A recent investigation carried out by The Guardian into the treatment of migrant labour working on infrastructure for the Qatar 2022 World Cup once again puts the nation under the spotlight.
The findings reinforce the inappropriateness of Qatar as the host country for the world’s most prestigious football tournament and also the gaping weaknesses that plague FIFA, world football’s governing body.
FIFA and other governing bodies urgently need to change tact, and use their influence to marginalise rather than to support corrupt national governments.
The Guardian report, published on September 25th, uncovered the abysmal treatment of Qatar’s Nepalese ‘World Cup slaves.’ The report said that “according to documents obtained from the Nepalese embassy in Doha, at least 44 workers died between 4th June and 8th August; “more than half died of heart attacks, heart failure or workplace accidents.”
It also exposed an economy of forced labour with workers going unpaid and being stripped of their passports, relegating them to the status of ‘illegal aliens.’
The report’s findings were backed-up by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which claimed that at least 4,000 migrant workers are likely to die in Qatar before the start of the tournament in 2022.
This week Sepp Blatter, the President of FIFA, refused to threaten the Qatari authorities with losing the World Cup should the maltreatment of workers persist.
Instead, he declared his intention to fly out to meet the Emir of Qatar, a decision correctly labelled by the ITUC as “totally inadequate” and one which “fails to put in place any plan to stop more workers dying.”
Even more worrying is that Blatter seems to think that FIFA is devoid of any culpability surrounding this issue: “I will meet with the new Emir for a courtesy visit to confirm the World Cup 2022” he said.
“We will also touch on this concern, the working conditions, but we are not the ones that can actually change it.
“The workers’ rights will be the responsibility of Qatar and the companies who work there.”
FIFA’s choice of Qatar as World Cup hosts, partnered with their failure to address any of the issues in the country which this choice is helping sustain, exemplifies their neglect in recent years of the most suitable potential host countries.
Instead, they have preferred to embark upon the ego and brand-boosting process of conquering new lands, taking the World Cup to countries that have never before hosted the competition, regardless of their suitability for doing so.
FIFA’s decision-making processes are based on commercial interests and crucially neglect more pressing moral issues, whilst the hierarchy hides behind a thinly-veiled rhetoric of making sport accessible to all.
As FIFA looks to export the blame for the Nepalese fatalities, their integrity as a reputable and morally-responsible organisation is undermined.
Deciding on a location for the World Cup is not a one-dimensional process that concerns purely footballing issues. Instead, such decisions have repercussions in political, economic and social spheres and the decision-makers have a duty to be more selective in choosing host countries. The issue is also evident in all sport.
Ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia’s backward stance on the issue of gay rights has been highlighted in the form of the country’s ‘gay propaganda’ law.
Actor and writer Stephen Fry released a lengthy open letter calling for a ban on the Sochi games in which he compared Russian scapegoating of LGBT individuals to Hitler’s scapegoating of the Jews.
In Formula 1, despite the 2011 version of the race being cancelled, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) decided to put the Bahrain race back on the Formula 1 calendar for 2012.
That year, the race took place in the backdrop of security forces firing teargas in streets and villages while protesters hurled rocks and petrol bombs. The country is also engulfed in gender disputes relating to the victimisation of women.
Instead of sponsoring corrupt regimes by allowing them to host international sporting events, governing bodies such as FIFA, the IOC and the FIA should use their powers and international sway to send a message in banning countries with a disregard of basic ethical codes from hosting these events.
Sporting events could be utilised as a tool for maligning corrupt regimes, instead of being exploited by sport’s governing bodies as commercial, self-aggrandising ventures.
Unfortunately, for this to happen it seems as though a radical and frankly unrealistic overhaul of sport’s governing personnel, starting with Blatter, is required.
Photograph: Brian Deldridge
Illustration: Imogen Rolfe