The 2022 World Cup: the dark ethics of sports consumption

Melanie Do ‘23, Entertainment Editor

The long-awaited FIFA World Cup kicked off in Qatar on Nov. 20. Despite the excitement of fans around the world, the 2022 World Cup has been swarming with intense controversy as Qatar has been accused of severely violating workers’ rights and disregarding environmental concerns. This has led to mixed feelings from football fans as some rebuke the games being held in the middle eastern country.

Back in December 2010, FIFA officials formally granted Qatar the prestigious right to host the 2022 World Cup—a right that brings in an abundance of financial and political benefits. This decision made Qatar the very first country from the Middle East to host the tournament; however, it was met with immediate resistance as allegations arose regarding the legitimacy of the vote, stating that a number of senior FIFA officials had been bribed to vote for the country. Following a two-year-long investigation, FIFA’s ethics committee came to a conclusion that Jack Warner, Mohammed bin Hammam and Reynald Temarii—the individuals most likely to be involved—were no longer engaged in football and ultimately voted to allow Qatar to host the event.

Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter disclosed in his autobiography, Ma Vérité, that the Qatar bid committee cheated in order to gain the rights to host the World Cup. Blatter further explained that the Qatari government paid off and placed extreme political pressure on FIFA’s senior officials at the time. He claimed that if officials had properly reviewed Qatar’s candidacy, they would have never granted Qatar the rights to host the games.

In the 12 years that it has taken for Qatar to build the necessary infrastructure and accommodations to host the World Cup, several news outlets have reported that over 6,500 migrant workers have died due to the inhumane working conditions at many of the country’s construction sites—however, these reports do not connect all 6,500 deaths to infrastructure projects directly having to do with the World Cup. On Nov. 28, a TV interview between Piers Morgan and Qatar’s World Cup chief Hassan Al-Thawadi disclosed that between 400 and 500 migrant workers have died in projects directly related to the tournament. 

Despite the various reforms that have been put in place, Qatar predominantly abides by the kafala system, which forms a set sponsorship between migrant workers and their employers. This means that workers are highly dependent on their employers, thus leading to unchecked human rights abuse and exploitation. According to Amnesty International—a non-governmental organization focused on human rights—workers’ passports were stolen, and they were promised false salaries as well as oftentimes had their wages withheld. On top of that, workers were regularly threatened by their superiors if they attempted to leave the country or the stadium they were expected to build.

Within the years leading up to the event, FIFA had made a pledge to keep the 2022 World Cup carbon-neutral, but now many people are accusing Qatar of green-washing—a term used to describe a form of deceptive advertising used in order to persuade the public that an organization’s aims are environmentally friendly. This is due to the fact that a consequential amount of carbon was emitted during the construction process, contradicting that vow.

The tournament has become a highly controversial event following the numerous environmental and humanitarian concerns, leaving many fans to debate boycotting the games. An anonymous senior said, “I refuse to watch games played in stadiums built from slave labor,” They continued, “Even though France—my favorite team is playing, I don’t want to support this.”

On the other hand, with the World Cup only taking place once every four years, many football fans are choosing to tune into the games simply out of excitement and passion for the sport. Math teacher and sports enthusiast, Mr. Kevin Pasquarella, explained, “One of the benefits of sports is that it has a way of bringing people of different races, religions, political ideologies and cultures together to cheer on a team. Very few events in society are able to do this.” He goes on to mention Iran’s first game in the 2022 World Cup where the players stood silently during their national anthem in support of women protesting in their home country. This act of solidarity has reached the attention of viewers worldwide—including the leaders of oppressive countries. “If we boycott these games, we then miss [the] opportunity for statements like these to be made…you also lose the ability to highlight atrocities on the world stage,” Pasquarella said.

Regardless of one’s decision to boycott the World Cup or not, the event is undoubtedly tainted by the shocking human rights violations faced by the workers. The act of disregarding these transgressions sets a precedent that FIFA cares more about money than migrant lives. FIFA’s final decision to allow the World Cup to proceed in Qatar, while being fully aware of the conditions, has upheld the demand for migrant labor—exponentially increasing the number of lives taken or harmed during the grueling construction process. Not only has this year’s World Cup tarnished the legacy of FIFA, but it has impaired many fans’ respect for the organization. In times like this, at what point do we draw the line for sports consumption? Can we separate the sport from the organization?

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