The Lusail Stadium, an 80,000-capacity venue on the outskirts of Qatar's capital Doha, will host the FIFA World Cup final in December 2022. - AFP

A Pakistan Army contingent left for Doha on Monday to perform duties at the FIFA World Cup 2022 being held in Qatar.

Pakistan Army troops are among security personnel from several countries, including the US, the UK, France and Turkey, amid calls for boycott of the event over human rights abuses.

Pakistan Army contingent consists of officers, junior commissioned officers, and soldiers. An eight-member international FIFA training team visited Pakistan in September to look out for the security protocols of Pak Army. During the visit, the FIFA delegation imparted training on security to selected contingents of the Pakistan Army.

A four-member delegation of the Qatari Ministry of Interior visited Pakistan in August seeking Pakistan’s assistance during World Cup.

The boycott threats

France’s decision to send officers to Qatar to help with security for the looming football World Cup has raised eyebrows amid mounting calls to boycott the event over human rights abuses. The deployment of an international force – with security from the US, the UK, Turkey, Pakistan and beyond – also highlights the logistical and security challenges of hosting FIFA’s showcase tournament in the tiny Gulf state.

The month-long football extravaganza, which opens in Doha on November 20, made headlines in France this week as Paris and other large cities announced they would not erect the customary giant screens to broadcast the matches in protest at the tournament’s environmental impact and the widely documented rights violations during Qatar’s preparations for the event. 

As talk of a boycott gathered momentum, the French interior ministry quietly acknowledged it was sending “about 220” gendarmes and police officers to Qatar to help secure the tournament, confirming a report on Wednesday by the investigative satirical weekly Le Canard enchaîné. The announcement was distinctly low-key for a country accustomed to playing up its “crowd-management” expertise. It came just months after that expertise came under question when images emerged of French police teargassing and pepper-spraying whole families – including children – amid chaotic scenes at the Champions League football final near Paris in May, prompting an apology from UEFA.

As the popular football magazine So Foot quipped, “Did anyone think to show the Qataris footage of the Champions League final?” 

‘Air-conditioned cemeteries’ 

The deployment of French forces to Qatar falls under a security partnership that was signed last year and spirited through the French parliament on August 4 following heated debates in the National Assembly.   

Sponsors of the agreement described it as a much-needed vote of confidence in French police following the fiasco of the Champions League final in May. They pointed to the strategic and financial benefits of France’s burgeoning relationship with the gas-rich Gulf state, which spent €11.1 billion on French armaments between 2011 and 2020.  

Citing investigations by media and rights groups, opposition lawmakers said thousands of migrant workers had died in Qatar over the same period, including construction workers hired to build stadiums and other World Cup infrastructure. They flagged the ethical implications of sending French officers to protect the country’s “air-conditioned cemeteries”, referring to the tournament’s brand-new facilities.  

There were also concerns about the possible restrictions female officers might face upon arrival in the deeply conservative emirate. “What about our policewomen?” one lawmaker repeatedly asked, questioning Qatar’s record on women’s rights. 

In its initial report, Le Canard enchaîné said there would be no women among the French force heading to Qatar. Quizzed on the matter by FRANCE 24, the interior ministry said the contingent of French gendarmes and police would include female officers, without specifying their number or functions. 

Drone experts and sniffer dogs

The ministry stressed that the decision to deploy French security personnel followed a “request by Qatari authorities” and would help ensure the security of fans, including French nationals. French officers would provide “high-level expertise and specialised logistical support”, the ministry added. 

Gendarmes specialised in anti-drone policing will make up the bulk of the force, which will also include bomb-disposal experts, sniffer dogs, members of the elite GIGN anti-terror unit and a dozen police officers specialised in tackling football hooliganism. 

The accord signed with Doha stipulates that all expenses, including bonuses, will be covered by the host country. It also clarifies the legal status of French officers operating on Qatari soil, who will be subject to local laws but “will in no case be liable to capital punishment”.  

Qatar’s ‘spatial dynamics’ 

The French contingent in Qatar will be part of a multi-national security presence featuring personnel from a variety of countries and continents, including a large military component.  

With a population of fewer than 3 million – of which just 380,000 are Qatari nationals – the Gulf state faces a shortage of personnel as it gears up for the World Cup. According to projections, it is expected to welcome up to 1.5 million fans, an influx equivalent to 50 percent of its population. 

The “spatial dynamics” of the tournament will be particularly challenging, said Joel Rookwood, a lecturer in sport management at University College Dublin, noting that the World Cup is being staged in the most compact setting ever, with all eight stadiums located within a 50-kilometre radius of the capital Doha.  

“Recent World Cups were all spread across large geographical areas, making it easier to keep fans apart,” he said. “In this case you’ll have a large number of fans concentrated in relatively confined spaces. Everyone will fly into Doha, including fans from countries with fractious international relationships. It will be hard to keep them apart.” 

A multinational force 

According to a Reuters report, Qatar’s security operation will be bolstered by civilians enrolled in mandatory military service and diplomats brought back from overseas. Conscripts are training to manage stadium security queues, frisk fans and detect alcohol, drugs or weapons concealed in ponytails, jacket linings or even fake bellies, the report said, citing training materials. 

In addition to the French officers, the security operation will be backed up by personnel from the United States and Italy. The United Kingdom, whose forces regularly carry out drills with their Qatari counterparts, has also confirmed the deployment of units from the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force to help support counterterrorism efforts. Turkey on Wednesday approved the deployment of 250 troops and a small warship to Qatar for six months to help maintain security during the World Cup. The troops will be in addition to about 3,000 riot police officers that Ankara has already promised to send to its Gulf ally to help beef up security at stadiums and hotels. 

Last month, Pakistan’s cabinet approved a draft agreement allowing the government to offer troops for the tournament, though there are conflicting reports as to whether any will actually be sent. Morocco has also backed sending police reinforcements to Qatar, with local media reporting that several thousand officers could be deployed. 

“The trouble is that Qatar has rushed to sign a host of accords with other countries in recent months, without it being clear whether they will actually be implemented,” said Ronan Evain, head of the fans group Football Supporters Europe. 

Any sizeable influx of foreign security agents also “supposes a large number of liaison officers who speak different languages, which Qatar is unlikely to have,” Evain added, noting that tournament organisers were also struggling to hire stewards and private security agents in sufficient numbers.

Fans beware 

While seamless coordination between security forces will be crucial to the operation’s success, another concern is “how fans from different parts of the world will behave with regards to local customs”, said Rookwood – and how strictly Qatar’s laws will be enforced.   

Under the country’s legal code, freedom of expression is restricted, homosexuality is illegal and sex outside marriage is outlawed. Public drunkenness can incur a prison sentence of up to six months and some things considered benign elsewhere – like public displays of affection or wearing revealing clothes – can be grounds for arrest. 

In briefings to foreign police last month, Qatari officials suggested fans caught committing minor offences would escape prosecution under plans being developed by local authorities. But with organisers yet to clarify their approach to policing, many embassies have already warned fans they could face punishment for behaviour that would be tolerated elsewhere. 

“Remember, while you’re in Qatar, you are subject to local laws,” Morgan Cassell, a diplomat at the US embassy in Doha, warned in a YouTube video in September. “Arguing with or insulting others in public could lead to arrest. Activities like protests, religious proselytising, advocacy of atheism and criticism of the government of Qatar or the religion of Islam may be criminally prosecuted here. That applies to your social media posts, too.” 

The status of LGBT fans is a particular concern, said Evain, noting the absence of a binding legal framework to guarantee their safety during the tournament.

“Qatari officials have pledged to suspend the criminalisation of homosexuality during the World Cup. There’s been plenty of talk of the event being ‘open to everyone’,” he said. “But there is still no concrete document guaranteeing that this will be the case.”

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