The labour abuse in Qatar demands action from national FAs

Bloomberg have published an article by Jonathan Mahler today, in which he discusses the continued labour problems associated with the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Using an estimation provided by the International Trade Union Commission, Mahler projects that – by the time the competition is actually staged – 4,000 workers will have died as a direct or indirect consequence of their involvement with the project.

As US website DeadSpin pointed out earlier in the week, that’s a greater human-cost than 9/11.

That’s horrifying.

Mahler concludes within his article that FIFA, despite its refusal to interfere with what it sees as ‘political issues’ is complicit in those deaths and has a burden of responsibility to the migrant workers who are being put in such danger.

He’s right, of course, but it’s fair to assume that FIFA will continue their trend of merely ‘hoping nobody notices’ and doing very little. Sitting back and waiting for FIFA to recognise its obligations is a naive approach to this problem, and so it feels as if the only remedy here is the application of external pressure.

Without pretending to be an expert on Qatari working conditions or the region’s labour laws, that the ITCU believe that 4,000 fatalities is even a possibility should tell everybody all they need to know. If the Qataris are morally-comfortable with this situation, and FIFA are willing to do nothing beyond posturing to rectify it, then doesn’t some burden of responsibility fall on the member nations and those countries who will likely compete in 2022?

A World Cup is a huge asset commercially, both for the country staging it and FIFA themselves, so it stands to reason that cheap, no-frills labour is in the mutual interest. That’s hugely worrying, because when there’s no incentive for change it invariably doesn’t occur.

FIFA, despite their flimsy protestations, are complicit, but then to a lesser degree so are all the countries who intend to play in Qatar. Maybe not in the same way, but at the very least they’re assuming an enabling role.

At what point do nations start threatening to withdraw? That may sound like a drastic step, but not within the context of people losing their lives in aid of a football tournament. What is everybody so afraid of? What’s stopping Germany, England, Brazil, France, Italy and other nations of similar footballing stature creating a challenge to this situation by threatening to boycott the tournament?

If the Qataris have no incentive to reform their labour legislation, maybe they have to be given one – and if this loss of life is not a sufficient motivation for change, then maybe the threat of losing World Cup revenue and prestige would be?

We’re all preoccupied with how the Qataris actually won the rights to this tournament, but that is very much a secondary concern now. What rich men may or may not have been exchanging in brown envelopes is of minor importance relative to migrant workers being treated as an expendable commodity.

This is a huge problem, and it needs more action that just the occasional article on Bloomberg – the stance should be, ‘satisfy basic human-rights, or your World Cup will no longer have any value.’

I’m quite certain that FIFA would impose all kinds of sanctions on any country who withdrew from a international tournament, but isn’t that a price that’s worth paying – and, in the face of mass-withdrawal, there’s actually very little the game’s governing body would be able to do.

I would take infinitely more pride in my country’s decision to stand against this situation than I ever would in them winning a football tournament.

Jonathan Mahler’s original article for Bloomberg is here.

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