The 2022 FIFA World Cup will be held in a graveyard.
Already an estimated 1,200 workers have died building Qatar’s World Cup stadiums and associated infrastructure. This number is expected to rise to 4,000 over the next seven years. Basically a worker a day.
The International Trade Union Confederation compiled these numbers based on statistics from just two countries — Nepal and India — which account for around 50 per cent of Qatar’s migrant workforce.
In other words, the death toll could be much, much higher. But currently it looks like this.
How are people dying in such numbers? Workplace accidents, falls from unsafe scaffolding, disease and suicide account for many. But the biggest cause of death is cardiac arrest.
You know how FIFA decided to hold the 2022 World Cup in the Qatari winter because of justifiable concerns about the effect of 50-degree heat on players during a 90-minute soccer match? Construction workers toil all day in that heat. And die in it.
For those that do survive, there are the lousiest working conditions on the planet, in the world’s wealthiest nation per capita — 100-hour weeks, poor pay, late pay, often no pay, no rights, no recourse, putrid living conditions, hunger, overcrowding, injuries, sickness and stresses mental, emotional and physical. Construction workers can’t even be sure their employers will give them free drinking water.
Recently, migrant workers were forced to run a marathon in jeans and thongs, if they had shoes at all, in a Guinness World Record attempt that fell 17,000 runners short of the target. Others are called in to bolster crowds at sporting events to promote the idea of Qatar as a sports loving nation.
Nepalese workers who sought to return home and bury relatives after the earthquake in their homeland were refused. They are slaves to their employers, bound to them for up to five years, their passports confiscated, their movements restricted.
TV crews that expose these abuses have been arrested.
And where has FIFA been in all this? This organisation that moved heaven and earth to hold a World Cup in an oven and then buried a report investigating alleged corruption in the voting process.
Well, it talks the talk, but that’s about it. There are platitudes about ensuring the introduction of basic labour standards and the potential for positive social change in Qatar as it is swathed in the global spotlight. You didn’t expect more, did you?
After winning an unlikely fifth term as President of soccer’s governing body over the weekend, against the backdrop of FIFA officials being marched off in handcuffs in impressive numbers, Sepp Blatter yet again resorted to nautical references to romanticise the repair job ahead.
“For the next four years I will be in command of this boat called FIFA and we will bring it back ashore, we will bring it back to the beach,” he said.
As appalling as the entrenched corruption appears to be, there can be nothing more pressing for FIFA than the human atrocities occurring in Qatar, in its name, under its watch and as a result of its corruption.
Today marks the first day of the Qatari summer. The peak of the killing season.
“If FIFA is serious about this, they can turn it around. They can turn it around, but they choose not to,” says International Trade Union Confederation general secretary Sharan Burrow.
Over to you, Mr Blatter.