Sports

How many workers must die before FIFA moves World Cup?

Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Doha, Qatar, built on blood.
Image: Getty Images

While we bitch about North American sports and their villainous callousness when it comes to doing whatever it takes to make an extra five bucks, they still cower in the presence of FIFA. American sports can fuck up a city’s financial system. FIFA can literally kill people, at least at a much higher rate than the NFL can.

The Guardian posted a story today illustrating the horrors of preparing Qatar for a World Cup it was simply never prepared to host and does not deserve to host, both for human rights and climate reasons. The nation had to push its slave-system into overdrive to overcome the infrastructure and climate problems, while simply binging on the human rights abuses.

The story is worth a read, even if you don’t want to start your morning off with some truly grizzly details. 6,500 deaths of migrant workers since Qatar was awarded the tournament, or about 12 a week. And that’s probably on the low side of an estimate. And the families of these workers can rarely get information on what happened to their deceased relatives. “Natural causes” is used as a catch-all, even if it’s heatstroke or cardiac arrest or anything related to being overworked horribly in severe weather.

Stories like this have been prevalent for years, whether it’s the horrific conditions these workers have to live in or the ridiculous hours they’re putting in or the impossibility of leaving, it’s no secret that this Qatar World Cup is an abomination. And yet when The Guardian story provides actual numbers, it becomes even more stark.

So the question has to be: What would it take, or have taken, for FIFA to strip Qatar of the next World Cup? Ten thousand deaths? Fifty thousand? Would that have even done it?

It won’t move the tournament now, of course. Its strategy of sloughing off the question or asking for more time so Qatar might even think about cleaning up its practices for long enough so that eventually it would be too close to the tournament to move it. And that’s if FIFA really cared, which they don’t. But now they can use logistics as an excuse. There isn’t enough time, they’ll say.

Which isn’t much of an excuse. There are plenty of countries that could host the tournament now without needing to make any additions to stadiums already built. Germany, England, Spain, Italy, Australia all jump to mind off the top. Japan and South Korea again? The US and Mexico aren’t options because they’re hosting the 2026 edition, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t more than enough.

A year’s run-up, as it would be now, is probably too tight of a window to get all the things around stadiums in order for such a large event, such as hotel space and transportation and the like. But why does it have to be in 2022? The Qatar World Cup already had to be moved from its usual summer spot to November and December to avoid the ridiculous heat, which will fuck up just about every domestic season on the planet, and maybe two seasons. It was already a nuisance to have it there, aside from the atrocities it’s produced. How much more of a nuisance would it be to move it to summer of 2023? Two years would be more than enough time to prepare a country that has the infrastructure in place. Fuck, they moved the 1986 World Cup from Colombia to Mexico with three years warning, and that was 25 years ago.

With the European Championships, Copa America, and Gold Cup all slated to take place this summer, it’s likely most of the federations wouldn’t mind having a bigger gap until the World Cup, if only to give their players a full summer break. The domestic leagues would be delighted to not have to schedule around a winter World Cup when already still feeling the effects of scheduling around a pandemic. The Asia Cup is slated for 2023, and that would have to be worked around, but isn’t impossible. Same goes for the complications of having the men’s and women’s World Cup in the same summer. But is that worth figuring out over rewarding a country for killing thousands to host? Fuckin’ eh right it is.

None of this will happen. The World Cup will kick off on November 21st, 2022, with worldwide coverage offering breathless coverage and barely disguised tourism promos for Qatar, with barely any mention of the carnage that the whole tournament’s foundation is constructed of. FIFA will rake in their billions, which is all that mattered in the first place. Here’s the killer, literally from FIFA:

In a statement, a spokesperson for Fifa, football’s world governing body, said it is fully committed to protecting the rights of workers on Fifa projects. “With the very stringent health and safety measures on site … the frequency of accidents on Fifa World Cup construction sites has been low when compared to other major construction projects around the world,” they said, without providing evidence.

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