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The cost of staging a modern World Cup
February 17, 2014 5:35 AM   Subscribe

Qatar has proposed a bold vision of its future in 2022, but at what cost? In September 2013, the Guardian reported that up to 4,000 migrant workers would die during the construction process for Qatar's staging of the football World Cup in 2022. The Pravasi Nepali Coordination Committee, an advocacy group representing Nepalese and South Asian migrant workers, estimates that 400 Nepalese have died on Qatari construction sites since 2010. Nepalese make up around 20% of the migrant workforce. In the past two years 450 Indian workers have died on construction sites.

Much of the initial attention has been on the welfare of the players, officials and fans. FIFA, the world governing body, has now ruled out holding the tournament in summer. Through the five hottest summer months, when migrant worker deaths peak, daytime temperatures in Doha average 40°C (100°F) but can reach as high as 50°C (122°F).

The migrant trade is a system that exploits at multiple levels: in theory, workers will earn £120 ($200) a month, equivalent to £0.33 ($0.5) an hour. To do this, they must pay an agent in Nepal the equivalent of more than six months of wages. In most cases they must borrow this money, bringing the total owed to around £1,050($1775) before they set foot in Qatar.

A November 2013 Amnesty report, The Dark Side of Migration entitled found that: workers' terms and conditions were different from promised, including lower salaries: pay withheld for months, or not being paid at all; employers left workers "undocumented" and at risk of being detained by the authorities; migrant workers passports would be confiscated to prevent them leaving the country at will; workers being made to work excessive hours with inadequate health and safety; workers were being housed in squalid accommodation. This system is known as Kafala.

In November 2013 the European Parliament passed a resolution expressing concern at the plight of migrant workers but stopped short of calling for the abolition of the Kafala system. The Kafala system is used through the Gulf. The number of migrant workers in Qatar is forecast to increase sharply. Already, migrant workers, including the smaller number of white collar migrants, account for 90% of Qatar's population of 2m.

The problems have been known since 2011 and before. Belatedly, Qatar has announced that it will issue new guidelines to protect migrant workers. The standards will not apply to migrant workers building Qatar's infrastructure. FIFA has welcomed the move, disclaimed responsibility for working conditions, and ruled out stripping Qatar of the right to hold the tournament although privately officials have not, apparently, ruled out moving the tournament elsewhere.
posted by MuffinMan (32 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
MuffinMan: "Already, migrant workers, including the smaller number of white collar migrants, account for 90% of Qatar's population of 2m."

Sounds like potential strength in numbers. I'd be worried if I were in a position of power over those workers.
posted by krinklyfig at 5:42 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Analysis: Qatar 2022 puts Fifa's reputation on the line

OK, I am pretty new to this whole World Cup thing -- I've only really paid attention to the last two, but does FIFA have a reputation to put on the line? They seem kind of like the IOC -- casual fans of the sporting events don't really know they exist and more knowledgeable fans despise them, except, perhaps, for the political theater. Am I wrong?
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:58 AM on February 17 [6 favorites]


Analysis: Qatar 2022 puts Fifa's reputation on the line

Let's see. Reputation? FIFA is corrupt beyond all means. Qatar 2022: FIFA has done well to protect its reputation!
posted by eriko at 6:02 AM on February 17 [10 favorites]


I'd be worried if I were in a position of power over those workers.

One APC with a couple of guys in it can mow down a surprising number of construction workers. Nail guns are pretty nifty, but they're not that nifty and when you're an important player in other political excitement-zones in the Gulf & North Africa you can do a lot of mowing-down.

Besides, everyone knows a spot of footie is more important than a couple hundred Nepalis. If it weren't, they wouldn't have gone with Qatar in the first place. It's not like the assholes didn't know about Kafala. Hell, they're probably trying to figure out if they can use a similar scheme across the league. Y'know, for team-planning stability. Razor-wire player dorms? Well, that's just to keep them safe from the ultras and suchlike. Surely you can see that my good fellow!
posted by aramaic at 6:02 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


ARGH and I'm still stressing about the World Cup in Rio, what with the mass evictions and mass protests (and apparently worker deaths as well). I'm fucking done with sports mega-events.* Just too much crappiness in the name of national pride.

* Except what can an American with a vague interest in soccer actually do?
posted by spamandkimchi at 6:05 AM on February 17 [3 favorites]


* Except what can an American with a vague interest in soccer actually do?

Snarky answer: Watch MLS.

Actual answer: Watch NWSL when they start. I'll be pulling hard for the Red Stars if they actually play in Chicago. Looks down again at the Bridgeview Fire.
posted by eriko at 6:08 AM on February 17


Why should FIFA be singled out? The USAF had an air force base built in Qatar - with American tax dollars - and that hardly caused a stir. Al Udeid, represents the future, Hagel said. “The more we can understand each other, work with each other, the better the world is going to be.”

Just like the warm embrace from the Obama administration, it can only be a good thing in the long run for FIFA to work with Qatar. So we can understand each other more.
posted by three blind mice at 6:13 AM on February 17


Previously: Can a slavery system include a middle class: The Truth About The Luxury of Qatar Airways.

Related: Qatar grants exit visa to stranded French footballer.
"To be honest, I think it will be held between November 15 and January 15 at the latest."
Oh ok, let's just organize all the other leagues and tournaments around that then shall we?

What a giant clusterfuck of stupidity and corruption.
posted by xqwzts at 6:38 AM on February 17 [3 favorites]


I think it would be great if Qatar 2022 became the cup in which most players choose club over country. FIFA and the Al Thani feudal lords could enjoy the fruit of corruption: an insignificant World Cup played by also-rans in nearly empty air-conditioned outdoor arenas.

Of course leagues around the world will probably knuckle under and change their schedules to accommodate the jumped-up oil king and his bought-and-paid-for Fédération Internationale, but it would sure be nice if they didn't. I think there's been too much graft passed already for a venue change to be realistic, and you can bet the kingdom would claw back every riyal they've laid out on stadium construction.

The never-ending gush of oil and its attendant international wealth and status mirrors the bottomless well of desperate human labor that the Qatari are willing to exploit to death in pursuit of glamour and recognition. With that kind of money, you can buy your way out of bad press.

FIFA sucks.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 7:12 AM on February 17 [6 favorites]


It's astonishing how much money is dumped into the professional versions of a game that are happily played anywhere folks can squeeze a relatively flat playing space. By astonishing, I mean really, really depressing.

Basketball needs a hard, flat surface and raised hoops. Baseball is more basic, but you'll still need a suitable bat and ball you can throw. Football (US: soccer) is beautiful for how truly basic it is. Kick a ball into the scoring area on your opponent's side of the playing space. Sure, there are official dimensions for the pitch, but you can make do with generally agreed upon dimensions and still have fun. All you really need, equipment-wise, is a ball, and you have a lot more lee-way in that than you do for a baseball or basketball.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:24 AM on February 17 [5 favorites]


4,000 workers will die? Cripes, are they building pyramids?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:47 AM on February 17 [7 favorites]


It's very deliberate how countries like Qatar have imported so many people but have also done so from many different countries. I think they're banking very heavily on the idea that when the workers are far from home and support networks, kept destitute, and then do not necessarily speak the same language or come from the same cultural backgrounds as other unhappy foreign workers in their vicinity.
posted by Sequence at 7:48 AM on February 17 [6 favorites]


a 10-degree centigrade difference is only an 18-degree fahrenheit difference, not 22 as stated in the fpp (/annoying temperature pedant).
posted by bruce at 8:05 AM on February 17


Except it seems Qatar will overcome this "safety" of mixed cultures, and with the Nepalese making up 40% of the labor population, it seems possible that they could coordinate efforts.

But the easiest way to keep slaves from rising up is to work them so hard that they have no energy to do anything.


4,000 workers will die? Cripes, are they building pyramids?

They aren't building monuments for the dead, but a new $45bn (£28bn) city for the living. In the desert, with insufficient access to water and food. Young men are dying from heart failure.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:12 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


I think it would be great if Qatar 2022 became the cup in which most players choose club over country.

FIFA rules ensure that any player that gets called up for an international has to play for the international team rather than any conflicting club commitments, and can be banned from playing domestic games if they do not.

I don't know what would happen if everyone retired from international football en masse just before the tournament though.
posted by dng at 8:13 AM on February 17


Analysis: Qatar 2022 puts Fifa's reputation on the line

OK, I am pretty new to this whole World Cup thing -- I've only really paid attention to the last two, but does FIFA have a reputation to put on the line? They seem kind of like the IOC -- casual fans of the sporting events don't really know they exist and more knowledgeable fans despise them, except, perhaps, for the political theater. Am I wrong?


AHAHAHAHA no you are not wrong. I can only assume that this is intended to test the limits of absurdist humor by making absolutely no God damn fucking sense. OMFG sometimes I think the only reason the IOC exists is to make people go "See? FIFA could be worse!" and to demonstrate the concept of "the banality of evil" but other than the IOC FIFA is the worst thing.

"FIFA's reputation on the line". Oh pundits! You kill me!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:18 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


The IOC has actually cleaned up its act—a little bit—since the Salt Lake scandal. I think these days FIFA noses it out in the stinks-of-corruption stakes.
posted by stargell at 8:21 AM on February 17


Through the five hottest summer months, when migrant worker deaths peak, daytime temperatures in Doha average 40°C (100°F) but can reach as high as 50°C (122°F).

I've been in temperatures over 50°C, and let me tell you, you cannot make things safe for humans to exert themselves in those conditions. It really hit home for me when I realized that 50°C means water is closer to boiling than to freezing. Seriously. Just think about that for a second, consider that you likely spend most of your time around one-fifth of the way from freeze to boil, and tell me you would be able to function.

Shade, misting machines, hydration, loose clothing... nothing that isn't "not working outside" helps, and in fact it probably leads to even more deaths because people don't "feel" quite as hot as their bodies actually are. If people are doing work outside in the summer in 50°C, people will die. Failing to account for that isn't ignorance, it's homicidal indifference.
posted by Etrigan at 8:24 AM on February 17 [4 favorites]


Boycotting FIFA is the only answer that makes sense. So despite being a football fan all my life, I won't be watching a FIFA fixture again until I get the sense that they are making at least some attempt to achieve their objective of "building a better future" for anyone other than themselves.
posted by walrus at 9:24 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


The IOC has actually cleaned up its act—a little bit—since the Salt Lake scandal

Those guys sent their lawyers after a 45-year-old Greek restaurant in Vancouver because it had, for all that time, been called "Olympia". Not impressed with IOC for that. Don't fuck with Olympia, in a city full of crap pizza they are a shining beacon of hope and I will fight you.
posted by Hoopo at 9:25 AM on February 17 [5 favorites]


Mefite on the ground in Doha reporting in.

I have been working in Qatar for a few years now.

For what its worth, I have yet to meet a local or expat here who has thought any of these allegations are in the least bit exaggerated or untrue.
posted by FunGus at 9:46 AM on February 17 [6 favorites]


I wish these reports would at least make a footnote to the fact that the reason this outrage continues is because the governments (countries) that "supply" these workers are corrupt, inefficient, and uncaring. Just look at India as one example. Here's Nepal.

What's going on is a very few persons (relatively speaking) lining their pockets at the expense of the potential to maximize the human, financial, and social capital of their respective countries. Those people - every one of them - should be outed, and shamed. These mega-events cost too much for the few weeks of pleasure that they deliver.
posted by Vibrissae at 10:55 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


How do any of the people responsible sleep at night? Jesus wept.
posted by ob1quixote at 4:11 PM on February 17


How do any of the people responsible sleep at night? Jesus wept.

Easy. You consider some people as truly sub-human.
posted by Talez at 5:16 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


I'd like to see an IOC/FIFA corruption-off. Turn the tables, and instead of having cities blatantly bribe the IOC and FIFA to choose them (as sites to hold games that will waste billions of dollars on white elephant stadiums), have a couple rounds we're FIFA and the IOC have to get a city to choose between the two organizations. "Berlin, which appeals more, the IOC or FIFA?" All forms of corruption would be allowed in the competition (but would still be punishable by law, just for fun). The finals would be held in Chicago.

In all seriousness, I can't even pretend to enjoy the Olympics. I'd like to. I'd love to watch curling and just enjoy the athletes competing at the apex of their sport. I'd love to sit and think, damn, how do mogul-skiers not need knee replacements after each run. I can't, really, without thinking about the godforsaken bullshit they've spawned. The blatant corruption and payoffs, the maniacal trademark ridiculousness, the idea that the IOC and/or FIFA are so graciously allowing these cities/countries to host their games, and the whole mistaken idea that the presence of these events does anything other than temporarily boost the approval of whoever is in charge at the time. Seriously, I want to enjoy the games, but I'm tired of all the shit that has to be eaten (with a smile) for these events to take place.

woo. Tokyo 2020. woo. With any luck, I'll be able to rent out my house and avoid everything all together. Only thirty minutes by train from Tokyo Station! Taking reservations now!
posted by Ghidorah at 5:19 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Talez: “Easy. You consider some people as truly sub-human.”
I know this is the right answer. I just can't imagine being the kind of person who receives the weekly casualty reports for my construction project and doesn't do something to make it better.
posted by ob1quixote at 5:53 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, back in India...

I think it's actually somewhat understandable to say that great feats of construction can and will lead to many workers dying... that said, this doesn't mean that there shouldn't be labor standards enforced.

I'm actually cautiously optimistic that the public attention Qatar is getting on this issue could lead to improvements that save lives, even after FIFA. International outrage and threats of boycotts really do matter... but yeah, people will die, whether they are doing the work in the heat of the day, or in the dark of night.

It would be nice, perhaps, if they weren't a place of incredible wealth in the midst of an inhospitable desert... but they are. Even with the best labor standards, it seems pretty clear that Qatar will be engineered for their needs, at a great cost of life.
posted by markkraft at 6:09 PM on February 17


think it's actually somewhat understandable to say that great feats of construction can and will lead to many workers dying... that said, this doesn't mean that there shouldn't be labor standards enforced.

Nobody died in the construction of London 2012, but that was a unionised workforce in a country with pretty strong health and safety law. Unfortunately, saving lives costs a bit more money.
posted by knapah at 3:32 AM on February 18


knapah, not only does Qatar have a fair amount more money, it's spending 10 times as much as London did on hosting the 2012 Olympics. Which is all round disgusting.
posted by ambrosen at 6:04 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]


Yes, this isn't really about money. It is about a mindset among Gulf state elites that migrant workers are expendable and that others are born to serve; in the case of white collar workers this relates to their jobs; in the case of unskilled labor this relates to their lives.

A friend who grew up in the eighties in Dubai, where his family were involved in setting up Emirates, used to relate all sorts of tall tales about the ruling classes at a time when Dubai was still making the transition from sleepy backwater to its current incarnation. One story which sticks in the mind and highlights the implicit xenophobia and one sidedness of the thinking: when an Emirati had a car accident with a foreigner, regardless of who was actually at fault, the blame was the foreigner's because if he hadn't been in their country in the first place then the Emirati could not have hit him.

South Asian workers are just a low value, expendable 'other'. Worse, this view is true not only the Gulf; I was regularly taken aback when upper class Indians treated their 'inferiors' with such little courtesy or respect. In a practical sense, nobody much gives a damn about the health and safety of construction workers in India either if it drives up costs - there are always others willing to take the same job if you don't.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:48 AM on February 18


One story which sticks in the mind and highlights the implicit xenophobia and one sidedness of the thinking: when an Emirati had a car accident with a foreigner, regardless of who was actually at fault, the blame was the foreigner's because if he hadn't been in their country in the first place then the Emirati could not have hit him.

An ex-girlfriend's father went to Saudi Arabia for a bank contract and he was told if he was ever in a car accident to get to the airport and leave the country. It would be his fault no matter what.
posted by Talez at 7:33 AM on February 18


An ex-girlfriend's father went to Saudi Arabia for a bank contract and he was told if he was ever in a car accident to get to the airport and leave the country. It would be his fault no matter what.

When I worked at the U.S. Embassy in Egypt, we were issued "accident cards" -- little business cards with something to the effect of "You have been in an accident with a member of the U.S. diplomatic mission. Bring this to the U.S. Embassy and ask to speak with a consular officer." We were instructed to, in case of a car accident in our official or personal vehicle, to lower the window only enough to throw that card out onto the street and then to drive to the Embassy immediately. No stopping for cops, no apologizing for the accident, no checking to see whether anyone was hurt. Just drop the card and move.

I thought this was just us being paranoid until I saw an incredibly minor accident in traffic one day, and both drivers (who appeared to be Egyptians) came out of their cars screaming and swinging their fists -- no arguing, no posing, just crash-bambambam. The fight was literally louder than the collision. I kept my accident cards a little more readily at hand after seeing that.
posted by Etrigan at 7:48 AM on February 18


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