Over the past three-and-a-half years, FIFA's decision to grant the 2022 World Cup to Qatar has been under continual attack. This has happened for a variety of reasons, including bribery allegations, conditions for workers, questions about how homosexuals will be treated in Qatar and, of course, the nation's oppressive summer heat.
This week, the heat has been turned up again on Qatar after the most recent report of the International Trade Union Confederation. And, not surprisingly, calls have begun anew to change the tournament's venue.
The ITUC report begins by saying that "Qatar is a country without a conscience" and reveals a number of disturbing details about how workers are treated in the tiny Arab nation. It even goes as far as saying that "foreign workers [in Qatar] are enslaved."
Among the horror stories from the report are living conditions in which, "Grown men said they were treated like animals, living like horses in a stable," and where "raw sewage can be seen running by the camps."
One worker, identified in the report as Julie, claims she lives where "eight people share one bedroom, sixteen people share a bathroom and thirty-five people share a kitchen." She also says that she is not free to go where she pleases, "I have to return to my labour camp by 23:00. If I return late, my employer makes salary reductions without notifying me."
Besides being forced to observe curfews, some workers have claimed that they cannot quit. The report includes a story from a construction worker, identified as Jago, who says, "I am fed up with the situation and don’t see why I should suffer these conditions. I handed my resignation in, but my employer just ripped the letter up and threw it into the bin. He also told me I wouldn’t get my passport back."
The stories of passports being confiscated by employers is common throughout the report and are the same as those first reported by The Guardian last September.
Shockingly, the reports of poor living conditions, curfews and the inability to quit or leave the country are not the end. The ITUC report also cites worker safety, lack of clean drinking water, cases of serious physical abuse of female workers and repeated cases of unpaid wages.
A construction manager identified only as Adrian said, "Site safety is the worst I have encountered in 30 years in construction." The report also says that an estimated 4,000 workers will die during construction for the World Cup if conditions don't change.
According to the ITUC, seven workers have died so far in construction for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil this summer and only two died in preparation for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. By comparison, 4,000 would be an abomination.
The ITUC account also claims that conditions in Qatar as so bad that it is tantamount to "modern day slavery." The group says they have repeatedly attempted to reach out to the Qatari government but, "there is only a facade of government" in Qatar and "There is no effective labour compliance system in what is effectively a police state."
FIFA President Sepp Blatter, however, has claimed his organization will not intervene, saying, "We cannot interfere in the rights of workers"—a statement that flies directly in the face of FIFA's own declaration that "Providing a safe and healthy working environment for all of our people is a basic responsibility."
But if the government of Qatar is unwilling to step up and FIFA feels that it cannot intervene in Qatari affairs, then the tournament should be moved.
Major League Soccer President Don Garber recently offered up the United States as one possibility saying, "We certainly would be happy to host it here and have a lot of big stadiums that could turn it around and host on a very short notice."
Hosting a World Cup is a massive project for any nation, but considerably less taxing for a nation like the U.S., which already has the infrastructure, hotels and stadiums available for such a mammoth event (to be fair, the same could be said of a number of other nations).
The decision to change a World Cup venue should not be taken lightly—even more so considering many of the nations crying foul about the decision to grant Qatar the World Cup had also made bids for the 2018 and 2022 venues.
And, in some respects, FIFA should be applauded for considering Qatar.
While many have criticized the choice because of Qatar's unbearable summer heat, that should not be a disqualifying factor, even if the tournament would have to be held in November or December. Even if it disrupts the major European leagues, football is a world game that should not only take into consideration European concerns.
Blatter himself said as much, even while admitting that selecting Qatar may have been a mistake.
[The World Cup] was always held in the European summer. It always succumbed to the European audience and it satisfied the European prerogatives...If we maintain, rigidly, the status quo, then a FIFA World Cup can never be played in countries that are south of the equator or indeed near the equator. We automatically discriminate against countries that have different seasons than we do in Europe, and we make it impossible for all those who would love to host the world's biggest game in a global tournament to ever get the chance to do so.... The World Cup is FIFA's biggest, if not only, global event. Who are we, the Europeans, to demand that this event has to cater to the needs of 800 million Europeans above all, when there are over 7 billion people who populate this planet and of who 6.2 billion are not European.
Blatter can be criticized for a great many things and has made more than his share of missteps, but his reasoning in this case is solid. And FIFA must also be given credit for "walking the walk" in this case when it has failed to do so in so many other cases.
Americans, in particular, should be thankful to FIFA in this regard as its selection of the United States for the 1994 World Cup helped launch soccer in the United States to another level. If FIFA had waited instead, until soccer had become popular in America before allowing it to host a World Cup, the game would still be languishing in the U.S.
Finally, there is the issue of bribery—an issue that seems to continually hound FIFA and, particularly, the decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.
Last week, reports emerged that former FIFA Vice President Jack Warner was paid $2 million by a former Qatari football official and that an additional $750,000 was paid out to Warner's sons. Warner resigned from FIFA back in 2011 amidst other bribery allegations and, at the time, had been suspended from the organization. But these new reports directly link Qatar with Warner and, possibly, the decision to award the 2022 World Cup to the nation.
If proven to be true, the bribery allegations would be another reason to move the tournament. If FIFA ever hopes to move itself away from the corruption scandals that have haunted its modern existence, nations must realize there can be no reward for bribery. And losing a World Cup would be the ultimate punishment.
The world of football could do with a winter World Cup—it would serve as a nice reminder to Europe that the rest of the world does not all play on their calendar—but the world of football should never tolerate blatant violations of human rights or outright bribery. Though the bribery allegations have yet to be fully proven, FIFA's own principles regarding worker's rights (not to mention human rights) demand that action be taken and that the 2022 World Cup be moved away from Qatar.
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