Earlier this week, the reputable charity organisation Amnesty International released an important report labelled The Dark Side of Migration: Spotlight on Qatar's Construction Sector Ahead of the World Cup, which revealed the troubling conditions for workers currently building the stadiums we'll one day visit, whilst throwing a sobering thought over football's most celebrated and distinguished tournament.
In a week that has been dominated by the exuberant brilliance of Cristiano Ronaldo, the uplifting come back from Didier Deschamp's French side and the mind numbing vanity exercises taken out by England, Germany and Italy in a number of glamour friendlies, it may now seem like an appropriate time to take a step back from the excitement and look at the worrying bigger picture.
As you read this, construction rumbles on in Doha, the capital of Qatar, with just under 1.4 million foreign workers from the south east of Asia building a new international airport, new subway and rail systems and a new sewage facility for the city as it prepares for the FIFA World Cup in 2022.
So What's Going On?
According to this new report, the country has broken a number of international rules, including;
- Worker's salaries and conditions being vastly different from those promised when they were recruited back in their own country;
- Workers having their pay withheld for months, or not being paid at all;
- No documentation for workers once they start, meaning they're at risk of being detained by the authorities;
- Migrants having their passports confiscated so they cannot leave the country without employer approval;
- Workers being asked to work excessive hours without any safety precautions;
- The workers being housed in labour camps.
The charity was very quick to call such behaviour a simple abuse of human rights of what is essentially the very work force that will be building our World Cup in almost eight years time.
According to an investigation by The Guardian, 44 workers apparently died in just July and August of this year, and the International Trade Union Confederation spoke just last month on this very issue, according to The Guardian, stating that if something isn't done to deal with this horrific situation, over 4000 workers could end up dying due to the slave-like condition of these workers.
What Has FIFA Said?
This was all, of course, then left at the front door of the World's official football body, FIFA, who made this statement on Monday afternoon (via CNN.com):
FIFA firmly believes in the positive power that the FIFA World Cup can have in Qatar and in the Middle East as a great opportunity for the region to discover football as a platform for positive social change, including an improvement of labour rights and conditions for migrant workers.
FIFA added that it shared Amnesty International's "efforts towards social justice and respect of human rights and dignity," before stating that Qatar is aware of such situations and informed Sepp Blatter when he visited the country in November, that they were being dealt with.
Undoubtedly leaving the usual, bitter after taste of disappointment that football fans of my generation and countless others before it have long held for this bureaucratic institution.
Instead of putting genuine pressure on the Qatari government to end such violations of UN law, the World's guardians of the beautiful game chose to argue that the very competition that is facilitating all this evil will indeed prove to help end it one day.
You couldn't make this up.
Many have naturally questioned what UEFA should do. We all know that Michel Platini isn't Blatter's biggest fan, and the way football works these days, the European council could of course be considered as more significant than it's global alternative.
Yet we've waited for action from this man for far too long, and at risk of derailing any potential claim to the FIFA thrown itself, Platini may feel he has too much to lose if he were to go toe-to-toe with his hopeful predecessor just now.
The debate then turns to the footballers themselves. What, where and why is so passionately thrown at the professionals within this game with little regard as to why they should have to answer for anything or even to anyone.
Yes, they'll be the ones that'll be playing on these pitches, within these stadiums, and they'll surely be making more money than anyone else at the events. But fans need to stop demanding things of these men who simply step on to that pitch to make a living.
These aren't elected officials, social workers in public roles or even responsible clergymen; they are professional athletes who correctly answer to one man and one man only—the person who's paying them. Their opinion is as useless as our claims to their employment. They don't answer to fans and they certainly don't hold any obligation to moulding the sport in their image.
One question that the media and the sport itself have yet to ask is what exactly should we do?
And by "we" I actually mean you. The fan, the customer and evidently the last hope of any moral obligation this sport may have to the world that it inhabits.
Football is undoubtedly an entertainment industry as much it is a sport, and without our support it would eventually fall. It's money that drove the World Cup to Qatar, and if football fans truly want to stop what's happening in that country, they will have to prove to Blatter & co that the lack thereof will simply follow if things don't take a dramatic change.
We as fans have to get smarter, more organised and ultimately find a way to stand up for the sport that we love. We need to put pressure on those who've lost track of what it means to play and protect this game.
We can no longer simply go on barking at FIFA when it commits untold crimes in unrecognisable countries across the World, then applaud UEFA's Champions League every season. We either support these men in charge or we don't. This World Cup already has blood on it, and we as fans have to decide if our beautiful game is worth that.