Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Qatar 2022: A FIFA Own-Goal

The 2022 FIFA World Cup has been the centre of much controversy from practically the moment it was announced. From bribery allegations to weather-related concerns through to Qatar's greatest shame: indentured servitude.

It is astounding to think that in the year 2014, we have countries across the world that still embrace the cruelty that is slavery, but in Qatar and indeed all across the Arab Emirates, slave labour is ingrained into societal norms and cultural practices.

Arab tradition from bedouin times indicates that all foreign workers must have a "kefaal" or a sponsor that supports the foreigner whilst they are in Arab lands. Now, in the age of mega-corporations and noveau-riche oil-men, the kafala system persists: all migrant workers are now sponsored by a corporation. By sponsored, of course, I mean owned.

All in the name of sport: Qatar's Al-Wakrah stadium will be built upon the blood of slavery

The biggest migrant population in Qatar hails from India and three surrouding countries: Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. In these countries "recruitment agents" go around towns and villages promising the world to manual labourers. They are offered massive wages, often 5 times what they might make for the equivalent work at home, they are offered accommodation with air-conditioning and great facilites and they are even offered transportation to and from work for free everyday. To these men, who have grown up on less than a dollar a day, this is a chance to provide enough for themselves and their families for several years, it is an unmissable opportunity, all for a (usually around) measly $2000. Then they arrive in Qatar

Upon arrival, their passports are immediately confiscated by the kefaals, they are forced to sign contracts that essentially end all their rights, they are given wages that are a third or a half of what they promised for working double the hours they were told and that luxury accommodation is a single room with bunk beds shoved into every possible space, with 9 or 10 men to a room. Now they are trapped in a system where they don't speak the language, they don't have any contacts apart from each other and that "recruitment agent"? He doesn't seem to ever answer his phone.

Common worker accommodation in the UAE
 Human Rights organisations have flagged this issue up again and again, but it seems that if you have enough oil-money and enough men bought up on a commissionary panel, then the rights of humans are secondary to profit. The simple fact is, that the story I tell above is not just a blog post, it is not just clicks on a keyboard or a scroll down a page, it is the reality for thousands of young men who thought they had a chance at a new life. 500 Indians and over 130 Nepalese men have died in the construction of Qatar's new infrastructure, and we are still over eight years away from the competition. How many more slaves will die before FIFA decides enough is enough?

FIFA's constant response is "we can't do anything", it is not a case of can't, it is a case of won't, because counting the cash is easier than counting the human cost. The kafala system is an outdated, barbaric system that promotes racism and slavery, FIFA should be pressuring Qatar to root this out as part of their responsibility to the sport that is often called the "worldwide game", instead they put out the same toothless statements again and again. If the Qataris refuse to remove the system, then remove the World Cup from the Qataris, it will be of no huge loss to the game of football.

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