Soccer and Slavery at the 2022 World Cup

By: Alex Selvey

As I write this blog post, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is being planned. Upon selection by the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) in December 2010, Qatar has been gearing up to host the event.  Nearly a decade before a single goal has been scored, the event has been littered with scandal after scandal. Allegations of bribery, poor infrastructure, and human rights issues have led many to be critical of the event. However, one issue that has been largely ignored is the source of labor that Qatar is using to make the tournament happen. It is coming to national attention that much of the labor being used by the government of Qatar to rapidly develop infrastructure in preparation of the event is being done by modern day slaves.

The majority of the workforce in Qatar is comprised of migrant workers. This is true for many countries in the Middle East. Many come to countries in this region in search of money and opportunity, but they rarely find either. This is because of the kafala system. Under the kafala system, migrant workers become dependent upon the employer for their work permit. This description may sound rather innocuous, but it is frequently abused and exploited. Workers often have their passports confiscated and are subject to periods of no pay, long hours, and high rates of injury. In addition, workers often suffer trauma from physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.

Because Qatar has a preexisting record of slave labor, many were suspicious of the source of labor that Qatar would use to create World Cup facilities by 2022. It was not long after Qatar was announced as the host of the 2022 World Cup that investigations began revealing that the labor being used was far from ethical. The country has been importing workers from North Korea, Nepal, and other countries in order to ready their country for the large crowds associated with the World Cup. These workers are forced to work against their will and have no choice but to stay in labor camps that have deplorable conditions. Hundreds of workers have died since the World Cup construction frenzy has begun, with an estimated 4000 deaths expected before the tournament begins.

The government of Qatar and FIFA have been slow to offer any solution to this problem, even with groups like Amnesty International putting pressure on FIFA to ensure that this is stopped. FIFA has acknowledged that the problem certainly does exist, but their response has been lackluster. As one executive, Theo Zwanzinger, has stated “This feudal system existed [in Qatar] before the World Cup. What do you expect of a football organization? FIFA is not the lawmaker in Qatar.” Additionally, he went on to say that the organization has vowed not to revoke their selection of Qatar.

The use of slave labor in the modern world is far from unfamiliar, especially in the Middle East. What makes this instance unique, however, is the amount of attention that the World Cup receives internationally. With the eyes of the world on the World Cup, in addition to the amount of time until it begins, there is a chance to make this a rallying point for combatting modern slavery. The injustices of the kafala system are no longer hidden from international attention. If FIFA addresses these concerns, then a serious blow can be struck against this horrible, systematic destruction of human rights. Already, there are petitions online working to halt the use of slaves on development of the World Cup in Qatar. FIFA must hear that their inaction in addressing the subject is unacceptable. If you believe, as I believe, that the entertainment for the elite shouldn’t be made possible by the labor of those working against their will in dangerous and deplorable conditions, I would encourage you to sign one of the many petitions (such as this one or this one), which intends to pressure FIFA into ensuring that all labor is slave-free. The more people who know about this issue and express their outrage, the more likely that FIFA and the government of Qatar will be pressured into rectifying the human rights problems they are currently propagating.

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Works Cited

Booth, Robert. “Qatar World Cup Construction ‘will Leave 4,000 Migrant Workers Dead'” The Guardian. 26 Sept. 2013. Web. 6 Dec. 2014

Gibson, Owen. “Qatar World Cup ‘slaves’: Fifa’s UK Representative ‘appalled and Disturbed'” The Guardian. 26 Sept. 2014. Web. 6 Dec. 2014.

Gibson, Owen. “UN Calls on Qatar to Abolish Kafala Migrant Worker System.”The Guardian. 25 Apr. 2014. Web. 6 Dec. 2014.

Fulford, Robert. “Slavery’s Modern Face in the Middle East.” National Post Full Comment. National Post, 16 Aug. 2014. Web. 6 Dec. 2014.

“Qatar: Migrant Construction Workers Face Abuse.” Human Rights Watch, 12 June 2012. Web. 6 Dec. 2014.

“Slavery and the Qatar 2022 World Cup.”YouTube. Walk Free, 28 July 2014. Web. 6 Dec. 2014

Traynor, Ian. “Fifa Says There Is Little It Can Do about Labour Conditions in Qatar.”The Guardian. 13 Feb. 2014. Web. 6 Dec. 2014.

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