Playfair Qatar's campaign sign aimed at FIFA
FIFA must stop foul play in Qatar
FIFA bought a manual on how to end human rights in its world cups, and so far it’s refusing to follow the instructions. But now fans have a chance to make FIFA play by the rules.
When FIFA commissioned a UN human rights expert to advise them how to clean up world football’s act, there was a glimmer of hope for the hundreds of thousands of workers preparing Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup. Sadly, just because FIFA now understands the rules, it doesn’t mean it’s going to enforce them.
Qatar has a vast foreign workforce brought in not only to build the stadiums, but new roads, railways, sewer systems, hotels and everything else needed for the country to welcome hundreds of players and many thousand football fans. However, Qatar’s outdated laws – giving bosses total control over workers’ movements – have put thousands of workers’ lives at risk.
While Qatar’s World Cup will be the most expensive ever seen, life has seldom been cheaper.
Despite years of campaigning, these workers are no closer to safety. Indeed, government reforms that are supposed to free workers from abuse will end up trapping them even more securely. Where once a worker had to put up with whatever danger and humiliation his boss threw at him for two years before he could up sticks and work for someone else, now it will be five.
This is the kind of back-handed response typical of Qatar as it resists international pressure to change so that the 2022 World Cup isn’t built on the back of modern slavery and the deaths of thousands of workers. The last hope for those workers is FIFA, which holds the power over the only thing that would make Qatar take notice: they could threaten to take the World Cup away from Qatar. If they refuse to do so, Qatar will know that it can do whatever it likes.
Welfare schemes designed to benefit only a few hundred workers (and shown by Amnesty International to not even manage that), shiny accommodation blocks built to house a small percentage of the foreign workforce, and give-with-one-hand-take-away-with-the-other changes to laws are designed to give the impression of progress without Qatar having to make any sacrifices. Instead, it’s the workers who continue to make sacrifices, with hundreds, or even thousands, of them likely to die before the first ball is kicked in 2022.
Having bought a bad World Cup, FIFA has the responsibility to fix it. This is what their own report told them, and this is what they have to do. The report includes clear instructions for FIFA, such as:
“Short-term priorities must include addressing human rights risks in tournaments that are already scheduled, and using every opportunity to press host countries to support FIFA’s new statutory human rights commitment… Where FIFA is unable to reduce severe human rights impacts by using its leverage, it should consider suspending or terminating the relationship. Where this is not possible FIFA should at a minimum explain its efforts to mitigate the impacts as transparently as possible… The option of ending a relationship itself is an important source of leverage and should be clearly communicated to bidders, suppliers, licensees and other relevant entities.”
Instead, new President Gianni Infantino immediately ruled out the possibility of moving the World Cup to another destination. Now Qatar is like a team that knows it can commit as many fouls as it wants, because the referee has promised not to issue any red cards.
At the moment, it’s a rigged game, with one winner, and thousands of losers.
The fouls that FIFA are turning a blind eye to are nasty. Workers refused the right to go home and see their families, or to walk off a dangerous job. Pay rates based on what country you’re from, regardless of how well you do your job. Accommodation with overflowing sewage and no drinking water. Supposedly illegal debts equalling hundreds of pounds charged by grasping recruiters that have to be paid off by people earning less than £1 per hour (often a lot less than they were promised).
As companies begin to run out of time to deliver their construction projects, the pressure on workers will only get worse. FIFA runs the serious risk of a World Cup that cost the lives of thousands of men.
FIFA has already trashed world football’s reputation over corruption, but this is much worse.
But fans can force FIFA to start taking action to make football the beautiful game again, starting with Qatar.
The concerns of national governments, human rights campaigners and international trade unions have so far been ignored, but FIFA isn’t immune to criticism. In the end, FIFA’s entire empire depends on fans. All the money FIFA makes depends on sponsors and broadcasters (and in turn, the broadcasters’ advertisers) believing they’re tapping into something a bit special, an enthusiasm and love of the game that they want to be associated with.
FIFA is counting on all the anger over Qatar being forgotten as the World Cup approaches, but if football fans speak out now and show their disgust, they can rattle FIFA and make it realise how much it has to lose. The FIFA World Cup thrives on a love of football, but a love of football doesn’t have to mean a love of the World Cup. A World Cup with an aura of glamour is one thing; a World Cup associated with slavery and death is another.
Our campaign to get FIFA to play by the rules starts now. Today we’ve launched our film, “Foul Play”, which explores the grossly one-sided nature of Qatar’s worker-boss relationship through a game of football. We’ve also started this petition aimed directly at FIFA’s new President, Gianni Infantino, demanding that he takes urgent action to put Qatar on notice that it must respect human rights or lose the World Cup. At the end of August we’re visiting the Olympic Stadium for West Ham’s first home Premiership match, to remind everyone that the London Olympics, with its union agreements, was the safest ever. We’ll then build to a weekend of action in October, in partnership with Human Rights Watch, when fans from around the country can get involved at their clubs to tell FIFA to play by the rules.
Please share the film, sign the petition and look out for information about the Day of Action.