Exposing ethical issues of the World Cup

by Levin Brenner, Sports Reporter
graphic by Julie Wang

The FIFA World Cup is the biggest sporting event in the world and was expected to draw in more than five billion viewers, according to NBC Sports. Every four years, one nation hosts the month-long spectacle, where hundreds of thousands of fans flock from all around the world to attend.

In 2010, the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), the governing body of the World Cup, selected Qatar from a group of five bids to host the 2022 World Cup. Criticism and outrage ensued, mostly directed at the FIFA president at the time, Sepp Blatter. With new reports of corruption and human rights violations, the beauty and thrill of the game has been overshadowed by the horrors that went into hosting it.

With a population of 2.9 million people, Qatar is the smallest country ever to host a World Cup. In 2010, Qatar had only one stadium large enough to host a World Cup match; seven more had to be built in preparation for the tournament. 

But the problems didn’t end there. The country lacked adequate transportation and accommodations for FIFA’s estimated 1.2 million fans who were to attend the tournament. Business Insider estimates the total cost of the World Cup to be about $229 billion — 16 times more than what Russia spent in 2018.

Seven stadiums, hundreds of accommodation buildings and several brand-new transportation systems had to be built. With a small domestic labor force, Qatar relied heavily on migrant workers from other countries, especially Nepal, India and Bangladesh. 

In order to work in Qatar, migrant workers had to obtain working visas, which Business Insider approximated as costing up to $4,000. Unable to pay that cost, many workers turned to their Qatari employers to sponsor their visas, which trapped them in a punitive labor system called the kafala system. 

Under the system, the employer has complete control over their workers’ jobs and immigration status. Workers in this system, who helped to renovate and upgrade the Khalifa International Stadium, where Team USA played their final match, earned an average of just $2,640 a year.

Dangerous working conditions compounded these low wages, as construction workers found themselves building in the scorching heat of the summer months, in temperatures that surpassed 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Heart problems and body deformities due to heavy lifting were widespread. 

It was only after seven years of construction and in response to increasing pressure from human rights groups that FIFA banned certain working hours in the summer months. Still, The Guardian estimates that 6,500 migrant workers died working in Qatar from 2010 to 2020.

According to The New York Times, 200 of those deaths were recorded by human rights groups as suicides. Because workers’ immigration and job status were controlled by their employers, the freedom to visit loved ones and the ability to reform working conditions was restricted, leaving them trapped. Qatari organizers denied the high death count.

Another concern regarding Qatar surrounded the country’s anti-LGBTQ+ stance. Although Qatari organizers have stated that members of the LGBTQ+ community are welcome, homosexuality is still punishable by prison in Qatar. The Guardian reported that FIFA banned the rainbow armbands famously worn by captain players like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, threatening to sanction teams.

Although Qatar has tried to maintain a good image, the government has struggled to silence protests from participating countries. In March, Germany’s players posed for a photo of themselves dressed in black with white letters across their chests, spelling out “HUMAN RIGHTS.” 

Human rights groups supporting the #PayUpFIFA campaign have also called for $440 million, the amount of money allotted to the winner of the World Cup, to be raised in retribution for the fallen workers.

For a World Cup with as many underlying issues as Qatar 2022, the drama of the game spreads far past the pitch. Blatter, the ex-president of FIFA, was quoted in NPR saying, “[Choosing Qatar to host] was a bad choice, and I was responsible.”

Politics, death and corruption have dominated this World Cup, casting a shadow over what is a truly beautiful game.