FIFA, the World Cup, and Slave Labor

Last year, we ran a blog series called “Re-think the World Cup”, a report and critique examining the preparations and aftermaths of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Out of that we placed FIFA, the profoundly corrupt and dictatorial organization that runs international soccer, at the #4 spot on our Top Ten Corporate Criminals List. We also circulated a petition demanding deep structural reforms to the organization.

Almost a year has passed since the 2014 World Cup, and in the span of only a few recent weeks we have witnessed a groundbreaking prosecution of top FIFA officials, the resignation of FIFA President Sepp Blatter, and reports that meetings on comprehensive reforms of the organization have begun. We’d like to think that some progress has been made – but there’s still much work to be done to ensure that profit and corruption of sport doesn’t come at the expense of communities and human rights.

In particular, our views should remain focused not only on the wake of devastation that FIFA has left Brazil with (see: hundred million dollar stadiums sitting empty after hosting only a handful of games, while many people still live without basic access to healthcare and sanitation), but also the 2022 World Cup scheduled to be held in Qatar.

In the media, critics of FIFA and Qatar’s selection as host country for the 2022 World Cup tend to focus largely on the corrupt means by which the Qataris likely won their bid. But while corruption should rightly be a target of criticism, the larger issue which transcends any problems of corruption is that of the slave labor currently being used in Qatar to prepare for the 2022 World Cup.

According to a Guardian investigation:

Nepalese workers died at a rate of almost one a day in Qatar… The investigation found evidence to suggest that thousands of Nepalese, who make up the single largest group of laborers in Qatar, face exploitation and abuses that amount to modern-day slavery, as defined by the International Labour Organisation, during a building binge paving the way for 2022.

According to Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International: “The evidence uncovered by the Guardian is clear proof of the use of systematic forced labor in Qatar. In fact, these working conditions and the astonishing number of deaths of vulnerable workers go beyond forced labor to the slavery of old where human beings were treated as objects. There is no longer a risk that the World Cup might be built on forced labor. It is already happening.”

Even if, hypothetically, the choice of Qatar as World Cup host was totally free of corruption, the current choice should still be obvious: Qatar must be stripped of its 2022 World Cup selection. Slave labor in and of itself should be enough to justify that.

The media’s focus on corruption of the Qatari bid distracts us from this larger and more important issue at play. How FIFA can turn a blind eye to slave labor and arrogantly pronounce that the 2022 World Cup will continue as planned is nothing short of repulsive. But we should also come to expect nothing less out of FIFA – its benevolence runs loyal only to its corporate sponsorships and dollar signs; it has no moral compass, no sense of humanity. If it did, Qatar would never have been chosen to host the World Cup in the first place.

Please, let’s strip Qatar of the 2022 World Cup. Not because it was awarded by corrupt means, which it very well might have been, but because slavery and sport should never go hand in hand.

TAKE ACTION: It’s time to Reform FIFA