Sports, slave labor and the hot Arabian sun: The Scarlet

Every four years, the world comes together to celebrate sports and friendly competitions against each other. Unfortunately, however, it is often overshadowed by a huge wall of controversy. You might think I’m talking about the Olympic Games, which are no strangers to controversy. But no, today I’m talking about the 22nd annual FIFA World Cup, which takes place right in the heart of the sunny nation of Qatar.

I have always liked events like the Olympic Games or the World Cup. Now, I’m not an athletic person, nor have I ever cared much for professional sports, but for some reason, the spectacle of these events always drew me. I can fondly recall the 2014 Rio World Cup final, when Germany scored the game-winner against Argentina in tense extra time. While I had mainly focused on the recent Olympic Games in Tokyo and Beijing, the World Cup was always in the back of my mind.

Now on the surface, the 2022 World Cup is pretty historic. It is the first time it has been held in the Middle East in the organization’s 118-year history. Not only that, more cooperation between Qatar and its neighbors means the games would give their economies a significant boost (not that the Gulf needs more money, but that’s beside the point). However, while on the surface all may seem fine, the reality of what happened behind the scenes tells a much darker story. The history of FIFA is full of controversy in almost every way. From corruption (so much corruption…) to human rights abuses, they have almost seen it all, and this time it would be no different.

Our story begins in 2010, when Qatar was first chosen to host the 2022 World Cup. People were already suspicious. Qatar is quite a small nation in the middle of the desert with no prior history of hosting events like this, so how did they beat much bigger and more experienced nations like Japan or the US? Twenty-two people were on the committee that awarded the cup to Qatar, and the vast majority have since been indicted or prosecuted on corruption charges. This in itself makes one question the validity of their decision. If one thing became abundantly clear, it is that Qatar did not have the proper infrastructure required to host the games. This would lead directly to the biggest controversy behind the World Cup in Qatar, the human rights abuses behind the scenes.

Qatar is hot. It is located right in the middle of the Arabian desert, the fifth largest desert in the world. The World Cup is usually held during the summer months, after the end of the European season. In summer, temperatures in Qatar can exceed 100°F (38°C for non-Imperials). The matches could not be held in such weather without risking the health of the players or the public, so they were moved to the end of the year when it is not unbearably hot outside. While this may be good for gaming itself, the temperature still affects another major issue: infrastructure. It is not an easy task to organize an event of this magnitude and often the host countries have to build new stadiums, hotels and other infrastructure to accommodate them. Now, Qatar’s record with workers’ rights is also, to say the least, pretty dire. According to an Amnesty International report, there were 1.7 million migrant workers in Qatar (approximately 90% of the country’s total workforce), most of whom came from poorer countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal. Many of these workers would be forced to work in extremely hot conditions with little or no adequate heat protection measures. Workers had to pay upwards of $400-$4,300 just to get the job, and often went into debt to do so. They would be unable to leave their camps, their pay would be withheld for months, they would be trapped in appalling living conditions and violently threatened by their Qatari managers. All of this has led to an official death toll of more than 15,000 migrant workers between 2010 and 2019. Beyond that statistic, Qatari officials have given little more information. Most of the deaths were simply attributed to “natural causes”, with the rest still unexplained. International outrage has erupted over the treatment of migrant workers, with many accusing Qatar of using slave labor. As Steven Cockburn, Director of Economic and Social Justice at Amnesty International, said, “Qatar is one of the richest countries in the world; not only can he afford to do much better, but he has an obligation to do so.”

But things don’t stop once the games themselves start, there’s still the issue of viewers’ rights. Qatar has claimed that all visitors will be welcome, regardless of race, gender, religion, or sexuality, but many potential viewers fear that Qatar will not live up to this claim. The Arabian Peninsula has had a human rights problem for quite some time. Qatar was actually the first Arab nation to grant women the right to vote…in 1999. Under Qatari law, women must obtain permission from a male guardian before they can drive, study, travel or get married. On top of that, Qatar has a terrible record on LGBTQ+ rights. Homosexuality is still criminalized, punishable by 7 years in prison and the death penalty for gay Muslims. While no official executions have been reported, there are frequent cases of brutal beatings and abuse against LGBTQ+ people at the hands of the police and other organizations. Qatar claims to be welcoming to everyone for the games, a statement that many are justifiably tired of. Many LGBTQ+ organizations have contacted FIFA and Qatar in hopes of security assurances. They reported that while FIFA was very cooperative, they did not hear anything from Qatar. The 2022 World Cup was meant to be a healing moment for the world, a time to celebrate our differences. Unfortunately, however, with so much controversy and abuse, it is doubtful that the goal can be reached.

Massive events like these have always been a big part of my life, one of my earliest memories was watching the torch being lit at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. These events are not just big sporting competitions, they represent something bigger than that. They are a time for the world to come together, put aside our differences, and celebrate all that makes us unique. Organizations like the IOC and FIFA have a duty to uphold these traditions, but instead they are often marred by corruption and abuse. I have seen that it is often up to the individual whether or not they support these events, but it shouldn’t be. We need to hold these organizations to a higher standard because, as they are, they do not support the cause they represent to the world.

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