Qatar 2022: Reflection On Subtle Atrocity That Is a Marker Of Modern Football

By: Akinloye Nafiu

To start with, this piece is not one that intends to delve into one of the most protracted subjects of our time; the interplay between football and politics, because indeed, they are both inseparable orders that would not go unnoticed, no matter hard they try. Maybe some things demand much importance in football than the random political interference. We should however be asking each other how sports is voraciously eating deep into a fabric that it’s meant to fasten. Becoming an increasingly commercial affair, it is heeding no regard to some specific nuances as long as the commercial outpour occurs unabated. An example that comes to mind easily is the brutal atrocity happening in Qatar that is not only grounded in subtle disposition but also swept under gross under-reportage.

Over the past few years, thousands of migrant workers have died in Qatar since Sepp Blatter gifted them their FIFA-approved golden ticket. The state’s own official figures for deaths specifically related to construction for World Cup stadiums are small – 3 “work-related” and 34 “nonwork-related” fatalities, it says – but the danger in this building boom feels present and very real.

Like most of Qatar’s two million-strong migrant workforce, the labourers tasked with clearing the rubble which temporarily entombed their colleagues are likely to have paid big fees they could not afford to recruitment agents. Many would have arrived to learn they were being paid far less than they had been promised, often doing different, more perilous jobs to the ones for 

Domiciled in labour camps – some heavily guarded and with high concrete walls – they would have been bussed to work each morning at daybreak and forced to work long hours, six days a week in temperatures of up to 50 ˚C. Some, but not all, employers appear to observe the local law that designates the hottest hours during which you can hear your own skin crackle a rest period. The Qataris insist that companies found to be violating the laws on summer working hours or overtime payments are penalised.

Wages vary depending on work but mainly on nationality. Some workers earn as little as £130 a month, while all are prevented from seeking more lucrative employment elsewhere by the “kafala” sponsorship system. It isn’t slavery, but the conditions appear to have sinister echoes of the stratification of apartheid-era South Africa. Readers of a certain age will recall the seriously dim international view that was taken of any touring parties who put money before morals and chose to compete there.

A country fabled for its habit of loudly trumpeting labour reforms then appearing to fail to act on them, Qatar appeared to take a small but significant step in the right direction last August by announcing labour reforms, including making it easier for workers to change jobs. A minimum monthly wage of £198.56 was also introduced last week. However, Migrant-Rights has now revealed that the 2020 reforms aimed at dismantling the kafala system are being reviewed by the state’s legislative body, the Shura Council.

The Al Bayt Stadium In Qatar, Due To Host The Opening Ceremony Of The 2022 World Cup

Recently, Dutch Football Association issued a statement in which it condemned human rights abuses in Qatar but said it will not boycott the World Cup, promising instead to take its corporate responsibilities seriously and participate “in a socially responsible way”. It claims to have partly based its decision on advice from various human rights groups who claim a boycott would lead to already impoverished workers further losing out. The English FA has yet to take a stance on the issue of migrant workers in Qatar but seems likely to adopt a similar party line to the Dutch, which would almost certainly be widely supported by fans.

A boycott seems unthinkable – if recent history at Manchester City and Newcastle United is any sort of guide, football supporters seem prepared to look the other way as far as human rights abuses are concerned if the alternative is the possibility of on-field success. While most national governing bodies, footballers and fans would almost certainly claim to find the dangers and indignities visited upon migrant workers in Qatar abhorrent, their reservoirs of empathy are – perhaps understandably – not bottomless. Following our moral compass and railing against obvious discrimination is all very well until it threatens to derail the possibility of travelling to and winning the World Cup.

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