Wednesday, August 31, 2016

FIFA World Cup, 2022: Qatar - Slavery and Bribery

“It’s modern day slavery. It’s a modern day apartheid when people here are being used for their work, and they have no rights whatsoever.” – Paul Lopez

Qatar has placed its bid for, and won, the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the premier global event for professional football/soccer. The bid has since been placed under extreme scrutiny, and is under investigation by the US Federal Bureau of Investigations on charges of suspected bribery and corruption. So far, the investigation has led to the resignation of FIFA President, Sepp Blatter. With a population of almost 2 million people, Qatar will be the first Arab state to host the World Cup. Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, son of Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the then Emir of Qatar, was the chairman of the bid committee. Qatar promoted their hosting of the tournament as representing the Arab World, and have drawn support from member states of the Arab League from around the Middle East. They had also hoped to position their bid as an opportunity to bridge the gap between the Arab World and the West.

President of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, endorsed the idea of having a World Cup in the Arab World, saying in April of 2010, "The Arabic world deserves a World Cup. They have 22 countries and have not had any opportunity to organize the tournament." Blatter also praised Qatar's progress, "When I was first in Qatar, there were 400,000 people there, and now there are 1.6 million. In terms of infrastructure, when you are able to organize the Asian Games in 2006 with more than thirty events for men and women, then that is not in question." On December 2, 2010, it was announced that Qatar would host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

There have since been some problems. A September 2013 report by The Guardian said that a number of Nepalese migrant workers have faced poor conditions as companies handling construction for 2022 World Cup infrastructure project forced workers to stay in country by denying them promised salaries, denying leave for deaths in the family, and withholding necessary worker ID permits, rendering the workers illegal aliens. The Guardian wrote that their 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 Organization, during a building binge paving the way for 2022." Additionally, Nepalese workers in Qatar have been dying at a rate of one per day.

A video report accompanying The Guardian’s article showed men living in labor camps with unsanitary and dilapidated conditions. Workers told The Guardian they were promised high salaries before coming to Qatar, only to have their contracts destroyed upon their arrival. Some said they hadn't been paid in months, but the construction companies denied them their worker IDs or passports, rendering them trapped. Workers described having to beg for food and being beaten. They could try to escape, but if caught without proper papers, they would be arrested.

The Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee denied that construction directly related to the World Cup had yet begun but told The Guardian they are "deeply concerned with the allegations," and said “We have been informed that the relevant government authorities are conducting an investigation into the allegations." In 2013, one-hundred and eighty-five Nepalese died working as migrant construction workers building infrastructure in Qatar. A report released by the International Trade Union Confederation, in March of 2014, estimated that 4,000 more workers could die as Qatar prepares for the World Cup. Human rights group Amnesty International has asked FIFA to intervene to protect these migrant workers from mistreatment.

In March of 2016, Amnesty International accused Qatar of using forced labor and forcing their employees to live in poor conditions and withholding their wages and passports. It also accused FIFA of failing to stop the stadium from being built on "human right abuses." Migrant workers told Amnesty about verbal abuse and threats they received after complaining about not being paid for several months. Nepali workers were even denied leave to visit their family after the 2015 Nepal earthquake. During May of 2011, allegations of bribery on the part of two members of the FIFA Executive Committee were tabled by Lord Triesman of the English FA. These allegations were based on information from a whistle blower involved with the Qatari bid. FIFA has since opened an internal inquiry into the matter, and a revote on the 2022 World Cup remains a possibility, if the allegations are proven. FIFA president Sepp Blatter has admitted that there is a ground swell of popular support to rehold the 2022 vote won by Qatar.

In testimony to a UK parliamentary inquiry board in May of 2011, Lord Triesman alleged that Trinidad and Tobago's Jack Warner demanded $4 million for an education center in his country and Paraguay's Nicolás Léoz asked for an honorary knighthood in exchange for their votes. Also, two Sunday Times reporters testified that they had been told that Jacques Anouma, of the Ivory Coast, and Issa Hayatou, of Cameroon, were each paid $1.5 million to support Qatar's bid for the tournament. All four have denied the allegations. Mohammed bin Hammam, who played a key role in securing the games for Qatar, withdrew as a candidate for president of FIFA, in May of 2011, after being accused of bribing twenty-five FIFA officials to vote for his candidacy. Both Bin Hammam and Warner were suspended by FIFA in wake of these allegations. Warner reacted to his suspension by questioning Blatter's conduct and adding that FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke had also told him that Qatar had bought the 2022 World Cup. Valcke subsequently issued a statement denying he had suggested it was bribery, saying instead that the country had "used its financial muscle to lobby for support."

Qatari officials denied any impropriety and insist that the corruption allegations are being driven by envy and mistrust on the part of those people who do not want the World Cup staged in such a country, a possible reference to the Islamic culture and religion of Qatar. Qatar Airways CEO, Akbar Al Baker, gave an interview to German media in June of 2014, stating, "the country is not getting the respect it deserves over its efforts to hold the World Cup" and the, "Qatari Emir strictly punishes and forbids instances of corruption and bribery with a zero-tolerance policy." The question still remains, though, as to whether Qatar is going to be punished for using what amounts to modern day slave labor. Given these circumstances, is the FIFA committee still going to allow the 2022 FIFA World cup to take place in Qatar? In my personal opinion the FIFA committee should take action and punish Qatar for cheating its way into hosting the event. They should also ban Qatar from future consideration for allowing their central stadium to be built on the backs of unpaid, starved, and physically trapped migrant workers, aka slaves. Let me know what your opinion is in the comments.

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