The 2022 World Cup – brought to you by manslaughter and slavery
The recent revelations that in 2013 at least 185 Nepalese workers were killed in the service of Qatar’s preparations for the 2022 World Cup confirmed that manslaughter in addition to slavery is already a fundamental feature of those preparations. The figures revealed in the Guardian corroborated the warnings from the International Trades Union Confederation (ITUC) that, if things go on as they are, 4,000 workers would be killed in order to enable Qatar to host the World Cup.
The pressure that has been brought on FIFA by ITUC and the Guardian, most notably by their exceptional investigator Pete Pattison, has compelled even the craven Sepp Blatter to take some notice of the situation. He travelled to Qatar in November 2013 to “raise the issue of workers’ rights”. He was careful to add of course that there was no question of the World Cup being taken away from Qatar.
On 31 January 2014 The Guardian reported that “Qatar has been given two weeks to report to Fifa on how it has improved working conditions for labourers who are building facilities for the 2022 World Cup.” It is not clear what penalty will be imposed if the progress is not to FIFA’s liking. But then most observers of FIFA would be pleasantly surprised if FIFA were ever to take a robust and principled stand.
And, of course as yet there has been no indication that Qatar is addressing the most foundational issue in the forced labour, exploitation and routine killing of its construction workers, that is the “kafalah” system. This is a system whereby migrant workers require the “sponsorship” of an employer to obtain work in Qatar. Once there their passports are confiscated so they cannot leave the country and they are prohibited from changing employers, irrespective of how abusive the employer becomes.
Needless to say there is no freedom of association which would at least enable workers some basis to demand better terms and conditions for themselves.
Bluntly put this is a legal regime created for the facilitation of slavery. This is further underpinned by the racism against the migrant workers of many of the employers there.
In the era of Apartheid South Africa there was rightly a campaign for cutting the sporting and other cultural and economic links with that country. The spectre that confronts us in the Gulf is of a group of states that have institutionalised the enslavement of vulnerable workers. There is no significant public debate that these countries be shunned like Apartheid South Africa. Rather one of these states has been rewarded with the most glittering of sporting events and all are being courted by world leaders for whom trade seems to matter more than bloodshed.
For FIFA’s protestations of concern over the deaths in Qatar to have any credibility they must state simply that the World Cup will be removed unless the “kafalah” system is ended and freedom of association protected. The elite tournament of the most democratic sport in the world should not be played in the midst of a medieval system of cruelty and certainly not in venues constructed on the lives of people who have sought nothing but a decent living.