FIFA jeopardizes workers’ rights

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Author: Joe Siegal

When the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar back in 2010, it was meant to show that the wealthy, rapidly developing Arab nation was to be a standard-bearer for the sport in the Middle East. However, FIFA’s plan seems to have come apart at the seams as poor planning, alleged corruption and the deaths of hundreds of construction workers have put the massive event under intense scrutiny.

A successful World Cup hosted by Qatar, located on the Persian Gulf, would serve the purposes of expanding the reach of soccer even further into the Arab world. Moreover, it would help establish that the region could prove stable enough to welcome the world’s top athletes and their legions of international fans to the world’s largest sporting event. In theory, FIFA elected to give the World Cup to Qatar because it would be a geopolitical and economic boon for many involved parties.

However, the terms of Qatar’s World Cup hosting are much murkier in practice. Allegations of bribery by Qatar cast doubt on whether the nation legitimately won the vote over the runner-up United States. And FIFA, backpedaling because it inexplicably did not realize that summers in Qatar are brutally hot, is now tinkering with the idea of moving the tournament to the more tolerable winter season. The heads of major European soccer will not stand for this change, as Europe’s soccer season runs from fall to spring.

The most valid condemnation of the 2022 World Cup project comes from the realm of human rights. Last week, FIFA President Joseph “Sepp” Blatter acknowledged the veracity of recent reports, which have stated that hundreds of construction workers in Qatar have died while working on the stadium projects in the summer heat. The Guardian estimates that if this situation is not rectified, a total of 4,000 workers could die before the projects are finished.

Qatar’s population is about 2 million people, according to the CIA World Factbook. An estimated four-fifths, or about 1.6 million, of these people are foreign workers. The largest group of such workers comes from Nepal searching for available work for little or sometimes no pay. Toiling in the blazing heat and in questionable work environments, scores of these workers have been killed, and the World Cup in Qatar is not for another eight years.

And yet, there is still time for Qatar to recognize these workers’ rights. An event on the global scale like the World Cup should be watched with a critical eye, as its organization and implementation indicates a lot about the current state of diplomatic, economic and human rights issues. FIFA has failed in its supervisory capacity so far, but a change in approach might just make the Qatar World Cup the monumental event it was supposed to be from the outset.

For now, while FIFA scrambles to figure out whether millionaire soccer players are fit enough to run around a field for 90 minutes in the Qatari heat, maybe it should first determine if the stadiums they’ll be playing in are being built with exploited labor.

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