FIFA scandal highlights humanitarian crisis around 2022 World Cup

FIFA's Problems Go Beyond Sepp Blatter

College Contributor Network

Soccer, or futbol, is the world's game. Billions of people around the globe regardless of religion, language, social class and geography play and watch soccer. Here in the United States there is undoubtedly a growing interest, but it is still not at the fore front of the average sports fan's consciousness.

That was until recently, when the scandal and corruption stories started pouring in about FIFA and its captain, Sepp Blatter. Stories of bribes, racketeering, collusion, votes bought and sold, then warrants and extraditions. Now, even the casual sports fan is glued to their phones and televisions waiting to see what will unfold next. A new audience is tuning into soccer news, and that is great for the sport without question. But there is a travesty playing out as a byproduct of FIFA and soccer's corruption that is more alarming than any off-the-wall quote Blatter could give, and much more deserving of a heightened awareness.

Blatter is a seemingly personable 80-year-old man from Switzerland, who was the president of FIFA (Federation International de Football Association), the governing body of worldwide soccer from 1998-June 2, 2105. To the casual fan, unaware of the intricacies of global soccer, World Cups, et al., it would seem surprising that this man has been one of the most corrupt leaders world sports has ever seen. But that is indeed the case.

Under Blatter, FIFA has seen countless millions of dollars change hands to control everything from positions on the Executive Committee, to locations of World Cups, anything and everything that could be bought was for sale. Offenses range from $40,000 handshakes at the Caribbean Football Union meeting in Trinidad, to one Executive Committee member, Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay, requesting a knighthood in exchange for his vote for South Africa to host the 2010 World Cup, according to a report by the New York Times.

Under this polluted leadership, international soccer governing has come under international scrutiny. Most recently, the United States indicted 14 FIFA officials, accused of accepting bribes totaling upwards of $150 million since 1991. While Blatter was not amongst those indicted in the first round up, many of his closest associates were named, including current FIFA Vice-President Jeffrey Webb, and Jack Warner, former VP from Trinidad and Tobago. Warner was the president of CONCACAF (the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football), which the United States is a part of. He was suspended and eventually resigned from FIFA in 2011 amid allegations of corruption.

This toxic cloud of corruption has been harmful to soccer in every form and fashion. From youth leagues and developing teams and confederations, to millions of workers on a much larger scale. In 2010, in an election that is considered fraudulent by many to this day, Russia and Qatar were awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, respectively. This decision created waves through global soccer from the minute it was announced. Qatar especially seemed a wrong choice for the World Cup on a most basic level, as skyrocketing temperatures in the Summer would make it literally impossible to have the event at its normal Summer time. This would force the Cup to be played in the Winter, interrupting professional soccer schedules around the world.

Aside from the scheduling and logistical issues posed by this almost undoubtedly rigged appointment of the 2022 Cup to Qatar, there is an issue that far exceeds any bribery in its corruption, shock or sin. That is the worker crisis in Qatar. In the Five years since Qatar was awarded the World Cup, 1200 workers have died (and reported, casualty figures in this story reflect deaths that are reported by two countries, India and Nepal. Data from other nation's migrant workers is not available). 1200 is more than in the past five Olympics, and three World Cups combined, exponentially. Those events had a total of 125 worker casualties. The conditions faced by migrant workers constructing the World Cup facilities in Qatar make the Sochi Olympics and its travesties look like a minor OSHA violation. That is not to minimize or trivialize the 60 workers that lost their lives in Russia preparing for those Winter Games, but rather to highlight just how grave the situation in Qatar is. The International Trade Union Confederation estimates that more than 4000 workers could lose their lives before everything is ready for Qatar to host the Cup in 2022.

What does this have to do with FIFA? Through the corrupt elections, Blatter and his money and handshakes gave a major international sporting event to a country that lacks the infrastructure and means to host it, and the regulatory bodies to ensure that such infrastructure is constructed in a safe and humanitarian manner. The result is tens of thousands of migrants coming from all around Qatar for a chance to better their lives and their families lives through a job with the World Cup. Migrants that then find themselves victims of a corrupt and brutal system of modern slavery.

In 2014, amid international humanitarian concerns, Qatar hired international law firm DLA Piper to investigate workers conditions in the construction sector and report with suggestions to remedy the situation. In that report, DLA Piper found that roughly 1.39 million migrant workers were in the state of Qatar, with migrant workers making up over 86% of the population. These workers come from Nepal, India, the Philippines, Malaysia, Kenya and many other nations in northern Africa and the Middle East. Recruiters from Qatar come to these nations and charge exorbitant amounts of money in recruitment fees, most of which are payed through high-interest loans that the workers have to take out in their home country. In exchange for the recruitment fees, the workers sign a contract to work in Qatar in jobs in their field with rewarding salaries. Upon arrival in Qatar, most of these illusions are shattered. Amnesty International and the International Trade Union Confederation both published reports in which they found repeated examples of workers having no rights, falling victim to a kafala system which rules the region and leaves the workers powerless.

The kafala system is a system used by many countries in the region to control migrant workers. The system requires workers to have an in-country sponsor who is responsible for their visa and legal status, that sponsor generally winds up being their employer. Upon arrival in Qatar, most workers have their passports and visas confiscated by their employer, and are then not at liberty to leave or challenge the authority. These workers live with as many as 30 or 40 other workers, many without proper food, water and other basic necessities. They then report to physically demanding jobs, working 60 hours a week in the Qatar summers, which average 122 degrees Fahrenheit highs, for much less money than their original contracts stipulated.

The leading causes for death amongst migrant workers according to the ITUC are work accidents, heart attack brought on by the life threatening effects of heat stress, or diseases from squalid living conditions. All in the name of building billions of dollars of structures of Qatar to host a World cup. In the ITUC report, it is alleged that upwards of $200 Billion will be spent on government and infrastructure projects before the World Cup. These projects include the construction of a new airport, new subway and light rail systems, new roads, sewage, 20 skyscrapers and 9-12 World Cup stadiums.

After the 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal, killing more than 8,000 people, the Guardian reported that Nepalese workers in Qatar were being denied the right to return to their homes to help their families.

"After the earthquake of 25 April, we requested all companies in Qatar to give their Nepalese workers special leave and pay for their airfare home," said Ted Bahadur Gurung, Nepal's about minister, to the Guardian. "While workers in some sectors of the economy have been given this, those on World Cup construction sites are not being allowed to leave because of the pressure to complete projects on time.They have lost relatives and their homes and are enduring very difficult conditions in Qatar. This is adding to their suffering."

Above being denied the right to repatriate and the right to safe and fair working conditions, these workers often find themselves victims of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of their sponsors, with no where to turn for fear of detention or fines at the hands of a Qatar legal system which affords migrant workers no rights.

While Qatar has responded to some reports of misconduct and inhumane working conditions, all legislation has been toothless and no real action has been taken to change any conditions. Amnesty International found that little to no progress had been made on nine key issues. Those issues are migrant workers being prevented from leaving the country by their employers, the over-reaching kafala system giving rise to abuse including forced labor, domestic workers given no legal protection, migrant workers receiving late, little or no pay, abuses mounting up to human trafficking, workers dying of heart attacks or dangerous working conditions, no access to justice for victims of labor exploitation, migrant workers not being allowed to form or join unions, and no labor standard enforcements.

This is a good point to stop and reflect on the fact that all of this is being done in the name of international sport. While Sepp Blatter holds press conferences and declares "I am the president of everybody!", a humanitarian crisis is happening while many remain unaware, and those who are aware remain indifferent.

Blatter, FIFA and the corruption of international soccer at its highest level has captured everyone's attention. While it is a fascinating show to be sure, on the other side of the world a disgrace so reprehensible is being committed in the name of sport. Hopefully FIFA's recent exposure will also shed light on this modern day slavery before the World Cup becomes an institution built on the exploitation of laborers. Before FIFA's legacy is tainted forever. Before soccer and its governance has taken more lives than it has dollars.

Annie Moore is a junior at the University of Louisville majoring in Communications with a Sport Administration minor. She believes Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame. Follow her on Twitter: @AnyMoreSports
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