The World Cup, soon to start in Qatar, brings together in one place, sports washing, corruption and human rights abuses in a kind of symbolic statement of how to understand the modern world. FIFA itself is in a league all of its own in terms of corruption. It is reported that 16 of its voting members have been implicated in corruption or bad practice since Qatar was awarded the tournament. The list of enquiries investigations, legal actions and the like would take thousands of words to describe.
States like Qatar, with its enormous wealth derived from its massive reserves of natural gas, can afford to spend huge sums on supporting or sponsoring sporting events to green wash their dubious political activities. They are safe in the knowledge that simply by waving large cheques at sporting entities, they can secure these events with no sign of sportsmen or women, their managers or coaches, showing the least concern about the activities going on in those countries.
To build the stadiums has caused a large number of deaths, either from safety failures or from heat exhaustion. The labourers, recruited under the infamous kafala system, are unable to change employers, are not allowed to join a trade union, and live in appalling squalor often sleeping in shifts in the same bed. Their wages are often stolen and despite investigations and promises, there seems no end to the abuses. Various statements have been made by FIFA representatives expressing concern at the deaths and Qatar has made promises to improve their practices. It seems however, that nothing was actually done.
Women are still second-class citizens suffering under a range of gender-based restrictions. They must seek permission from a male guardian to study or travel abroad, marry, or work in some government jobs. Some hotels will not allow single women under the age of 35 to stay.
Some of the footballers have expressed concern but seemed to say there was nothing they could do, and it was all too late anyway since the stadiums were built. A boycott would serve no purpose one England team person said.
So, a tournament takes place soon, in a country where an unknown number of workers – with few rights – have died building the stadiums, where corruption on a massive scale has taken place and where women enjoy few rights. Nothing political will be said because we depend on their gas following Russia cutting off their supplies. Our sports pages will be full of the results and eager reportage of England’s progress in the tournament and will show scant attention to events beyond the pitch. A neat encapsulation of where human rights are today perhaps.
Sources used in this post: HRW; al Jazeera, Amnesty; The Guardian
Readers may also like to link to FairSquare human rights organisation, based in London, which has published reports on abusive labour practices in Qatar.