The 2022 Qatar World Cup is a human rights atrocity dressed up like a soccer tournament. More than 6,500 migrant workers have died in the petro-dictatorship since it was awarded the tournament, with more than two dozen perishing during the rush to construct stadiums. But Qatar’s ruling al-Thani family has a counterpunch for those criticizing their bloody hosting of the Cup: billions upon billions of dollars to purchase positive publicity in the lead-up to the month-long mega-event. They are presenting the World Cup—one of the most-watched sporting events on Earth—to puff up their regime, but the fallout around migrant deaths has been so widespread that they have been compelled to buy favorable relations in cities only too happy to take their money. This is a form of what is often referred to as “sportswashing.”
Take Los Angeles, which is slated to host the 2028 Summer Olympics. LA Mayor Eric Garcetti has been quietly aiding and abetting the Qatar 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 gift will save lives,” Garcetti said at the time. But the donation also serves the purpose of burnishing Qatar’s image while the lives lost building stadiums for the World Cup are consigned to the shadows.
Despite its name, the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles is technically an independent nonprofit organization with no formal links to Mayor Garcetti’s office. But Garcetti reportedly helped create the group back in 2014, and it is staffed by Garcetti associates with strong links to Los Angeles City Hall. The Mayor’s Fund received enormous “behested payments”—mostly unregulated donations—from corporate behemoths like AT&T, Verizon, and Paramount Pictures. Such payments provide “an ideal opportunity for the very wealthy and the lobbyist to buy access to lawmakers,” said Craig Holman, of the consumer-rights group Public Citizen. Michael Steinborn, a researcher and activist with the anti-Olympics group NOlympicsLA, told us, “We don’t know what LA’s end of that bargain is. If we take X amount of money from Qatar, what do they get in return?”
The relationship between Garcetti and Qatar was long in the making. In September 2016, the mayor went to the airport to personally greet Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the emir of Qatar, when he arrived in LA. Also on hand was Dana Smith, then the 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, not only was his visit a sly sidestep around the restrictions on IOC members’ visits to Olympic bid cities, put in place after the jaw-dropping bribery scandal around the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, but it also affords a glimpse of how the self-fashioned barons of sport do whatever 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 Qatari Embassy reported that this event “was attended by senior officials and businessmen in California.” Two months later, Garcetti accompanied the LA28 Olympic bid team on a trip to Qatar where they pressed the case for LA to host the 2028 Summer Games.
But of course sports mega-events like the Olympics and World Cup have long brought together a privileged sliver of the global 1 percent, no matter how shady their background. Among the many power brokers who attended Mayor Garcetti’s banquet and posed for photographs was Tom Barrack, the billionaire real estate magnate who chaired Donald Trump’s inauguration. Barrack is scheduled to go on trial in September for illegally lobbying the Trump administration on behalf of the United Arab Emirates. In his book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, Michael Wolff dubbed Barrack, Trump, and Jeffrey Epstein “a 1980s and ’90s set of nightlife Musketeers.” LA28 Olympics chair Casey Wasserman, whose name appears on Epstein’s plane logs, posed with Trump for a photo-op after the president OK’d federal taxpayers footing the bill for Olympics security. The price tag for that security, which is not included in the Games’ conspicuously escalating price tag, will be in the billions.
“Considering the amount of corruption that is historically in World Cup and Olympic bidding, and especially with the Qatar World Cup, it is definitely worth scrutinizing these past dealings and what they mean,” said Steinborn of NOlympicsLA.
What we know is that the Qatar and Los Angeles nexus is united by more than business dealings: A parasitic form of solidarity allows the super-wealthy and powerful to use events like the World Cup and Olympics to present one face to the world and another to the people upon whose bodies these events are erected. It recalls Angela Davis’s concept of “disposable populations,” which, she asserts, are comprised largely of “people of color and immigrant populations from the countries of the Global South.” The sports-industrial complex, as seen here in LA and across the world in Qatar, relies on such “disposable populations” for their plunder and profits.