & Public Policy

Photo credit: The 1934 World Cup in Italy via Wikipedia

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