Sports | The World Cup: built by exploited workers

FIFA and a complete disregard for worker conditions

In 2010, FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association – international soccer’s governing body) announced the host countries for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Russia won the 2018 bid over England and joint bids from Netherlands/Belgium and Portugal/Spain, while Qatar, a small Middle Eastern nation, won the 2022 bid over Australia, Japan, South Korea and the United States. When the decisions were announced, there was much howling from the English-speaking media, in part because the UK and U.S. had lost to – as they saw it – worse hosting bids. Immediately after the announcement, the Western press spread rumours that bribery and ‘pressure’ on FIFA were in part responsible for the unexpected result. FIFA, on the other hand, celebrated its first-ever World Cup in the Middle East, a sign of its commitment to the region.

In the years since, the rumours of bribery have only increased (and FIFA has launched their own independent investigation on the matter) without any definitive proof. More worrying, however, is FIFA’s blasé attitude towards the process of setting up for the World Cup in their chosen host countries, and the seeming outside resignation to the incompetence and moral corruptness of the organization.

Last week, the Guardian ran a report claiming that Nepalese workers had been brought into into Qatar to work on the new stadiums, highways, and other infrastructure needed for the nation to be World Cup-ready. The accounts of worker abuse in Qatar are stunning: forced labour, withheld pay, stolen passports and identification, and lack of access to drinking water, among others. The rate of worker deaths this summer was one a day. Again: it’s 2013 and there are basically slaves working on stadiums for the World Cup. Only two members of FIFA’s governing board expressed their outrage at the situation before FIFA’s executive committee meeting last week, while the rest waited until after the meeting (where the primary discussion was on whether rescheduling the 2022 event is plausible). After the meeting, FIFA president Sepp Blatter told the press that FIFA could not “change things” and that “workers’ rights will be the responsibility of [Qatar]” but that FIFA could not “turn a blind eye, but it is not an intervention from FIFA that can change things.” These are probably the emptiest words spoken in human history. Sadly, they’re hardly surprising. One only needs to look at the situation in Brazil, which will host the World Cup in 2014.

A recent BBC article alleges that 111 workers were living in poor conditions near a São Paulo airport, which is currently being expanded for the influx of visitors during the World Cup. Again, the word “slave” comes up, this time from Brazil’s own Labour attorney general’s office. In a separate BBC piece, it is reported that construction was halted at a Brazil stadium because of countless worker safety issues – of “being buried, run over and of collision, falling from heights and being hit by construction material, among other serious risks.” In addition, riots have broken out across Brazil in protest of the government’s spending on the World Cup instead of education or health care and the rampant government corruption. This is for the 2014 World Cup – the one that’s happening in less than a year (!), and FIFA has effectively done nothing to halt rampant worker abuse.

Maybe you’re wondering how the process for the 2018 World Cup in Russia process is going – unfortunately, the situation there is just as dire. According to The Russian Reader (an English blog devoted to reading Russian news articles and spreading news of various governmental abuses), the Russian government passed laws that allow anyone in contract with FIFA to hire immigrants and/or “stateless” people. According to the same source, one section of these laws basically “abolishes all regulation and control over the recruitment of foreign nationals and stateless persons as volunteers – that is, it practically and plainly permits employing migrants without remuneration.” At the same time, the government is imprisoning illegal or soon-to-be deported immigrants – many of whom were working on buildings for Russia’s 2014 Winter Olympics – around where new stadiums are to be built for the 2018 World Cup. It hasn’t quite happened yet, but the potential link is there: builders working with FIFA have the ability to hire these prisoners for their upcoming projects. If that’s not an open invitation for horrible working conditions and near slavery, I don’t know what is.

In essence, FIFA awards World Cup bids to nations on shaky principles – bribery and corruption is often alleged, and has been discovered in other aspects of FIFA decision making – and then basically allows them to do as they please. They have nothing in place that prevents nations from abusing immigrant or lower class workers on a large scale. And when faced with the news, stern words come out from FIFA leadership, but these abuses continue regardless. FIFA knows they’re happening, but, as Blatter demonstrates, they won’t actually do anything about it. A New York Times piece recently laid out the situation in FIFA from the viewpoint of an independent governance committee (a committee set out to investigate the soundness of their own organization) member, Mark Pieth. Pieth said that “[the committee] underestimated that this is a purely self regulated body. They are a bit like the Vatican. No one can force them to change.” FIFA will continue to do effectively nothing to curb worker abuse, because they cannot be challenged.

That’s precisely the problem: almost every person who’s looked into the situation has accepted that FIFA is a colossal clusterfuck littered with corruption and poor practice. Reaction to the latest news of worker abuse has been vociferous, but also strangely resigned – there have been plenty of tweets and stories that paint this as ‘business as usual,’ or ‘classic FIFA.’ ESPN.com’s Jeff MacGregor has a column against it, but it’s hardly prominent on their website; SI.com has reported on FIFA’s course of action but without the righteous anger the situation deserves.

FIFA has done so poorly to fairly regulate soccer throughout the world with a basic regard for humanity that people are no longer shocked by it. All we hear is a weak call for action with the knowledge that nothing can be done. It’s a monolithic federation run by incompetents with little regard for humanity, yet they’ve become ingrained in the sports world. Most soccer fans just want to see the World Cup above all else – above directly acting or protesting FIFA and the countries that are working the way they do. Fans are either apathetic, or feel powerless. Worker abuse has become FIFA’s business as usual, and barely anything has been done to stop it.se hosting bids. Immediately after the announcement, the Western press spread rumours that bribery and pressure on FIFA were in part responsible for the unexpected result. FIFA, on the other hand, celebrated its first-ever World Cup in the Middle East, a sign of its commitment to the region.

In the years since, the rumours of bribery have only increased (and FIFA has launched their own independent investigation on the matter) without any definitive proof. More worrying, however, is FIFA’s blasé attitude towards the process of setting up for the World Cup in their chosen host countries, and the seeming outside resignation to the incompetence and moral corruptness of the organization.

Last week, the Guardian ran a report claiming that Nepalese workers had been brought into into Qatar to work on the new stadiums, highways, and other infrastructure needed for the nation to be World Cup-ready. The accounts of worker abuse in Qatar are stunning: forced labour, withheld pay, stolen passports and identification, and lack of access to drinking water, among others. The rate of worker deaths this summer was one a day. Again: it’s 2013 and there are basically slaves working on stadiums for the World Cup. Only two members of FIFA’s governing board expressed their outrage at the situation before FIFA’s executive committee meeting last week, while the rest waited until after the meeting (where the primary discussion was on whether rescheduling the 2022 event is plausible). After the meeting, FIFA president Sepp Blatter told the press that FIFA could not “change things” and that “workers” rights will be the responsibility of [Qatar] but that FIFA could not ìturn a blind eye, but it is not an intervention from FIFA that can change things.î These are probably the emptiest words spoken in human history. Sadly, theyíre hardly surprising. One only needs to look at the situation in Brazil, which will host the World Cup in 2014.

A recent BBC article alleges that 111 workers were living in poor conditions near a S„o Paulo airport, which is currently being expanded for the influx of visitors during the World Cup. Again, the word ìslaveî comes up, this time from Brazilís own Labour attorney generalís office. In a separate BBC piece, it is reported that construction was halted at a Brazil stadium because of countless worker safety issues ñ of ìbeing buried, run over and of collision, falling from heights and being hit by construction material, among other serious risks.î In addition, riots have broken out across Brazil in protest of the governmentís spending on the World Cup instead of education or health care and the rampant government corruption. This is for the 2014 World Cup ñ the one thatís happening in less than a year (!), and FIFA has effectively done nothing to halt rampant worker abuse.

Maybe youíre wondering how the process for the 2018 World Cup in Russia process is going ñ unfortunately, the situation there is just as dire. According to The Russian Reader (an English blog devoted to reading Russian news articles and spreading news of various governmental abuses), the Russian government passed laws that allow anyone in contract with FIFA to hire immigrants and/or ìstatelessî people. According to the same source, one section of these laws basically ìabolishes all regulation and control over the recruitment of foreign nationals and stateless persons as volunteers ñ that is, it practically and plainly permits employing migrants without remuneration.î At the same time, the government is imprisoning illegal or soon-to-be deported immigrants ñ many of whom were working on buildings for Russiaís 2014 Winter Olympics ñ around where new stadiums are to be built for the 2018 World Cup. It hasnít quite happened yet, but the potential link is there: builders working with FIFA have the ability to hire these prisoners for their upcoming projects. If thatís not an open invitation for horrible working conditions and near slavery, I donít know what is.

In essence, FIFA awards World Cup bids to nations on shaky principles ñ bribery and corruption is often alleged, and has been discovered in other aspects of FIFA decision making ñ and then basically allows them to do as they please. They have nothing in place that prevents nations from abusing immigrant or lower class workers on a large scale. And when faced with the news, stern words come out from FIFA leadership, but these abuses continue regardless. FIFA knows theyíre happening, but, as Blatter demonstrates, they wonít actually do anything about it. A New York Times piece recently laid out the situation in FIFA from the viewpoint of an independent governance committee (a committee set out to investigate the soundness of their own organization) member, Mark Pieth. Pieth said that ì[the committee] underestimated that this is a purely self regulated body. They are a bit like the Vatican. No one can force them to change.î FIFA will continue to do effectively nothing to curb worker abuse, because they cannot be challenged.

Thatís precisely the problem: almost every person whoís looked into the situation has accepted that FIFA is a colossal clusterfuck littered with corruption and poor practice. Reaction to the latest news of worker abuse has been vociferous, but also strangely resigned ñ there have been plenty of tweets and stories that paint this as ëbusiness as usual,í or ëclassic FIFA.í ESPN.comís Jeff MacGregor has a column against it, but itís hardly prominent on their website; SI.com has reported on FIFAís course of action but withoutthe righteous anger the situation deserves.

FIFA has done so poorly to fairly regulate soccer throughout the world with a basic regard for humanity that people are no longer shocked by it. All we hear is a weak call for action with the knowledge that nothing can be done. Itís a monolithic federation run by incompetents with little regard for humanity, yet theyíve become ingrained in the sports world. Most soccer fans just want to see the World Cup above all else ñ above directly acting or protesting FIFA and the countries that are working the way they do. Fans are either apathetic, or feel powerless. Worker abuse has become FIFAís business as usual, and barely anything has been done to stop it.


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