BY KARAN TEJWANI
When Sepp Blatter pulled Qatar’s name out of the envelope to hand them the hosting rights for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the roar from the Qatari representatives was heard all over the world. The greatest show on Earth was coming to the Middle East for the first time in one of its smallest, albeit richest countries. Ever since, the roar has been provided by the rest of the world, aimed mostly at the corrupt disgrace that is FIFA and the tiny Qatar, as controversy after controversy has ruined the traditional grandeur of the World Cup in the last seven years – and it’s only going to stop after a ball is kicked for the last time in Lusail.
There aren’t many positives to take before the tournament, except for the fact that the competition could possibly improve football in the region, and even then, FIFA, no matter how heinous they may be, will not want to host another tournament like the World Cup there. The tournament’s tarnished image has many roots to it. From the obvious corruption, to costs, to ambition and aspects that evoke maximum human sympathy.
It all starts with the decision to award the country hosting rights. That night, December the 2nd 2010 brought out several questions, with one of the loudest, apart from “How?” being: What has Qatar offered to football? The apt answer would be close to nothing. At the time they won bidding rights, they were ranked 113th in the world by FIFA and have since commendably risen to 78th, although read that with a pinch of salt, because FIFA’s rankings are just as silly as they have been over the last few decades. They can be praised for spending to improve the state of the sport in recent years with the likes of Spanish legends Raul and Xavi moving to play in the Qatar Stars League as they approached the end of their respective careers, but even with that taken into consideration, it’s not enough.
Their football fan culture is almost non-existent. The country’s most popular sport has been camel racing, and that is only to its local population, which is an insanely small amount – approximately 12%. They have no major history to be proud of, having never participated in a World Cup and their best AFC Asian Cup performance came in 2000 and 2011 (the latter as hosts) where they managed to reach the quarter-finals.
Their fans don’t attend too many local games either and in 2013, in a survey conducted by the country’s Ministry of Development, Planning and Statistics discovered that two-thirds of Qataris didn’t attend games in the 2012-13 season, while there were other bizarre findings by the Associated Press in 2013, stating that $8 were paid to migrant workers per game to “sit at matches and pretend to have fun”. While keeping in mind the policy of giving everyone a fair chance, would it be reasonable to expect Qatar to provide a remotely similar atmosphere that the last three World Cups in Brazil, South Africa and Germany provided?
The other major concern that has been much debated about is with the timing of the World Cup. Awarding Qatar hosting rights raised questions about when it would be held, and in 2015, the November-December World Cup was confirmed by FIFA, opting for a 28-day tournament. Although this does seem to be a small problem, it creates a clash between leagues who have a rise in ticket sales and popularity in the winter months – the English Premier League for example – and this could have a subsequent follow-on effect for at least another year. The Premier League’s Executive Chairman, Richard Scudamore, has been a keen critic of the decision and there have been plenty to support his thoughts.
There can’t be much done about it now with the competition a little over five years away, but FIFA needs to consider geographical conditions and climates when picking up bidding countries. A World Cup in the summer means that players play in conditions that are physically impossible to play in with temperatures rising to a mammoth 50 degrees Celsius, and a winter World Cup, as mentioned only helps to contribute to the unnecessary shuffling of the football calendar. But then again, only FIFA and its conventionally spoiled officials would do such a thing.
The most recent problem that has arrived though, is the diplomatic crisis in the country. In June 2017, various neighbouring countries including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain cut off diplomatic relations with the country and blockaded its borders. The reason being that they feared Qatar had ties to dangerous terror groups and that has brought forward calls to strip Qatar of their right to host the World Cup in five years’ time. The implications of this are that Qatar will have struggles in transporting supplies for their $200 billion worth of infrastructure and this will subsequently result in more time and money spent.
Should this volatile relationship between Qatar and those countries who cut ties off with them continue until the time of the World Cup, it puts doubts over travelling fans. The World Cup organising committee has chosen a calm stance, however, claiming it’s “business as usual” for them, while FIFA themselves are comfortable with the situation as they think the tournament will proceed as expected. The other factors already point out that this is an unsatisfactory choice for a World Cup host, and if reports are true and Qatar really does have ties with terrorist organisations, the tournament is sure to be the most disliked and the least mentioned, even before a ball is kicked and even without knowing what may happen on the pitch, which doesn’t really bode well for the Middle East’s future in the sport.
Qatar’s successful World Cup hosting bid has been bombarded with corruption claims, and several have proven to be true, with large sums of money ending up in dodgy places, however, there hasn’t been substantial evidence to have the World Cup moved to another location, or to reopen bidding processes. There could be another article displaying the wrongdoings in the bidding process and the years that followed, and it would be a really, really long one, but here are the main discoveries that relate to the World Cup, its bidding process and the illegal allegations surrounding it.
First, the Garcia report, prepared by Michael Garcia, an American lawyer and former Chairman of the investigative chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee, being in the chair between 2012 and 2014, has been at the core of this issue. In September 2014, he released a 430-page report, claiming that he uncovered “serious and wide-ranging issues in the bidding process” after investigating for a prolonged period of time, but it was never released to the public due to “legal reasons”, according to Hans-Joachim Eckert, the chief judge of the FIFA Ethics Committee.
Instead, Eckert released a shortened 42-page summary, with Garcia obviously denouncing its importance and asking for an appeal to FIFA’s Appeal Committee to have the whole report made public. In a typical FIFA stance, that appeal was rejected and Garcia resigned the very next day. In July 2017, however, FIFA did make that dossier public, but only after claims that German tabloid Bild were set to leak it. In the report, despite the obvious appearance of some inexplicable payments, the report once again didn’t find enough evidence of bribery that may have got Qatar (and Russia) their World Cup hosting rights.
Apart from Michael Garcia and his damaged report, there was the well renowned 2015 corruption scandal that resulted in the arrest of quite a few current FIFA officials – many of whom were linked to wrongdoings in the bidding process, with wire transfers, bribes and money laundering being key words mentioned. One of them was Jack Warner, the controversial Trinidadian FIFA Executive Committee member, who once received $1.2million after Qatar’s World Cup bidding success. He also pleaded his innocence days later on his Facebook page, displaying an article from satirical newspaper outlet, The Onion. The arrests, allegations and other irregular events of that morning of the 27th of May led to the subsequent resignation of the disgraced Sepp Blatter, just four days after being re-elected into office as FIFA president. He and UEFA president Michel Platini were later suspended for eight years from all football-related activities.
But, perhaps, the worst of the problems arise with the people largely responsible for building these immaculately designed venues. Qatar has been bombarded with facts concerning human rights violations and ever since they were confirmed as hosts of the competition in 2022, Amnesty International – a non-governmental organisation that is focused on human-rights – has been discovering unfavourable human-rights violations committed by the World Cup organising committee. They’ve highlighted eight major ways migrant workers from third-world countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan or India were being brutally exploited and had its effect felt not only on them, but the families they left behind at home, in a shocking report published in 2016.
Whether it’s corruption or diplomatic tension, none of it compares to the travesty that authorities have created for people who came to Qatar for a living and could possibly have gone back in a coffin. The statistics for the number of deaths are appalling, and it would be difficult to watch, indulge and enjoy a World Cup, whether on TV or the venue itself, knowing that many of its venues were built by the effort of exploited migrant workers, whose naivety was taken advantage of and who’s subjugated blood or sweat residue may be etched in the stadium.
Amnesty’s report brought to light the terrible conditions workers were often forced to work under and the eight pejorative points are summarised below:
1 – Expensive recruitment fees: Many of the migrants came from countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India paying suspect recruitment agents huge recruitment fees ranging between $500 and $4300. Deceptive recruitment is prohibited by Qatari law, and yet, it is largely at practice here.
2 – Poor living conditions: Workers lived in cramped, unsafe and unhygienic accommodation, with up to eight people living in one room in many cases.
3 – Delayed salaries: Some workers weren’t paid for several months, and for many, most of the time it was a matter of if they would be paid, rather than when. This has a domino effect as they can’t send money back home to support their families, or return money to their lenders who they borrowed from to get to Qatar for work. Another factor that is forbidden by Qatari law, and once again, this is one of the major human rights and worker rights violations committed.
4 – Lies about salaries: Recruitment agents made false promises about the salaries workers would receive – an example of this was with one who was told he would be earning $300-a-month by the recruitment in agency in Nepal, only to have it become $190 when he began working in the country.
5 – Can’t leave the stadium or camp: Many of the workers aren’t provided with residence permits, even though it is a necessity by Qatari law. Without these permits, workers can’t live or work in the country, with penalties being hefty fines, or imprisonment – both carrying grave consequences for the workers and their families. Because of this, workers were made vulnerable, and felt as though they couldn’t leave their work base.
6 – Can’t leave country or change jobs: All workers had their passports taken by their employers, and they needed an “exit permit” by their employers if they wanted to leave the country, which obviously wouldn’t be provided. Another long-existing scheme called “kafala” is used to monitor migrant workers. It requires them to have a sponsor from the local country that monitors the actions of the migrant worker, and the workers need to run their issues through their sponsors if they want a decision taken (i.e. change jobs or leave the country). The controversial system was abolished in December 2016 after intense scrutiny for numerous years.
7 – Threatened: Workers are threatened or intimidated by their employers when they complain about their poor working or living conditions.
8 – Forced labour: Employees are forced to work, and if they refused these orders, they were threatened, had their pay deducted or were handed over to the police for deportation from the country.
Qatar relies largely on migrant workers to support their infrastructure – 90% of their workforce are immigrants from foreign lands. The country with the largest GDP-per-capita in the world is immensely dependent on them, and as a result of this mess between FIFA, its officials and Qatar, around 1,200 of them had died by 2015 with that number set to hike to a staggering 7,000 on a variety of World Cup-related projects by the time a ball is kicked in the Middle Eastern country.
Human rights violations have taken a toll and in 2013, the Nepalese ambassador to Qatar, Maya Kumari Sharma, described Qatar as an “open jail” for the people migrating from her homeland. Nepalese workers face this modern-day slavery and are dying at an alarming rate of one per day. FIFA previously claimed that they were planning on making labour rights a key factor for its future bidding processes, but that proves to be too little and far too late for the thousands that have already suffered due to the organisation’s incompetence. But even after that, can a tainted organisation like FIFA, an absolute disgrace to the sport be trusted? It seems unlikely.
Qatar took a stance on the issue and introduced reforms to ensure greater protection and working conditions for their workers after complaints from many organisations over the years. In December 2016, however, Amnesty International once again released a statement, claiming that despite the changes the workers are still at risk due to “meagre reforms that barely scratch the surface” of the country’s damning exploitation of its migrant workers
With five years left for the greatest show on Earth in the most horrifying and unappealing host of them all, it’s a long shot for the tournament to be held elsewhere. But with the way things have gone, it does seem likely that this World Cup will have drastically fewer viewers, either in stadiums or on TV, with many taking notice of the irregularities to bring the tournament to the Middle East for the first time.
Social media has been abuzz in recent years bringing together different groups who wish to boycott the tournament, and they have all made their case, for this is indeed a contaminated competition that will satisfy corrupt pockets more than fans who truly care for the sport. And with five years left, who knows what else could turn up to further tarnish the history, glory and magnificence that is the World Cup and who knows how many more bodies have to be sent back home in coffins due to the incompetence of football’s governing body.
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