6,500 deaths. This is the ugly truth often cloaked by the glamour of the beautiful game. In the last 32 years, 6,500 players have participated in the World Cup. We all partake in this festival of sport, proudly humming our national anthems as we clench our flags tightly over our backs. But our backs are never scarred by bricks or loose nails as we hike through construction plans. Our faces never swollen as dust and blood are caught in open wounds. This is the burden that lies on migrant workers. And perhaps equally on the most coveted prize in sport: The FIFA World Cup.
For decades, laborers from the Asian subcontinent have dreamt of economic opportunities in the Middle East. In an effort to break out of poverty, many choose to drown in debt with payments of over 500 USD to local recruiters. These agents act as middlemen, often misrepresenting contract and visa terms while creating false promises about future salaries. Once in Qatar, these men are the property of construction companies. Their dignity is stripped through appalling living conditions: dozens bunk in cramped rooms without access to clean water, even during Covid. Their identity is forgotten as their passports are sealed upon arrival leaving them intimidated and confused. Thrown into the deep end with language barriers, racism, and physical duress, these men enter a never-ending nightmare.
There is no doubt that Qatar will create an architectural spectacle fueled by innovative designs and state-of-the-art technology. But is hosting a month-long tournament worth such cruelty? Nothing should be! Migrant workers require Qatari sponsorships that dictate their employment within the country. If unhappy or unsettled, laborers cannot switch jobs or return home until their sponsors agree. This unjust power dynamic usually leads to blackmail, leaving workers with no choice but to continue suffering. Known as the Kafala system, this sponsor-driven mechanism affects laborers from Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, which make up 94% of Qatar’s workforce. Trapped in the gulf-state, these laborers endure mental fatigue for years, while local media fabricate their welfare by presenting detailed labor resolutions and falsified photographs. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have denounced such treatment as modern-day slavery. The Nepalese Ambassador, Maya Kumari Sharma, went as far as calling Qatar an “open jail” for her fellow countrymen.
Many fans are simply discontent with Qatar because of the lack of footballing history it possesses. Although the 2014 edition in Brazil, followed by the Olympics, had major economic consequences, it was never questioned considering the sport’s popularity. Football is ingrained in South American DNA with the likes of Pele, Maradona, and now Messi, all having crucial roles in the history of the game. I feel that bringing the World Cup to Qatar does nothing for football. Alternative bids from South Korea, Japan, and even the USA would have been more viable, considering the raw talent emerging from those nations. Qatar, ranked 113th, has had a history of bribing uncapped average players from other countries to play for their national team. Although FIFA has blocked such moves in the past it seems they’ve ultimately given in to mankind’s greatest poison, money. These are only a few controversies in a long list, including scheduling the World Cup in the winter because of high temperatures, interfering with European leagues, not recognizing Israel as a legitimate nation, the excessive costs of over 220 billion dollars compared to South Africa’s merge 3.5 spent in 2010, and even religious dissaproval of alcohol and the LGBTQ+ community. Overall, I don’t wish to berate Qatar as a nation but I strongly disagree with their appointment in the first place. I hope FIFA can address some of the aforementioned circumstances to save some semblance of grace for the game I love.