We’re currently in the midst of the long-awaited Qatar World Cup, a tournament which has been the subject of much controversy since the country was first announced as host 12 years ago. This controversy has only intensified in the months leading up to the event, as brands and individuals face increased scrutiny for their involvement in an event hosted by a country with a notoriously poor human rights record. For instance, Gary Neville was bashed by Ian Hislop on a recent episode of Have I Got News For You for agreeing to commentate in Qatar. Many others have also been criticised for accepting great sums of money, or what I would call Qatari blood money, in return for silence. In a pointed contrast, craft beer company Brewdog announced their ’anti-sponsorship’ of the World Cup. Are Brewdog doing the right thing by very publicly choosing not to support the World Cup, or are they themselves hypocrites?
Brewdog, like Neville, has long tried to maintain an anti-establishment brand image – their oldest beer is called Punk IPA which, in their own words, “kick-started a craft beer revolution”; they have also claimed to be the one of the first planet-friendly, sustainable beer companies. So, it comes as no surprise that they would want to be the first company to publicly declare themselves anti-World Cup. Brewdog hasn’t taken this stance alone, however. They join the immense backlash Fifa has faced for choosing Qatar to host despite many flagging the country’s appalling record on human rights. According to Amnesty International, homosexuality is “punishable by up to seven years’ imprisonment”, and women continue to suffer severe discrimination, such as needing permission from a male guardian to marry. The abuse of migrant workers’ rights has also come to light, with the Guardian reporting that as many as 6,500 migrant workers may have died while building the stadiums. All of these seem like good reasons not to support the World Cup, yet major brands, such as Adidas and Coca Cola (just to name a few), are still sponsors. Perhaps Brewdog is right to draw attention to the matter and declare itself an ‘anti-sponsor’.
“First Russia, then Qatar, can’t wait for North Korea” – these are the words plastered across Brewdog billboards in the wake of the launch of their anti-sponsor campaign. The campaign also promises to donate all the profits made from their Lost Lager during the World Cup to “causes fighting human rights abuses”. Bold words and an even bolder promise, yet Brewdog have already faced criticism for their apparent hypocrisy. Last year, Brewdog was accused of having a toxic work environment in an open letter written by 61 former employees, which they described as a “culture of fear”. This is only one of many controversies Brewdog has found itself embroiled in – the company has also been accused of sexism and transphobia in its advertising. So why does Brewdog think it’s appropriate for them to call out abuses of workers’ rights? Surely, they should focus their efforts on mending their toxic work environment before they put all their efforts into virtue-signalling.
So how can we oppose the World Cup taking place in Qatar? Well, I certainly don't believe buying Lost Lager is the answer, but there are other things that can be done. If done on a mass scale, boycotting would definitely be the most effective response, but I understand that this isn't realistic, and we shouldn't have to give up the joy of watching football because of Fifa’s reckless decision. Instead, prominent public figures and companies should condemn Qatar’s actions and withdraw any support they have for the World Cup. David Beckham, who is being paid £150m by Qatar to be the face of the World Cup, should, in my opinion, be the first to do so. Surely no amount of money can be worth endorsing a country where so many people suffer for simply living. As for Brewdog, the virtue-signalling needs to come to an end. There’s nothing cool about a huge company pretending to still be punk, especially when your anti-World Cup stance is smeared in hypocrisy. Protect your own workers before you try and be the saviour of the World Cup.