When FIFA announced that the World Cup, an athletic event with a level of global importance and requisite infrastructure second only to the Olympic games, would be hosted in Qatar in 2022, a wave of confusion ensued. At first, most could not understand the selection based on soccer logistics. There were better, more fit bidders in the United States, South Korea and Japan. Now, new problems have arisen – not only of soccer but of corruption and human rights.
The small peninsular country is historically dismal at soccer, having never qualified for a World Cup. When it was chosen to host the tournament, it had only one soccer stadium seating less than 41,000 people. Perhaps most problematically, temperatures in Qatar reach above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, an unsuitable climate for such a physically taxing sport.
The peculiarity of the choice led to allegations of bribery, which have been heavily substantiated by documents leaked this month showing Al Jazeera, Qatari state-run media, secretly offering $400 million to FIFA 21 days before the decision was announced.
The 2022 World Cup not only reveals FIFA’s greed and corruption, but it also makes the organization complicit in a major humanitarian crisis.
Migrant workers hired to build the infrastructure in Qatar have been systemically abused, being denied promised salaries and living in dilapidated conditions. Many workers could not regain their passports unless they signed false statements claiming they had received wages, according to Amnesty International.
An investigation by The Guardian found 44 Nepalese workers in Qatar had died in just two months in the summer of 2013, half from heart failure and work-related accidents. It is estimated that a total of 4,000 workers will have died by the time the tournament begins.
The most direct culprit for the humanitarian disaster is the Qatari government, which effectively operates as a modern-day slave state through its laws which give sponsors the ability to deny workers’ movements, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation.
However, FIFA is also responsible for the suffering currently taking place. By choosing Qatar for the World Cup, it has knowingly created the need for $100 billion infrastructure projects amid dangerous labor conditions, and it has not taken any action to pressure Qatar into improving such conditions.
Gianni Infantino, president of FIFA, defended the situation in October 2018.
“When you think about all the debates on human rights and workers’ welfare,” Infantino said. “Without the World Cup, these debates would not have happened.”
In other words, the launching of construction projects leading to a death toll in the thousands is somehow justified by the awareness created by these travesties.
While some reforms have taken place in Qatar after an agreement was signed with the United Nations’ International Labor Organization in 2017, including a temporary minimum wage, many workers are still vulnerable to abuse and human trafficking.
With only three and a half years until the World Cup, now scheduled for the winter of 2022 to avoid extreme heat, long-term sweeping reforms will not likely come before the infrastructure needs to be finished, meaning human rights abuses will continue.
Despite the chaos in Qatar, FIFA is currently considering expanding the 2022 World Cup from 32 to 48 teams.
Aside from the fact that the idea is questionable for formatting reasons as it would give each team only two group-stage games, it serves as another indication that soccer’s governing body will do anything for the prospect of more revenue. A larger tournament would mean more necessary infrastructure, and it is now abundantly clear that Qatar is not suited to build it.
Corruption and bribery in the FIFA organization have been problems among its leadership for decades. However, the schemes have never affected the game, and more importantly, innocent people more than today. Their actions to award the games to Qatar not only worsen one of the world’s greatest sporting events, but are leading to the death of thousands of workers.
Indeed, the country should never have been considered to host this event in the first place.