The Qatar FIFA World Cup is going down in history as a textbook case of sportswashing, after spending a few hundred billion on their infrastructure and exploiting cheap labor from South Asia. Leadup to the event saw condemnation from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for the inhumane treatment of migrant workers. These workers were reportedly exposed to extreme heat, lax safety and even denied food and water. The figures for fatalities are astonishing, with several thousand dead allegedly from their work activities in the baking heat.
The ostensive reason Qatar was chosen as World Cup host was its promise to spread the joy of football throughout the Arab world. Quite honestly, there were much better countries in the Middle East to have hosted the World Cup. Egypt for example is known for its clear football tradition and passion for the game. Cairo would have been able to absorb the many football fans, unlike Doha, and the North African country has a panoply of large cities which could have hosted matches, unlike the tiny Gulf state. Of course Egypt’s military dictatorship presents its own challenges, but that hardly makes it stand out from the political concerns which have been raised about Qatar.
I first traveled to the country about ten years ago, visiting Qatar’s labor camps to see for myself the appalling exploitation of migrant workers. The conditions I witnessed were akin to slavery. Workers told me they were routinely exposed to dangerous construction work and if they ever raised safety concerns, wages would be docked or identity papers confiscated. Abuses of this sort were well publicized by media organizations, NGOs and trade unions at the time; which makes FIFA complicit in all this World Cup sportswashing.
A 2018 report on working conditions for 4,500 men building one stadium found some improvements to the pressure of exposure, but workers from Bangladesh, Ghana, India and Nepal were being paid as little as £40 a week. If there were a team from one of the migrant countries in the World Cup, l am sure many of us would be supporting them in solidarity.
But for all the recent calls for boycotts to protest Qatar’s record on poor labor conditions, discriminatory laws, and general lack of democratic rights, these issues were known about before the bid and are far from unique across the Arabian Peninsula. The kafala system of binding foreign laborers to their employers needs overhauling in the whole of the Middle East. Despite repeated warnings from civil society groups, FIFA refused to impose labor standards or indeed any standard to scrutinize the Qatari bid, let alone prevent the atrocities which took place to make Qatar ready to host the World Cup.
It’s worth noting that Qatar isn’t the only country exploiting labor to profit from the World Cup. As the Mirror revealed recently, factory workers in Thailand are paid a mere £1 an hour to make England’s £115 World Cup shirts.
With the Qatar FIFA World Cup beginning immediately after COP27, its climate change impact couldn’t be more stark. Having a World Cup hosted by a petrodollar economy is a step in the wrong direction. In spite of boasts that this World Cup would be “carbon neutral,” the 2022 World Cup will have a significantly higher carbon impact than the previous Russian World Cup 2018. This is due to the fact that almost all fans will fly in and out of Qatar on a daily basis from other Middle Eastern hubs, as Doha is unable to accommodate them all. It would have been much better if, as a petrodollar economy, Qatar had made a major contribution at the COP to reducing global warming with these monies and initiatives instead.
Not only is the Qatar World Cup in the wrong place and time, it’s a labor and environmental disaster. As a result, for the first time in years l won’t be attending this World Cup tournament, but will watch the football spectacle from the safety of our shores instead. I hope in years to come FIFA will put ethics and standards above profit: until they do, I’ll be boycotting in my own, individual way