OP-ED: Killing in the name of Soccer

Jadon Bachtold

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For a sport defined by culture, pride, and nationalism, soccer has become lethal. In the oil
drowned nation of Qatar, soccer related governmental decisions have claimed the lives of 1,200
migrant workers. These deaths are the direct consequence of the country’s blind political
ambition that has corrupted the crown jewel of soccer, the World Cup.

Despite no legitimate professional soccer league and no soccer culture, in 2010 FIFA
(Fédération Internationale de Football Association) granted Qatar the opportunity to host the
2022 World Cup. As anger towards Qatar’s hosting rose, concerns of climate feasibility heated
up. It was clear that a defiance of tradition was the least of concerns towards Qatar’s bid.

The desert climate of Qatar is not compatible with professional sports. A summer day in
the Gulf Peninsula can reach upwards of 130 degrees Fahrenheit. It would simply not be feasible
(much less healthy) to play professional soccer in such conditions. Not to mention the health
concerns of almost five million spectators roasting in the concrete stadiums.

Aware to this issue, the deep pocketed Qatari’s began constructing brand-new air-
conditioned stadiums. While the players and fans would enjoy a pleasantly cool Qatari
experience, the Nepalese and Indian migrant laborers responsible for the construction would not.

As of September 2017, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) estimates
that over 1,200 foreign workers have died. ITUC Predictions estimate that 2,600 more workers
will perish from cardiac arrest, stroke, suicide and heat related illness before the opening match.
In comparison, seven workers died in the construction for the 2014 Brazil World Cup. These
deaths are a result of the migrant slave labor system of the Middle East known as “Kafala”.

It is also important to look at the economic effect of hosting large tournaments such as
the World Cup. The negative impacts of hosting tournaments of this scale and magnitude often
outweigh the cultural and economic benefits. The recent economic and political turmoil in Brazil
following the World Cup in 2014 and the Rio Olympics in 2016 serve as an example.

Qatar will have spent an unprecedented 220 billion USD by the time the tournament
kicks off. This is due to Qatar’s need for basic infrastructure to support professional soccer. A
nation like Brazil, with preexisting soccer culture and infrastructure, spent 15 billion USD for the
2014 World Cup.

The tournament will obviously not return anything close to the investment Qatar has
made. With a population of just over 220,000 citizens and no fans to fill the 80,000 seats in the
stadiums after the tournaments conclusion, Qatar has committed an investment of 132% of their
annual GDP towards an event that will last six weeks. A lack of cultural significance aside, this
is an investment that the most foolish investor wouldn’t back. So, why would Qatar want to host
a World Cup in the first place?

Today, countries like China and Russia are embodying a similar strategy. Influence is
power. With its economic resources and forward thinking agenda, Qatar is attempting to buy this
influence. The oligarchs of Qatar have consistently shown the world that they want an attractive
future for their tiny Gulf nation. With similar investments into their financial, entertainment, and
sports industries, their goal is to bring Qatar to the world stage. The world’s greatest sporting
event was too large an opportunity to pass up.

With this agenda in mind, the Qataris were relentless in their attempt to secure the bid. In
2011 it was revealed that Qatar had bought votes from several Asian and African delegations.
Later, most of FIFA’s executive officials resigned out of allegations that Qatar had bribed them to overlook potential hazards. When the decision came to a vote, the better qualified bids from
South Korea, Japan, and the United States were overwhelmingly defeated by Qatari corruption.

Many believed that recent mitigation such as the resignation of FIFA’s President Sepp
Blatter, a reported increase in safety standards, and a recently imposed ban on labor during the
hottest time of the day were steps in the right direction. It seemed that soccer would remain an
incorruptible entity and the beautiful game would remain beautiful. However, the recent
announcement of changing to a winter World Cup has left me unconvinced.

The tournament has changed its date, not its location. Migrant laborers are still dying.
The world is watching closer than ever, and again, FIFA has succumbed to Qatar’s money and
political ambition. Some may think that a first ever Arab hosted and winter season World Cup
indicates soccer’s growth and evolution as a worldwide sport. A failure to remedy a mistake
already worth 1,200 human lives is not a representation of growth, it is a reflection upon the
corruption that has infiltrated our sport.

I admit, it does seem like the lives lost would have been for nothing if the tournament
was to be moved. That being said, the only action suitable as a rectification of these horrific
events are for FIFA to finally acknowledge Qatar’s bid for what it was, fraudulent, and to rescind
it. The terrible Kalafa migrant ownership system will continue to be used in Qatar and migrant
families will never hear from family members again. However, FIFA must make a stance that
soccer will not perpetuate this humanitarian crisis.

A 2022 World Cup in England, Spain, or Germany would need no additional
infrastructure or change in season. A viable option exists. One that not only keeps foreign
workers alive, but also maintains the culture and traditions of soccer. By continuing to back an
oligarchical slave nation, FIFA’s true colors are exposed.

The message needs to be heard. The world may be controlled by money, power, and
those with both, but the game we all love should not be.

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