Human rights violations in the name of soccer

The World Cup crashes down, along with our hope that things will just get better if allowed to run course. OpenClipart-Vectors via Pixabay, manipulated by Lee Lim

Of all the corners that could have been cut, they picked the safety, freedom, and dignity of workers

by will spencer, contributor

There is a Hegelian vision of the world that we have allowed to obscure the nature of reality too long. It goes something like this: as history progresses, inevitably, society will march to greater advancement socially, technologically, and economically, all under the auspices of democracy. This, in turn, will lead to more equitable conditions for all. But how do we inject these beliefs into areas that are adamantly against them? 

The answer, historically, is money; inject wads of cash and bring entities into the economic fold, and thereby induce the country to democratic revolution. However, it is unclear whether the desired results are obtained by this method. Instead, they may result in anachronistic and egregious ideals being maintained the world over in the name of democracy, money, and soccer.

Sunday, November 20, marked the beginning of the 2022 FIFA World Cup hosted by Qatar. I recall when the nation won the right to host the tournament over a decade ago – I was in high school, and I knew next to nothing of Qatar – but it still appeared to be a strange decision. The capital city, Doha, did not contain any of the accommodations necessary to host the event. Thus, in the space of 10 years, they required nine new stadiums to be erected, including accommodations for the players, coaches, and visitors, as well as planned expansions for current stadiums and a panoply of other infrastructure overhauls. Who was hired to build it?

The city of Doha is where the majority of Qataris live. Over two million people inhabit the city, which encompasses over 80 per cent of Qatar’s population. With such a concentrated and sparse population, this implies that Qatar would need to rely on immigrant workers to complete the construction necessary to host the games; and they did, with great fervor.

Between 2010 (when Doha was awarded the right to host the 2022 World Cup) and today, there was a 40 per cent increase in Qatar’s total population. It was 1.63 million in 2010 and rose to 2.67 million by 2017 – a miraculous surge in population. 

If you’re wondering, yes, you read that correctly. Nearly a million immigrant workers were brought to Qatar to make the country World Cup-ready. You may think that’s a hell of a lot of people for some stadiums, and you’d be right. Qatar didn’t need just stadiums, they needed roads, they needed an expanded electrical grid, they needed fake islands built for billionaires who could be coming in the future (Banana island is a brief ferry ride away from downtown Doha, where you can drop $3000 on a beach-side hotel room that, thankfully, includes breakfast).

In any case, Qatar required an exorbitant number of people to be imported lest they hadn’t enough available workers. Moreover, for those unaware of the Qatar legal code, this influx of immigrant workers created waves in population within the state of Qatar. Until 2020, when you were given a work visa in Qatar, it only garnered you your initial employment. Thereafter, your employment and your choice of leaving are dependent upon the kafala system.

Again, you read that right: you couldn’t quit and get a different job of your own volition until 2020. Thus, at the beginning of the immigrant influx in 2010 until 2020, there was a burgeoning slave class within the state of Qatar. Furthermore, there were no laws legislating a minimum wage for immigrant workers in Qatar until 2021. It appears, then, that the 2022 World Cup has been directly subsidized by slave labour.

To make matters worse, the safety record for immigrant workers who were hired to build the nine stadiums required for the games is egregious. Since 2010, it is estimated that over 6,500 people from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan have perished on site. It is reported that 70 per cent of these deaths were the result of “natural causes,” which is odd considering the rigor of the medical examinations that the Qatari government requires of its immigrant workers. How could it be that 70 per cent of deaths were the result of natural causes when these workers had to receive a clean bill of health to enter the country? One answer is that autopsies to prove otherwise were never properly performed.

Obviously, the government of Qatar has gone to great lengths to dispute these facts, claiming that only 37 deaths have occurred during the construction of the stadiums. However, a comparison of the statistics regarding mortality in Qatar indicate a different picture. In 2020, only 10 per cent of deaths occurred in Qataris aged 20-40, whereas 25 per cent of deaths occurred in immigrants aged 20-40. It cannot be that Qataris are more naturally attuned to the environment and the immigrants that arrive are merely succumbing to the heat and dry atmosphere. They have been put into exceedingly dangerous working conditions that have resulted in countless, and very much preventable, deaths.

Another statistic: 32 teams will play in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, each team’s roster containing 26 players. That is 832 players competing in this year’s games, and a total of nearly eight times that amount of people died so that they may kick a patched ball on pristine turf. This is not to hector those of you that will watch the games and cheer with great zeal for your chosen team; this is to bring to light the lengths to which humans will go for economic gain. That all of this occurred in the 21st century does little to affirm everyone’s favourite teleological narrative: the world will become a better place as more money and more democracy are furiously injected into the veins of every society.


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