Unplayably hot temperatures. Bribery scandals hovering over the heads of politicians and FIFA officials. And now, emerging allegations of massive human-rights abuses against migrant workers building infrastructure for the event. Welcome to the most controversial World Cup in soccer’s history.
No, not this year’s contentious bash in Brazil. While the 2014 World Cup has generated plenty of domestic opposition due to lavish event spending in the face pressing social issues, anger has largely been localized and directed at Brazilian politicians. Much darker clouds are brewing over the tiny Middle-Eastern country of Qatar, host of the 2022 World Cup.
Qatar has no domestic soccer league. The average summer temperature is 41 degrees celsius, but can push into the 50s. Alcohol is highly regulated and homosexuality is illegal. But what Qatar lacks in World Cup hosting qualifications, they make up for in oil, gas and the riches that come with it.
Allegations that Qatar paid off FIFA officials and national soccer federations for their votes during the World Cup bidding process started the day Qatar was announced as host four years ago. Accusations reached a fever pitch this year. Qatar is discovering that money talks both ways, as World Cup sponsors such as Sony, Coca-Cola and Visa have voiced their concerns over being associated with such a shady event. The results of an official corruption investigation are expected to be released after the tournament in Brazil wraps up.
Much of the controversy has been focused on the feasibility of hosting the World Cup in the middle of summer in a desert. Qatar’s original bid centered around the construction of 12 new stadiums cooled by solar-powered air conditioning technology that hasn’t been invented yet, and the technology is not expected to be developed in time for the tournament.
Doing any sort of physical activity in such fierce heat can be extremely dangerous — not just for the soccer players, but also for the workers who are building the stadiums and other infrastructure in Qatar.
Qatar is so small and growing so quickly that the majority of labour comes from migrant workers from Nepal, India and Pakistan. Under Qatar’s kafala system, all working visas must be sponsored by the employer. Once in the country, workers require an exit visa to leave Qatar, which must also be sponsored by their employer.
The result of the kafala system is mass exploitation of migrant workers. They are placed in dilapidated housing and forced to work long hours. Pay is often much less than originally promised. Some workers have claimed that they weren’t paid at all, and they can’t leave Qatar without their employer’s permission.
If you think this sounds a bit like slavery, the International Trade Union Confederation agrees with you.
The fact that a country would bribe voters for the World Cup isn’t particularly surprising, but corrupt FIFA officials have sunk to a new low with their willingness to accept cash from a World Cup bid so terrible that slave labour is an acceptable option for building the stadiums.
Not only are many migrant workers in Qatar enslaved, they are also dying due to the extreme heat and work conditions. A shocking 964 workers died in Qatar during 2012 and 2013, according to a Qatari government report. The ITUC estimates that at least 4,000 more will die before the 2022 World Cup kicks off. The major causes of death to these healthy young men being cardiac arrest and “natural causes.”
Normally FIFA’s corruption scandals don’t affect the common folk — bribes are handed to the rich from the richer and life carries on — but international outrage over the Qatar allegations show that they failed to meet the public’s minimum standards of morality.
If Qatar wanted the World Cup, FIFA could have made the abolition of the kafala system a condition of their candidacy. Instead, FIFA now has two options — hold a revote, or hold the hottest and deadliest World Cup of all time. Not the most appealing options, but soccer fans — or anyone that respects basic human rights — can only hope FIFA goes with the former.