The buildup to the FIFA World Cup this year has been notably muted and it’s easy to understand why. The tournament, moved to winter to protect players and fans from the heat of the Qatari summer, is already thought of as the most corrupt, murderous edition in our lifetimes.
The tournament should be seen as an exercise in avarice - where four weeks of football will be hosted by a regime that spent countless millions on bribes, before working thousands of migrants to death. Arise condemns the exploitative practices that have pervaded the preparation of this tournament in the strongest possible terms.
Above: Disgraced ex-FIFA head Sepp Blatter, who has called the Qatar decision a 'mistake'.
How did we get here?
The simple explanation is greed. FIFA has been tainted by appalling levels of corruption for years, and the unscrupulous World Cup awarding process is a highly visible consequence. In other words, this World Cup was bought and paid for with bribes from an oil economy.
These tournaments should give FIFA an opportunity to grow the popularity of the game. This one, however, has become a bloodstained advert for the Qatari tourism industry. In the twelve years since Qatar won the right to host the tournament, the corruption within FIFA has been (at least partially) exposed, along with the horrifying levels of abuse workers have suffered whilst building the stadia and infrastructure.
“Focus on the football”
Football has long been viewed as a universally accessible sport, producing stars who grew up anywhere from farms to slums. It is certainly not the most popular sport in the world by chance. The spiritual corruption of this tournament is laid bare in its reversal of this relationship. Instead of the sport bringing joy to deprived communities, tournament organisers have spent a decade flying in thousands of migrant workers from such communities, and enslaving them for profit. No wonder FIFA is asking everyone to ‘focus on the football’.
In the kafala system, migrant workers (in this case from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan amongst others) are essentially at the mercy of a sponsor. The system grants employer-sponsors the power to take away worker passports (this power has reportedly been banned), and labour abuses go unnoticed and unpunished.
Globally, migrant labour is more susceptible to exploitation. Migrant labourers are isolated by legal status, geography, language, prejudice and power. Put simply, it’s almost always easier for abusive forces to get away with exploiting non-native peoples. At Arise, we see this time and again, which is why we run operations specifically designed to protect migrant communities.
The Qatari government, along with plenty of other Gulf states, are well aware of the powerlessness of the migrant labour force (although it should be noted that migrant labour is also exploited far closer to home). The abuse has been abhorrent. At least 6,500 workers have died, and the figure could be a lot higher. There have been suicides, fatal electrocutions, falls from height, and a huge number of deaths simply relating to exhaustion and mistreatment from brutal shifts in 45°C+ for months on end. The workers were kept in squalid conditions, were underpaid (or not paid at all), and weren’t allowed to leave. Many are still there.
Beckham & co.
Hugo Lloris, France’s goalkeeper and captain, made headlines this week after saying he wanted to respect the host nation, and that pressure should have been applied to Qatar a decade ago. He is partially correct. Players shouldn’t bear the responsibility for providing opposition that should have mobilised a long time ago.
The willingness of public figures to engage with Qatar has been far more disappointing.
Gary Neville is being criticised, quite appropriately, for his decision to commentate for Qatari state TV. David Beckham’s reputation is evaporating before his eyes as his tournament ambassador role is challenged. Beckham is reportedly cashing in an eight-figure cheque to smile and wave for a government with a dreadful human rights (including LGBT rights) record. Robbie Williams has been subject to similar scrutiny after it emerged that he’ll be performing at the opening ceremony.
The willingness of public figures to associate with the tournament is astounding, and reflects the skewed value we place on human life. It’s impossible to imagine such celebrity engagement if the tournament had killed thousands of Europeans, for instance. Cultural apathy facilitates exploitation.
We’ll leave you with this final thought. Imagine you’re a broadcaster, or a would-be performer, or a potential ambassador. A totalitarian monarchy with a dreadful human rights record has decided to stage a sporting event, and has offered you a suitcase to partner up with them. The catch? The number of lives lost building the tournament exceeds the number of minutes played. The number of public figures willing to accept the money is as miserable as it is unsurprising. We refuse to believe Becks needs the money.
Arise condemns, in the strongest possible terms, the behaviour of Qatar since the tournament was awarded. We call on the global football community to ensure this never happens again, and to challenge anyone willing to overlook the atrocities committed.