Commentary

What soccer can do to pressure Qatar ahead of the World Cup

I don't want to depress you any more than necessary in these stressful times, but next year is a World Cup year. The 2022 event, to be hosted in the tiny Middle Eastern state of Qatar, has become like one of those ominous dates in your calendar you hope that time will somehow defy. The final exam you haven't studied for. Lunch with the profane and racist uncle. The office holiday party. The game against the team whose coach never stops yelling even as they're beating you 7-0.

There is little about this tournament that soccer fans can look forward to, unless we're willing to shut out all ethical considerations. Last week, UK daily The Guardian came up with concrete stats to confirm what multiple human rights organizations had already reported - over the past decade, thousands of low-paid migrant manual workers have died, and will continue to die, in unexplained circumstances so that next year we can watch 32 countries compete in a soccer tournament. I defy readers of that sentence to express it in any other way.

"Data from India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka revealed there were 5,927 deaths of migrant workers in the period 2011–2020," the newspaper reported. "Separately, data from Pakistan’s embassy in Qatar reported a further 824 deaths of Pakistani workers, between 2010 and 2020." The paper noted that the death figure was likely to be much higher as it excluded numbers from Kenya and the Philippines, two countries that send high numbers of low-wage workers to Qatar.

It is suspected that many of the otherwise healthy young men died as a consequence of working long hours in the country's extreme summer heat, but autopsies were rarely if ever carried out. The huge Qatari construction boom has centered around stadium and infrastructure projects following the 2010 decision by FIFA's Executive Committee to award the World Cup to Qatar. The shenanigans and bribery behind that decision are covered at length in a book that every soccer fan should read, by Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert. Its title is self-explanatory: "The Ugly Game: The Qatari Plot To Buy The World Cup." Most of the 24 exclusively male members of that committee are disgraced (banned for life or suspended from office), deceased or, in the case of Chuck Blazer, both.

As fans, we face a straightforward moral choice. We can choose to either watch or not. If enough people chose to switch off, or not attend, it will make a difference. However, this will not happen. As media coverage of the deaths fades, most fans will find a way to block out yesterday's bad news about unnamed workers from distant countries. Or we will justify watching on the grounds that the stadiums have been built and the tournament's going ahead anyway, so what can you do?

For the participants, it's a different story, because players or coaches can have a much more direct influence. German national team beach volleyball player Karla Borger, for example, has backed out of a tournament beginning next week in Qatar because the host nation laid down rules about what players have to wear -- T-shirts and knee-length shorts instead of the usual bikinis.

"I wanted to make a stand for my sport," Borger told the Süddeutsche Zeitung. "It was important to me to make a statement." She had also noticed on television that after the Club World Cup final between Bayern Munich and Tigres last month, Qatar's most senior official, Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, ignored the final's two female referees and refused to shake their hands. Borger's coach, Helke Claasen, is also refusing to travel to Qatar because, she says, as a woman she does not feel accepted there, even though the hosts have now reversed their dress-code restrictions following the outcry that began with Borger's protest.

Borger, who had no idea that her stand would make such waves, added that The Guardian's report on worker deaths in Qatar is "horrifying. And it confirms my decision. Every single person who dies there is a dramatic case. But we're talking about 6,500 people, 6,500! That gives me shivers down my spine."

It would cost any soccer player a lot in terms of both money and prestige to announce that they were boycotting a World Cup tournament. It would take a lot of courage too. That's not to say it might not happen, but it's no more probable than fans blanking their TVs when the tournament kicks off.

There would, however, be nothing to prevent a group of influential, high-profile players demanding that an independent enquiry be opened into the unexplained deaths. The goal of such an enquiry could be to properly compensate the families of the deceased, and honor those who have lost their lives so that the rest of us can sit in our armchairs and cheer a ball crossing a line painted between two goalposts.

While the dress code for beach volleyball players might not seem like a world-shattering cause, Borger's stance and Qatar's subsequent concession prove how sensitive the state is to criticism as it strives to present a well-polished image of itself to the world at large. Imagine how many reforms could be achieved if FIFPRO, the players' international union, was pressed by its members to issue a statement questioning their collective participation in next year's tournament in the light of the latest worker death numbers.

The handle of FIFPRO's twitter account is @FIFpro ("empowering the world's professional football players since 1965)". If you have a spare second, send them this column with a short note asking what they think can be done.

30 comments about "What soccer can do to pressure Qatar ahead of the World Cup".
  1. Guy Walling, March 2, 2021 at 10:19 a.m.

    It is so very sad that human suffering and death doesn't take precedents over greed and our own selfish needs. I know we all love the beautiful game, but how can we it isn't a beautiful game when it's drenched is blood. It's not an honor for any fan, player, or country to go to next years World Cup. Don't sell your soul to the devil for your own immediate gratification. Stand up for your rights!!

  2. George Miller, March 2, 2021 at 11:37 a.m.

    But it's America The athletes ( and Ian)feel compelled to highlight. Yes we have problems that need attention but it's a sad commentary that you and the athletes prioritize Americas issues but I will still cover, attend and play in a country that treats women and minorities as you detailed.Some will say why can't we protest both? We can but we won't. The World Cup will put everything aside except Americas issues.

  3. Ian Plenderleith replied, March 2, 2021 at 12:52 p.m.

    Hi George, I've read your message several times, but still do not understand what you are trying to say. This column is about human rights abuses in the state of Qatar. I think it's now the fourth column I've written on this issue over the past two years. In what way does the above column "prioritize America's issues"?   

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, March 4, 2021 at 6:55 a.m.

    I don't understand the point either, Ian. It sounds like he is saying it is our fault for applying "American" principles of basic human rights to other countries and that you should just "chill". To a certain extent I expect some pushback against the US after Republicans made the mistreatment of migrants a campaign issue. We have exposed ourselves to reasonable accusations of hypocrisy. (That is really not a new issue, and it is still a poor defense to human rights violations. One wrong does not justify someone else's wrong.)

  5. Santiago 1314 replied, March 4, 2021 at 9:18 p.m.

    @Bob,.. I think you meant to say "Democrats" instead of "Republicans" ... "I expect some pushback against the US after Republicans made the mistreatment of migrants a campaign issue." ... I don't remember Republicans Railing against Treatment of Illegal Aliens in the Last Election... Of Course, there were MANY Fewer illegals THEN, than Now, Especially Now that Sleepy Joe has Invited in the Covid Infected Masses and Released them into the General Public... The Newly "WOKE" Federation should WITHDRAW from Both the Qatar WC and the Beijing Olympics... we are Talking about Murder, "Slavery", and Gulags... If we do go, WILL OUR PLAYERS KNEEL DURING THE QATARI AND CHINESE NATIONAL ANTHEM.!?!?!?... NOT A CHANCE.!!!.... Hypocrites.!!!

  6. Santiago 1314 replied, March 4, 2021 at 10:10 p.m.

    Let me Clarify, I DO NOT Support Boycotts... I am just Pointing out the Hypocrisy Of US Soccer and it's Players.

  7. Bob Ashpole replied, March 5, 2021 at 6:08 a.m.

    Santiago, I meant what I said. I am not talking about "illegal aliens". The Trump Administration created controversy by punishing law-abiding Hispanic migrants entering our Southern border for requesting political asylum. This was entirely meant to discourage Hispanics from requesting political asylum, a discriminatory practice prohibited by US law. 

    The direct sabotage of the fair administration of our nation's laws is in my eyes an attack on our government, our people, and the Rule of Law. But then what other view would you expect from someone sworn to protect the laws and constitution of this country. Certainly my view is not that Democrats started the controversy by complaining about illegal treatment.  

  8. Santiago 1314 replied, March 5, 2021 at 9:17 p.m.

    Bob, in which Election,??? did REPUBLICANS "Republicans made the mistreatment of migrants a campaign issue." Your exact Words... Democrats were the ones Complaining about "Kids in (Obama) Cages"... 
    Seems like all of Trump Era immigration Laws were Upheld by the Supreme Court, ... Very Legal, Very Binding... Unless you want to be like Schumer and "Storm the SCOTUS.?!?!?"
    The Law is Clear, to apply for Asylum, You must come thru a "Port of Entry" and not just anywhere over the Border... And you Actually have to Declare your Refugee Status in the First Country you arrive into after Leaving Yours... So, all Central Americans are "illegal" even at a US "Port" because they did Not Declare "Refugee Status" In Mexico.

  9. beautiful game, March 2, 2021 at 3:06 p.m.

    FIFA and its counterpart IOC are the world's biggest names in global sports and also the biggest peddlers of being apolitical while cashing-in bigtime with their respective venue selectees. Neither has any backbone or a scintilla of human empathy. Their track record speaks volumes of corruption and a blindness to human dignity and basic human rights. 

  10. James Madison, March 2, 2021 at 5:28 p.m.

    It should be fairly simple.  Step 1:  For the USMNT to qualify.  Step 2:  For US Soccer to take a stand that the team will not participate until Qater has established a compensation fund under independent control so that families of workers who died in connection with World Cup related construction are paid $ (some significant number) per worker. If multiple qualifying nations take this stand, the fund will unquestionably be created.  It won't bring the workers back to life, but it will ensure compensation.

  11. Santiago 1314 replied, March 4, 2021 at 9:37 p.m.

    "Mighty White" Of you James Madison.!!!

  12. Peter Bechtold, March 2, 2021 at 9:38 p.m.

    Hi Folks: Here is an issue about which I happen to know a lot from my recent day job of 29 years in the USG. Qatar was one of 24 countries for which i was to prepare diplomats and other USG personnel for.
    1. The deaths and illnesses of guest workers is a genuine issue and should be addressed by groups like the ILO(Int'l Labor Org.). But let me be clear: The Govt of Qatar is forcing nobody to work excessive hours or to cram into small apartment units. This is the choice, yes the CHOICE, of Asian semi-skilled workers who have been in Qatar for almost a half century.(At formal independence in late 1971 Qatar's native population was under 220k, and its economy was based on exporting carbon products. Almost all salaried workers were expatriats. Foreign doctors, architects and others came mostly from Western countries, academics from other Arab states and semi-skilled workers from poor Asian countries.) The latter developed a tradition for many to share one housing unit, taking turns working, cooking,etc. All were male and looked forward to getting married. They discovered that they could earn in 2 years in Qatar( no income taxes) what would require a lifetime in Phillipines, Bangladesh,etc. Most opted for 80-hours weeks. The American, British, German and other embassies are well aware of the working conditions. Fyi, Qatar is a one-town--Doha--statelet and information is relatively easy to get.
    My job required me to work with embassies there,and I can assure you that all expats had embassies to turn to. Those countries knew about working conditions for their nationals and did not object to the host govt.
    2. FIFA under its previous leadership tried hard to diversify host countries for the WC tournaments, to go beyond the old pattern of alternating (West)Europe and the Americas. Sepp Blatter spoke often about this; he wanted to bring the world's game to "underserved areas,e.g. Asia(2002), Africa(2010), Russia(2018) and an Arab state( there are 22). The choice of Qatar surprised me for many reasons, mostly the weather and geography.
    3. Ian P. has a habit of writing on subjects where there is a worm in the apple; that is his right, but it would be nice if he tried just for once, to be even-handed. He could have pointed out that the US military has a large presence in Qatar(and its regional HQ). He could have mused about the world's top golfers playing in the Qatar Open(also in Dubai and Abu Dhabi). He must know that a number of well-known European soccer clubs have been training in Doha during the winter-break(non-existing in UK only).There are also international races for runners, bicyclists and motor cars.
    4.Lastly, sad to say, all of us specializing in this part of the world have known for decades that the Western media love to demonize Arab and Muslim culture. Thus, it is so much harder for our own officials to conduct effective policies there.
    Ian has added to this problem.

  13. Ian Plenderleith replied, March 3, 2021 at 6:26 a.m.

    Hi Peter. Thanks for your input, although you avoid mentioning the number of deaths, their probable cause, and the criminal levels of compensation for those deaths. I'll address your points one by one:

    1. Re. workers' conditions in Qatar. While there have been some positive changes - the result of outside pressure following increased press coverage of working conditions in Qatar, ironically due to the World Cup - many aspects of workers' conditions and human rights as a whole remain wholly unsatisfactory. The latest report by the independent body Human Rights Watch (published last month), which you can find in full on their web site hrw.org, lists both the good and the bad. HRW notes that while some developments have been positive (some elements of the 'kafala' system have been abolished), "other abusive elements of the 'kafala' system remain... Passport confiscations, high recruitment fees, and deceptive recruitment practices remain largely unpunished. Workers are banned from joining trade unions and striking." It also writes (and this is important with relation to construction site 'natural' deaths of young, previously healthy men, with no autopsy) that "Qatar continued to enforce a demonstrably rudimentary midday summer working hours ban. The heat stress guidelines are not comprehensive or obligatory for employers, and have no enforcement mechanisms. Moreover, for seven years, Qatar has not made public meaningful data on migrant worker deaths that would allow an assessment of the extent to which heat stroke is a factor."

    I'm reluctant to get into the minefield of your comments on the "tradition" of cramped accommodation by "choice", but your condescending narrative of happy workers just there to earn enough to go home and get married sounds like something from a corporate propaganda film. Even if that were true, you're still left with at least 6,500 who never made it back. 

  14. beautiful game replied, March 3, 2021 at 8:56 p.m.

    Peter, your comments about Qatar and the Middle East echo the alternative truth spewed by Walter Duranty, former NY Times writer who was a Russian shill and apologist for Stalin' regime.

  15. beautiful game replied, March 3, 2021 at 8:58 p.m.

    Bye the way Peter, do enjoy your carte blanche stay in Qatar WC 2022.

  16. Santiago 1314 replied, March 4, 2021 at 9:42 p.m.

    Mighty "Colonial" of you Peter.!!!

  17. Ian Plenderleith, March 3, 2021 at 6:38 a.m.

    Point 2. I was less surprised than you at the awarding of the tournament to Qatar. The Fifa Executive Committee at the time consisted almost exclusively of corruptible charlatans, including Concacaf's Jack Warner (banned for life from Fifa office) and the late Chuck Blazer (suspended by Fifa, then he turned FBI super-grass up until his death). The corruption of these officials was no secret - journalist Andrew Jennings, among others, had been writing about their egregious shenanigans for years. The Blake/Calvert book I mention in the column presents overwhelming evidence that Qatar bought the 2022 tournament by bribing enough officials on the Fifa Ex. Com.

    There was neither a soccer tradition nor a soccer infrastructure in Qatar. The decision had nothing to do with any noble notion of spreading the game to an under-served area of the world, and you'd be hard-pushed to find a single soccer fan who would swallow such a preposterous claim. It was simply about which potential host nation had the cash and the chutzpah to bribe enough shameless FIFA officials.   

  18. Ian Plenderleith replied, March 3, 2021 at 6:59 a.m.

    Points 3 and 4. I wrote about Bayern Munich's dubious relationship with Qatar last year - 'Avoiding Qatar proves not so difficult after all' (Jan. 6, 2020). I wrote about the issue of sports and human rights in a number of countries shortly before that - 'When sports collide with human rights violations' (Oct. 14, 2019). And again earlier that year - 'What's more important -- soccer or human rights?' (Feb. 4, 2019). These pieces and the above column have nothing to do with "demonizing Arab and Muslim culture", two things I have never written about - neither for Soccer America, nor for any other outlet. So please try not to deflect from our focus here - the human rights of every living individual, and how in our sphere the soccer community has the potential to influence power and improve conditions for those at the bottom of the chain who are working and dying so that we can watch the next World Cup. To me, that is much, much more than "a worm in the apple".  

  19. Santiago 1314 replied, March 4, 2021 at 10:07 p.m.

    @Ian, I RARELY Agree with you, but you are Spot-On with your Posts on the Thread... But your article is Too Wishy-Washy... "unless we're willing to shut out all ethical considerations"..."There would, however, be nothing to prevent a group of influential, high-profile players demanding that an independent enquiry be opened into the unexplained deaths. The goal of such an enquiry could be to properly compensate the families of the deceased, and honor those who have lost their lives so that the rest of us can sit in our armchairs and cheer a ball crossing a line painted between two goalposts."... "We can choose to either watch or not. If enough people chose to switch off, or not attend, it will make a difference. However, this will not happen" ...Why will it Not Happen.??? Because of Hypocrisy,,, Kneel against your Country and Your Flag, But PLAY in Stadiums where Thousands have Died or Millions are Imprisoned in Gulags... THAT IS WHY YOU DON'T MIX POLITICS AND SPORTS, Because the "Line" is Impossible to "Draw"... No to Boycotts in Sports... NO to Hurting the Athletes that will Miss their probably Once-In-A-Lifetime Chance that they have Worked all their Lives To "Get There"... NGOs dictate where the Championships are Held... They can Quickly Switch these events to other Countries... USA could put on these events in about 2 Months notice.

  20. Santiago 1314 replied, March 4, 2021 at 10:13 p.m.

    @Ian, are you going to Attend or Watch the WC Qatar.??? I see you saying about the need to "Take A Stand", But, Where do you Stand.???

  21. Peter Bechtold, March 3, 2021 at 10:15 p.m.

    @beautiful game: You should be ashamed of yourself for making ad hominem attacks without knowing anything about me. I have worked with our senior government officials, civilian and military, e.g. ambassadors and generals assigned to postings in this area, and have received more than a dozen awards from Republican and Democratic administrations for outstanding work. I do not know a single Qatari citizen, much less a Qatar official. 

  22. Peter Bechtold, March 3, 2021 at 10:48 p.m.

    @ Ian Plenderleith: Thanks for your prompt and detailed replies. If we had a chance to chat over tea we would probably agree on most points. Let me provide a few comments.
    1. I am well acquainted with the KAFALA issue--and have seen one at work--which is practiced in the Arab Gulf region by the "oil-rich and people-poor" states from Kuwait to UAE. The Kafala per se has to do with the demographic imbalance, i.e. in UAE about 90 % of all residents are expatriate workers, in Kuwait the figure is about 65%. Almost all the work is performed by expatriots who are well compensated compared to their nationals back home, esp. because they pay no taxes and often receive free or subsidized housing. The new generation of indigenous youth are often the first to receive a modern education and they are keen to replace the expats with themselves, but this process is slow and controversial.
    Because in all Gulf emirates the expatriates outnumber the local citizens absolutely, and even more among the adult population, the dynastic family governments have adopted rules that make it impossible for expatriates to outgain and out-vote the natives. One can argue about this for sure. 
    I have mentioned a few Western embassies that would apply to our discussion. Every one has a "Labor Attache" whose job it is to follow work conditions as well as (un-)employment. They all know about Kafala and about the discriminatory pay-scales for Westerners vs. Asians. The Human Rights officers frequently are not in situ. I have personally defended  HRW against our own embassadors who consider HRW to be "liberal troublemakers".
    2. The policy of shifting resources, including hosting tournaments, was stated by S. Blatter, certainly no friend of mine. He cllaimed that he wanted to be more inclusive and I watched him on tv talking about that. Had he consulted me about locations in the Arab World, I would have recommended Morocco first, distantly followed by Egypt.( Saudi Arabia would not have wanted foreign supporters to arrive because of domestic reasons). Tunisia and the Gulf Emirates from Kuwait to UAE have neither the population base nor the availability of adequate stadiums. But Qatar with its huge petrodollar income promised to build "airconditioned high-tech stadiums".(!)

  23. Bob Ashpole replied, March 4, 2021 at 6:59 a.m.

    The problem in the selection was not ignorance, it was corruption. Your advice would have not mattered to the outcome.

  24. Ian Plenderleith, March 5, 2021 at 1:28 a.m.

    @Santiago 1314 - I do not plan to watch or attend the 2022 World Cup as things stand now.

  25. Santiago 1314 replied, March 5, 2021 at 2:51 a.m.

    Ian, I RESPECT your Consistency... . Do you think that  those Players that Kneel in Protest against "Social INjustice" here in the USA, will do even this same Minimum action, during the Playing of National Anthems in Qatar or China.???

  26. Bob Ashpole replied, March 5, 2021 at 6:17 a.m.

    Sanitago, the WNT agree before their last match to end their kneeling protests. I am sure that their decision was coordinated with the MNT. The hoopla surrounding the AGM is nothing but a publicity stunt intended to bolster public support for the professional soccer industry. The players and the majority of us have moved on. 

  27. Santiago 1314 replied, March 5, 2021 at 8:54 p.m.

    Bob, I am Glad to hear, that "Social INjustice" has Ended, and we can "Move On".!!! (Really.!?!?! Did you just type that Out Loud.???)

  28. beautiful game, March 5, 2021 at 11:45 a.m.

    Kneeling is a sign of respect...but for Santiago it's a constant moment for diatribe.

  29. Santiago 1314 replied, March 5, 2021 at 9:01 p.m.

    Knelling during the National Anthem is a "Sign of Respect".!?!?!? ... LAUGHABLE.!!! Hard to take you Seriously, with Comments like that, But you still BEAUTIFUL to me... cause you got GAME.!!!

  30. beautiful game, March 5, 2021 at 12:50 p.m.

    Peter,... nothing has changed sincer Blatter's diversification of WC venues as Don Infantino continues camouflage his predecessor's cash-to-host policy. Infantino's latest bait: 

    Infantino visited Saudi Arabia while an accord was being signed by Gulf Cooperation Council nations toward ending regional disputes.World Cup host Qatar was put under a diplomatic and transport boycott by regional neighbors, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, from 2017 until the end of last year.
    During the boycott, Infantino pushed for Qatar to share World Cup hosting with some neighbors as part of a tournament expansion to 48 teams.
    He said in 2018 that Qatar accepting the proposal “would probably be a nice message,” but the emirate rejected it.
     
    The political potential of the 32-team tournament kicking off in November next year is still being promoted by FIFA.
     
    “Maybe a football event such as the World Cup can contribute a little bit to broaden our minds, to open up cultures, to make people meet with each other and move ahead in a positive way,” Infantino said on Friday.   (Anyone buying Don Infantino's sincerity or $$$). 

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