Experts believe that sponsors linked to the World Cup in Qatar will follow the Dutch banking company ING and make a “public relations coup” by ignoring corporate tickets to human rights competitions. Players from Germany, Norway and the Netherlands wore T-shirts to express German players’ concerns about human rights in Qatar ahead of a World Cup qualifier in Qatar. Many sponsors of Belgian national groups have followed in the footsteps of their Dutch counterparts and have said they will avoid the World Cup in Qatar due to human rights concerns. Budweiser has not protested the human rights situation in Qatar; however, he has previously asked FIFA to resolve allegations of corruption circulating in controversial Qatar at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Gary Lineker’s reluctance to hold a World Cup draw, leaving tournament organisers scrambling to find replacements, is the latest example of the path famous athletes and sponsors have to take at the World Cup. They were caught in controversy and complaints about Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers and the gay community. Qatar has been reviewing the laws and conditions of migrant workers helping build World Cup infrastructure, and FIFA president Gianni Infantino said last week that Qatar had made social progress by hosting the World Cup. The Guardian reported last year that 6,500 migrant workers have died in the country in the decade since the tender, most of them in low-paying and dangerous jobs, often in extreme heat. 

The choice of Qatar as the host country is controversial; FIFA officials have been accused of corruption and allowed Qatar to “buy” the World Cup, the treatment of construction workers has been questioned by human rights groups, and the high cost of putting the plan into practice criticise. Qatar is the smallest country ever to host a World Cup: the second largest in Switzerland, which hosted the 1954 FIFA World Cup, more than three times the size of Qatar, and only needs to host 16 teams instead of the current 32.

Steve Chisholm, founder and CEO of sports sponsorship agency Run Communications, believes that as the World Cup in Qatar approaches, brands will face more pressing questions about their stance on human rights violations and abuse of migrant workers in Qatar. He touched on both issues without mentioning Qatar by name, saying the countries considered boycotting the tournament but decided “dialogue and pressure” would be the best solution. Bank and insurance ING Belgium, confectionery company Cote d’Or, supermarket chain Carrefour, courier GLS, and beer company Jupiler have all said that they would not use their allotment of tickets as Belgian national team sponsors in Qatar.