In December 2010 FIFA awarded the hosting rights for the 2022 World Cup to the small Arab emirate of Qatar. Despite being the world’s richest nation per capita, there still exists a considerable income gap between the elite and working classes. The latter group consists of both indigenous Qataris and immigrants, who come to the oil-rich nation to seek opportunities for work. Hosting a World Cup requires massive investment in infrastructure and new sporting facilities, which creates myriad employment options that migrant workers have been eager to capitalize on. Their enthusiasm may have been premature, as the Qatari government currently fends off allegations of abuse of migrant workers’ rights and reported deaths at World Cup construction sites.
British newspaper The Guardian recently published a series of harrowing interviews with migrant workers in Qatar which revealed the inhumane conditions under which they were employed. The workers spoke of government-imposed restrictions on their freedom of movement, direly unhygienic living quarters, months of unpaid work and frequent collapse – at times death – of fellow workers due to the unmitigated summer heat. They were forced into cramped, unsanitary camps, with insect-infested kitchens where rampant and bathrooms overflowing with sewage.
There are over 1.2 million migrant workers in Qatar, whose cheap labour has served as the backbone for its continued economic growth, projected to be 6.5% this year. Most of these workers are from impoverished areas in Southeast Asia, including Nepal, India and Sri Lanka. These vulnerable and disadvantaged people travel to Qatar in search of a better life, hoping to work for an honest wage to support communities back home. Unfortunately, upon arrival, what they receive is an all-too-marginal portion of the extravagant £62 million the Qatari government has dedicated to building stadiums, hotels and a new rail system. Laborers are systematically overworked and in some cases physically abused, at times resulting in their deaths. It is reported that at least 70 Nepalese workers have died on construction sites since the beginning of 2012. These horrid circumstances raise the question of how FIFA and its associates can condone patronage of an event built on the back of modern-day slave labour.
Despite promises from the Qatari government to assess and rectify the situation, the International Trade Union Confederation has claimed that as many as four thousand workers may die between now and the completion of the World Cup facilities. This estimate not only ushers in doubt about FIFA’s judgment but also the presents a moral dilemma for future attending players and fans. Short of withdrawing Qatar’s hosting rights, compensating losing bid nations and holding a fresh tender process, should we boycott the 2022 World Cup? Absolutely.
The human cost of the Qatari World Cup is not the only justification for boycott. Qatar is notorious for appalling treatment of homosexuals and flagrant violation of LGBT rights, a characteristic which it shares with the 2018 World Cup host, Russia. Homosexuality is actually illegal in Qatar, punishable by floggings of between forty and one hundred lashes. This punishment also applies to those people who partake in the consumption of alcohol. Thus, while FIFA has secured assurances from Qatar that football fans shall not go without their booze in special stadium ‘alcohol zones’, the rights of workers and LGBT people appear to be very low on their list of priorities.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter seems to think of the human rights’ status in Qatar as a joke, recently commenting that homosexuals “should refrain from any sexual activities”. In regards to migrant workers Blatter said that “workers’ rights will be the responsibility of Qatar and the companies…who work there,” making it very clear that FIFA cannot “change things.” If change cannot come from above, then it must be made to come from below – the only previous boycott of a World Cup was in 1934 by teams from the Americas due to the fact that the Cup was awarded to a European nation two years in a row. If this is the precedent, human rights are an undoubtedly worthy justification for boycott.
Such trivialization of human life is only possible due to the new mobility of underprivileged workers in the globalised labour market. However, globalisation is not as much a cause as a tool of the intolerant and corrupt regime of Qatar. The Qatari government does not view foreign labor as deserving of Qatari capital, delegitimizing the employment value of migrant workers based on their country of origin. In doing so they are perpetuating a culture of systematic abuse and discrimination, which extends far beyond their treatment of disadvantaged individuals from other states.
The 2022 FIFA World Cup cannot be held if the cost is the sacrifice of human life and dignity. If FIFA does not withdraw Qatar’s hosting rights then the only course of action available to supporters and football teams that believe in human rights is to boycott the 2022 World Cup.
For the Game. For the World.