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Study Examines Qatar World Cup Controversy and Boycott

Human rights activists are ramping up protest efforts using hashtags like #boycottqatar2022

Posted in: Communication and Media, Press Releases, Research, Uncategorized

Screenshot of a graph showing increase in volume of posts about the Qatar World Cup boycott.
This graph demonstrates the spike in boycott conversations on Twitter surrounding the Qatar World Cup.

The Joetta Di Bella and Fred C. Sautter III Center for Strategic Communication in the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University released a new study that analyzes social media data and global news surrounding various boycott and protest movements as the FIFA World Cup 2022 kicks off this weekend in Qatar.

Why is the Qatar World Cup controversial?

Highlights from the study show that Qatar’s systematic abuse of labor (reportedly more than 6,500 migrant workers have died while supporting infrastructure and construction for the tournament) and the country’s blatant discrimination against women and LGBTQ+ people have led to online movements to boycott the tournament, some cities to ban public viewing events and teams to activate anti-discrimination campaigns on and away from the pitch.

While the ramifications on TV ratings, sponsor sentiment and a renewed and heightened focus on human rights won’t be fully realized until the tournament begins on Sunday and through its conclusion, the study found the following:

  • A sample of 22,000 tweets with the #boycottqatar2022 hashtag were analyzed from October 15 to November 14, 2022, with 18,412,437 potential impressions reaching more than 43 million people. The vast majority (92%) of those tweeting about the boycott demonstrated support of the boycott and human rights activism.
  • The following most-tweeted key words and hashtags around the movement were studied: “#boycottqatar2022,” “boycottqatar,” “exploitation,” “construction,” “world cup protest,” “clear message,” “human rights violation,” “6500 + people.”
  • Particularly, on Nov. 5 soccer fans in Germany (Borussia Dortmund, Hertha, Bayern, Augsburg, Mainz, etc.) began protesting human rights violations in Qatar. Angered by numerous injustices in Qatar, fans held huge banners condemning the Gulf state’s exploitative treatment of migrant workers, abuse against LGBTQ+ community and damages to environment.
  • During the studied time period on Twitter, a homophobic comment by Khalid Salman, an ambassador for the World Cup Qatar 2022 and a former Qatari national team player, triggered a second peak of anti-Qatar sentiment.

What does ‘Boycott Qatar’ mean for teams and fans?

Online activism and calls for boycotting the tournament have affected other aspects of the tournament on and off the pitch. For example:

  • The U.S. soccer squad will have the rainbow-themed team logo inside their training facility and media workroom during the World Cup to support the LGBTQ+ community.
  • Some major cities in France including Paris, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Lille and Marseille have decided not to publicly broadcast the World Cup matches on giant screens in fan zones.
  • Several European soccer federations (e.g., England, Germany, France, Netherlands) decided to have their captains wear armbands with a rainbow heart design as part of an anti-discrimination campaign.
  • Denmark joined the protest by providing a black option for its team jerseys at the World Cup to honor the deaths of migrant workers.

“The decision to award Qatar the World Cup was controversial from the beginning for many reasons, and the online conversations about boycotting the tournament and various forms of protest over the last month validate those concerns,” said Yi Luo, associate professor in the University’s School of Communication and Media.

The Montclair study was conducted by Luo and other faculty Jin-A Choi, Stephen Andon, Bond Benton, and Keith Green from the Joetta Di Bella and Fred C. Sautter III Center for Strategic Communication, which provides social media analytics tools and training for faculty and students for classroom learning and research projects.

The team will also release a separate study on Nov. 21 before Team USA’s first game that analyzes social media chatter surrounding favorite teams, players, brands and issues such as online gambling are driving the conversation.

For more information or to set up an interview, contact the Media Relations team at Montclair State University.