Not long after it was chosen as host nation for the 2022 World Cup I was invited to visit Qatar as a guest of the organisers. 

I politely refused the offer, but it would be dishonest of me to suggest that this was on high-minded, ethical grounds. 

I’d knocked back a similar, all-expenses trip to Euro 2004 in Portugal which came with executive tickets for the semi-final and final. 

Not all free press trips are tarnished and I was assured there would be no effort made to influence anything I might write. I just felt queasy about the amount of largesse being thrown about: somewhere down the line a transaction always occurs. 

I was vaguely aware of human rights abuses in Qatar, but when there’s any discussion about the treatment of women and minorities in the Middle East it usually focuses on Saudi Arabia, one of the UK’s most valued allies and business partners in the region. 

Saudi rulers effectively operate an organised crime cartel which pursues a brutal side-line in executing women who are caught on the wrong side of the country’s reactionary laws on sexual conduct. 

Men found guilty of homosexual behaviour may find themselves taking a long drop off a high building. 

Its de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman, is held responsible by western intelligence agencies with the abduction and brutal slaying of the dissident Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, in 2018. 

Yet the UK and other “progressive” nations retreat and look away when such matters are raised. We’re all invited, instead, to look at the bigger picture. 

Read More: FIFA failing kids who dare to dream with Qatar call

And what a big and cinematic picture it is. The UK currently participates in more than 200 joint ventures with Saudi Arabia reckoned to be worth not far short of £20 billion. 

Last year it was revealed that Britain exported almost £1.5bn of weapons to Saudi Arabia in a single quarter. This followed a period of introspection about Saudi Arabia’s prosecution of war in Yemen. 

The UK Government, having convinced itself that not very many Yemeni civilians had died as a result of Saudi bombs, resumed its Klondyke in military hardware. 

Early next year, a legal challenge brought by the Campaign Against Arms Trade over Britain’s supply of weapons to Saudi Arabia for the eight-year conflict in Yemen will be heard at the High Court. 

As with China, it seems that liberal nations’ horror at human rights abuses in foreign countries recedes in direct proportion to the size of the country doing the abusing and the numbers on the end-user certificates.

HeraldScotland: The World Cup kicks off in Qatar tomorrow Picture: Adam Davy/PA

Earlier this week, the Guardian crunched the numbers “that damn this World Cup” while admitting that confirmed figures are difficult to calculate. Some of them have been known – or hinted at – for a while: the £200bn spent on making the tournament happen; the 18-hour days of migrant workers; the £1-an-hour legal minimum wage. 

In four years, according to the Guardian, there have been 11 cases of ill treatment in detention for LGBTQ people. 

This number might seem barely large enough to warrant much condemnation… until you bear in mind that there are laws specifically outlawing physical intimacy between same sex people. 

The Qatar authorities have always denied that large numbers of migrant workers have died in constructing World Cup stadiums. An Amnesty report chooses to differ. “The Qatari authorities have failed to investigate the deaths of thousands of migrant workers over the past decade,” the report stated, “despite evidence of links between premature deaths and unsafe, searingly-hot working conditions.” 

Yet, the moral and ethical compromises that characterise the gaseous Middle East policies of the West are also evident in the attitudes of those of us who identify as left-wing liberals. 

It’s a sort of “How do you solve a problem like Sharia”. We are eternally vigilant for the wretched behaviours associated with Islamophobia in our own countries, yet fidget and look studiously at the ground when confronted with the illiberal activities of Muslim states. 

A Glaswegian friend of mine who has worked in Qatar’s engineering sector for several years told me this week: “A degree of selective activism and cultural relativism is constantly applied to Qatar by the media. Things only seem to be bad because they take place in an Arab or Muslim country.

“It’s what will happen, as a result of the World Cup, in five, 10 and 15 years that really counts. Societies change and adapt at different times and at their own pace. Not just at the pace the UK media wants.

“Rather than condemn an entire country, critics in the UK ought to read a little more about their own history and how they have disenfranchised and marginalised swathes of people for centuries – Irish Catholics, gay people, Gypsies, the Windrush generation. 

“Qatar is a tribal country where tradition and culture take precedence over most things. But I’ve found more decency, humanity and understanding in a few years here than I’ve found in decades at home.”

It’s possible though, to revile the hypocrisy that coats much of western criticism of Qatar and still question the decision to hand it the world’s greatest sporting event. 

When Fifa, football’s governing body, began stepping out of the European-South American duality for hosting the World Cup, it alighted first on the United States in 1994 then Japan and South Korea in 2002 and South Africa in 2010. 

In those continents though, there was already a burgeoning and developing football culture reflected since in the number of their gifted footballers who have become global superstars. 

African players such as the former Liverpool striker Sadio Mane and his one-time club colleague, Mohamed Salah, donate large chunks of their wages to sustaining entire villages in their homelands in Senegal and Egypt, respectively. 

There will be no football legacy flowing from the Qatar World Cup, however. Only around 11% of its 2.6 million population are native Qataris and there is little evidence that they want to embrace football or anything of its culture.

Maggie Lennon, director of the Bridges Programmes, the Scottish agency for the integration of migrants, is scornful about Fifa’s claims of using the World Cup as a vehicle for change. 

“Locating the World Cup in Qatar is another example of international sporting competition going ahead for its own sake,” she said. 

“There is no consideration to the human cost in building the infrastructure. Not long ago we were appalled by the repression of citizens and foreign workers around the Beijing Olympics. How quickly we forget.

“Fifa’s claims that football is a unifying balm soothing all hurt and damage is fatuous. That the stadiums have been built – quite literally – on the backs of exploited slave migrant workers is a disgrace in this age.”
The estimated $200bn spent by this very rich country to host the World Cup looks increasingly like history’s most expensive vanity project. 
How many of these stadiums will remain in use for more than a few more years?  

Meanwhile, club football – still a staple of working-class culture around the globe – has ground to a halt for five weeks while this elaborate investment opportunity masquerading as a football tournament proceeds. 

Small clubs with scant resources will suffer a concertina effect as they cram matches into a shortened schedule. 

More players will be injured and lifeline commercial revenue will be lost. In choosing Qatar there is simply no discernible benefit to the game and its core supporters. 

Claims by Fifa and its commercial stakeholders that they can influence cultural change in Qatar are delusional and insulting.

Perhaps the most perverse element in its decision to bring the World Cup to Qatar is the messaging around women’s football. 

The women’s game has made huge progress and begun breaking the glass ceilings of commerce and broadcasting. A record numbers of girl are participating in football. 

Taking the World Cup to a country that still treats women as vassals insults all of them.