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Will Qatar's World Cup Be Built On a Graveyard?

Soccer stars will be playing on the bones of faceless workers who died in the Gulf state.

Billboard touting the Qatar as a 2022 FIFA World Cup bidding nation.
Photo Credit: daly3d abd/Flickr


There is a lot to be said for keeping politics out of sport. Only totalitarian states or people with authoritarian personalities politicise everything: whom they love and whom they befriend; what they eat, drink, read, watch and play.

That Qatar is an absolute monarchy is not a good enough reason to stop it holding the  World Cup. China is a nominally communist dictatorship. But after muttering many objections, I accepted that there was no direct connection between the Beijing Olympics and the one-party state. You could enjoy the one without endorsing the other.

But in Qatar 2022, the connection between oppression and sport will be glaring. The world's finest footballers will be running over the bones of the faceless men who died that they might play. Their fans will travel on trains and stay in luxury hotels built by migrant workers who, in their desperation to escape poverty, trapped themselves in a racist serf system, which left them defenceless before avaricious employers.

Since I wrote about the rising piles of corpses in Qatar  two weeks ago, Robert Booth of the Guardian published a  fine investigation, which claimed that the World Cup could cost 4,000 lives if nothing is done. David Cameron, not noted as a champion of workers' rights, was so moved he said Qatar must do better and, as if in response, last Friday Fifa's president, Sepp Blatter, who looks more like a well-fed toad with each passing year, promised that he would try harder.

He would visit the Emir and tell him he wanted Qatar to change. The ruling al-Thani clan had already told him that it was ready to meet his requests.

Fifa and Qatar have much in common. They are both unaccountable. They both cut deals in secret and know the value of PR. The Qatari royal family controls al-Jazeera, the world's most subtle and effective propaganda channel. It appears like a home for respectable journalists, while never challenging its masters' interests. Fifa also understands how many people you can fool in the modern world if you look concerned and mouth compassionate platitudes.

If Blatter and the al-Thanis were serious, they would accept that the global sports competition will become a global  human rights disaster unless they change course. The hundreds of thousands of migrants for the $150bn construction programme will come from Africa, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and the Philippines. The firms that exploit them are as global in their reach. Meanwhile, surely 4,000 deaths oughtto register on the Richter scale of global outrage. I know these comparisons always feel trite, but for the record, the highest estimates from the Syrian opposition claim that  1,300 died in Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons attack on the outlying suburbs of Damascus.

The tireless activists at the International Trade Union Confederation explain how poverty and neglect feed corporate manslaughter. Native Qataris have an average per capita income of $102,000, the highest in the world. The migrants, who make up 80% of the population, subsist on an average of around $2,500. As well as being on the receiving end of a class war from above, the migrants also suffer from racial disadvantage. Undercover reporters took Nepalis to Arab shopping malls where the security guards  refused to let them in because they could not "read" their foreign faces and discern whether they were thieves. Qataris have labour rights, where migrants working  60 to 100 hour weeks have none . I've made the comparison with apartheid South Africa before and won't do it again. The point that needs emphasising is that once migrants are caught they stay caught.

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