About seven years ago, the wife of the former Emir of Qatar wowed a global audience when presenting her country’s bid to host the 2022 World Cup with a simple question along the lines of ‘When will it be the right time for the Middle East to host the World Cup?’
It was a good question and a compelling and powerful presentation from the woman who is also the mother of the current Emir.
It’s also a matter of history and infamy – and piles and piles of column inches, documentaries and more – that the majority of the 22 voters of the FIFA executive committee of the day considered the answer to the Sheikha’s question to be “now”.
I’d like to pose my own question and, in doing so, paraphrase the Sheikha’s question: When will it be the right time for Qatar to get serious about human rights for their migrant workers?
Plus I have some more.
When will it be the right time for FIFA to get serious about human rights abuses while the infrastructure for their tournament is being built?
When will it be the right time for FIFA’s sponsors to actually care about the human rights of those that have an association with their product and demand real action?
And when will FIFA’s 200-odd member associations grow some and say ‘these abuses have no place in the 21st century and continue to bring the sport into disrepute’, and also demand more than lipservice from FIFA?
I’m prompted to write this because of the most recent report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) that, once again, calls on the Qatar ‘Supreme Committee’ (organising the World Cup), FIFA and its member associations to do something about the extreme heat risks and preventable deaths occurring in Qatar.
You may recall I first raised this issue in May 2015 (before the FIFA arrests) through our Hypocrisy World Cup campaign, in conjunction with the International Trade Union Confederation, Playfair Qatar and a letter-writing and social media campaign coordinated by #NewFIFANow.
The September HRW report is yet more sobering and, frankly, shocking and distressing reading. We are talking about real people with real lives, hopes and loved ones; people trying to graft out some sort of living to try to improve, if not their lot in life, at least that of their family.
The Supreme Committee organising the World Cup in 2022 has taken some action to address the situation, but they also point out that they are responsible for less than 1 per cent of the migrant workers in Qatar. They claim that since construction on the stadiums commenced, they have had two ‘work-related’ deaths and nine ‘non-work-related’ deaths. The problem is many of the so-called non-work-related deaths are from cardiac or respiratory failure which, without a cause of death being known, is more than likely to be related to the extreme conditions in any case.
The Supreme Committee has a heat mitigation strategy but as this report from journalist David Conn makes clear – also based on the HRW report – it doesn’t factor in sunlight, and enforcement of the guidelines is less than rigorous.
What is FIFA’s response to all this?
As we’ve come to expect from FIFA 2.0, what they say and do is not that different from what it would have been under FIFA 1.0.
Sure, they’ve drawn-up some guidelines (after the horse has bolted), created a bureaucratic process and developed a few glossy publications. But this response to the HRW report shows they have absolutely no sympathy for the people who have lost their lives. And absolutely no commitment to do anything except “note” and “monitor”.
Please don’t overwhelm us FIFA.
In the meantime …
Qatar could fix all this easily.
First, with a stroke or two of the younger Emir’s pen, Qatar could get rid of the ‘kefala’ system. To do so, would show real leadership in a region that has long used a form of slavery to build their immense wealth.
Second, is the issue of money. Qatar could also spend some to support their workers, rather than contributing to making their lives miserable.
I’m not talking here of the many accusations against Qatar in respect of how it got to be the hosts of the 2022 World Cup. We’ve all heard the allegations of corruption and bribery in respect of that World Cup vote but, to date and to be fair, nothing has yet been pinned-on the actual people who worked on the World Cup bid in terms of the actual 22 men who voted.
I am talking about matters such as the news last week that the Chairman and CEO of Paris St Germain (PSG) Football Club and BeIN Sport (Al-Jazeera), Nasser Al-Khelaifi, allegedly bribed former FIFA CEO, Jerome Valcke, with the unrestricted use of a luxury villa in Sardinia in return for media rights for the 2018, 2022, 2026 and 2030 tournaments. Both men have denied the accusation. It should be noted that Valcke didn’t have a vote for the 2018 and 2022 tournaments although, clearly, he held an influential position at FIFA.
There is no display of Qatari wealth that makes my stomach turn more than the transfer deal over northern hemisphere summer of Brazilian wonder player, Neymar Jr. to PSG from Barcelona.
Neymar’s transfer fee was £222 million (about USD$295 million). This doesn’t include his salary which comes on top of that. It is nothing short of obscene.
This ‘record’ fee was so off-the-park that even the Qatar-based, Emir-owned, Al-Jazeera was compelled to ask: What else could you buy with Neymar’s transfer fee?
It’s a very fair question. The answers ranged from purchasing 137 properties in the London borough of Kensington, to running a Syrian refugee camp for 11 years to recovering 0.013 per cent of money lost to corruption globally.
Qatar, if you’re reading this, may I add another.
You could come do the right thing and really make a difference. You could pay more workers more money to work on World Cup infrastructure, thus giving more people employment, improving working conditions for all, improving facilities for all, improving the quality of life of even more families. By doing something concrete, practical and real, Qatar could start to build a reputation for respecting all people, regardless of culture, ethnicity or religion, and respecting human rights for all.
By 2022, we could even have a World Cup tournament in which we can truly say that the power of football – if not FIFA, its sponsors and its member associations – did actually make a difference to improve the human rights and working conditions of so many workers, their lives, their families and their communities.
So I return to my question: When will it be the right time for Qatar to get serious about human rights for their migrant workers?
If the answer to that could possibly be ‘now’, then I would also be the first to say the same thing to the question posed by the Sheikha almost seven years ago.