We all know everything that is wrong about the World Cup being held in Qatar in 2022 – and it’s not that it’s going to be staged in November and December – so I won’t rehash too much of this, lest you literally light on fire out of boredom.
What I do want to do however is talk about potentially stopping the World Cup being held in a nation that not only isn’t in love with football, doesn’t seem to have any real opinion on anything other than exploiting poor workers. Obviously, you and I can’t stop our favourite football competition being held there, no matter how many Change.org petitions we start.
A demographic though that most definitely can change the whereabouts of the 2022 World Cup is none other than the players who will take part, as well as their club and international managers. It’s something I’ve seen rarely mentioned in articles about this travesty of a competition, as if outrage is reserved only for fans and journalists, while footballers and managers sit there with a shisha pipe up their arses while playing as themselves on FIFA.
I feel very strongly about this, not because I have any tangible connection to the migrant workers in Qatar, but because it would be remiss of any self-presuming intelligent and empathetic person to sit back and ignore everything that is wrong with building a World Cup on the corpses of an exploited people, merely looking to make some money. I also feel strongly about this because I love football, and the thought of watching the World Cup in Qatar, knowing how it came to be, sickens me truly.
As I said, I myself can’t stop this happening. But if the world’s top players and managers were to step out of their little cozy forts for a little bit, look at what is truly happening in Qatar and speak out against it, things truly could change. Football is full of intelligent people, we just don’t get to hear from them often, because speaking intelligibly – if only for a few seconds – can be enough to have the full wrath of football’s governing bodies smashed down on top of them, leaving little more than soundbites behind.
Just imagine it for a second though. Imagine Arsene Wenger coming out and saying that he feels that FIFA should look at themselves for the suffering their tournament is causing to workers in Qatar, and to look at the sheer absurdity of holding the tournament in a country that bans two people of the same sex from loving each other. Imagine how much attention his comments would get.
I don’t know Wenger but it wouldn’t surprise me if he did feel this way, but why would he say it if no one else was to stand up? But what if, after he came out, other people followed suit? What if, within a number of days hundreds of members of the footballing community came out against this travesty of a tournament?
In reality, there’s little to stop them. Football is not beholden to FIFA, far from it. FIFA exists because of football, not the other way around. They profit off the fact that they know we love the game, that despite their insidious corruption and evil we’ll still travel in our thousands and pay in our millions to watch the game. Sure, they probably think that FIFA and football are one in the same, perhaps they don’t realise how much of a house of cards their system is. But it is just that. And if football’s leading people spoke out against them that would soon become apparent.
Part of the problem, in my eyes, is that because it’s all taking place in Qatar there’s a serious case of “out of sight, out of mind”. This is a nation of just under two million people, mostly ex-pats, one that isn’t in the news very often. It’s a country that’s far away, one that we can put to the back of our minds, regardless of the atrocities taking place there.
What’s more, the workers being exploited and dying at exceptionally alarming rates are almost all from Nepal. Another place we can store in the apathetic folder of our minds. We can’t relate to them, we think. But they’re people, and indulge me for a second and imagine if these people were from somewhere better represented by professional footballers.
Imagine they had somewhat of a voice in the game or on the world stage. Hypothetically imagine that the majority of migrant workers being exploited in Qatar weren’t from Nepal, imagine they were from the Ivory Coast. Ridiculous, I know, but I’ve got a point.
My point is that if they were indeed from the Ivory Coast, would we not see the likes of Yaya Toure, Gervinho, Kolo Toure and Wilfried Bony speak out against their cruel treatment? Of course we would! They would campaign, they would warm up before matches with t-shirts supporting their compatriots and they would use every pre and post-match interview to fight their cause. It would then catch on amongst their team mates and the rest of the footballing world and eventually, FIFA would listen.
Perhaps that’s what’s most disgusting about what FIFA and the Qatari authorities are doing. Not just that they are exploiting workers who just want to feed their families, but that they’re doing so to workers whom they know have little or no voice on the international stage. A group of people that only a relative handful are campaigning for.
FIFA have claimed to not be fully aware of the goings on in Qatar in the lead up to the tournament but to believe that would be remarkably naïve. They know exactly what’s happening, and if they wanted to change it themselves, they would have by now.
Some advocates – even those who disagree with the manner in which Qatar was awarded this tournament – state that the decision to award the tournament is actually improving workers’ rights in the kingdom. They insist that it is bringing about the sort of change in a matter of years that without the eyes of the world watching, could have taken decades, or even centuries. But is that enough? Is it enough to be told to forget about the abuses, because things are gradually getting better, bit by bit? I honestly don’t believe so.
When South Africa was in the midst of the shame that was apartheid, FIFA acted by banning them from its organisation and its competitions. Their logic clearly being that by preventing them from being represented on the world stage, by damaging the nation’s image internationally, it might in some way help to bring an end to the atrocities. But because what is happening in Qatar is not in fact happening to Qataris, there is no such action.
Much like in Brazil, where there were riots and protests over the building of the stadia when people were going hungry on the streets, FIFA appears to believe that the World Cup should be awarded to a country in the hope that it may encourage social change and improvement. That it might be the catalyst for a new future, full of hope, football and FIFA licensed merchandise. When in fact I and many others feel that it should be quite the opposite.
The World Cup, in my eyes, should be the prize for social change. In an ideal world countries would seek to improve the lives of their citizens of their own volition. Because those who are elected have been put there by the people and because the people deserve to live well. But in reality, people need a reason, a motivation, to do things. Even when quality of life it as stake.
As such, the World Cup could be used as a reward for improvements in living standards, a badge of honour for a nation whose work for their people has been recognised. It should not be awarded to tyrannical leaders and states who have little intention other than to put on a glossy sporting soap opera to show the rest of the world how far they have come since their inception.
To stop this World Cup from happening, or to at least force changes to improve the lives of these workers so no more need to die for our enjoyment, the world’s leading football figures need to empathise with the plight of the people being mistreated and violated. They need to put not themselves but their cousins, uncles and countrymen in the shoes of these workers and imagine how they’d feel about it then.
FIFA may think it is football, but it is not. Footballers are football. There’s a lot of talk about “player power” in modern football. Players like to see themselves as role models to people around the world. If they really are, maybe it’s worth exercising their power in more ways than just getting better wages.
If we want anything to happen in regards to this, they must take a stand. Otherwise there’ll be blood on their feet, as well as FIFA’s hands.