So far, over one thousand migrant workers have died in the construction of Qatar's World Cup stadia.
For argument's sake, compare that to the latest Israel-Hamas conflict. In this case, around two thousand Palestinians have been killed, many civilians. Conditions in Gaza are awful. There has been worldwide uproar, campaigns of solidarity for the beleaguered Palestinians, as well as condemnation of Israel and calls to boycott its goods and services.
Whether or not you agree with this response in relation to Israel, the same standards should be set against Qatar, perhaps even to a higher degree. While tragic, the deaths of innocent Palestinians and Israelis are a reality of war. In comparison, the loss of thousands of lives - which it will be by 2022, unless we pressure FIFA into change - for something as futile as a football competition is indefensible and shows a reprehensible disregard for human life. Qatar should be punished – not rewarded with hosting football’s most prestigious event.
The kafala system to which these migrants are tied is essentially modern day slavery: they cannot leave without permission of their sponsor and are invariably forced to work unhealthy hours and live in inhumane conditions. Qatari efforts to hide this reality are epitomised by the detention of two British journalists in early September 2014. After attempting to speak to Nepalese migrant workers, these men ‘disappeared’ for a week after being arrested by plain clothed policemen for ‘unspecified charges’, according to news reports.
So far, FIFA’s response to reports of such violations has been, well, typical. Jerome Valcke, the organisation’s secretary general, said in a moment of ostensible nobleness: ‘As the world governing body of the most popular sport we have a responsibility that goes beyond the development of football and the organisation of our competitions’. Yet, in May this year, its president Sepp Blatter undermined his colleague and shrugged off their responsibilities: ‘They [Qatar] have a problem and we know that, but this is not a question for Fifa.’ I’ve been thinking of a word to sum this up, and I think risible fits the bill.
Aside from its slave labour, Qatar is a major financial backer of terrorist organisations. ‘The Club Med for terrorists’ according to the Israeli ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, Qatar is not only where leaders of Hamas reside while the civilians of Gaza bear the brunt of their attacks on Israel, but also home to the sheikhs who have given Hamas hundreds of millions of dollars. This has funded their supply of rockets and the construction of the large and terrifying network of underground tunnels from Gaza into Israel. These were built with the aim of carrying out large-scale terrorist attacks against innocent Israelis, and would have been effective in doing so had they not been discovered and destroyed by the Israeli military.
Qatar also supports Al Nusra, a Syrian offshoot of Al-Qaeda, and reportedly IS, the Islamic State. Not only that, but their Minister of Interior at the time of the successful World Cup bid, Abdullah bin Khaled al Thani, is now awaiting trial for his role in 9/11 as well as numerous other terrorist attacks. Let me emphasise that: this man was in a senior position of the Qatari government at the time of their successful bid for the World Cup. As Martin Samuel writes, ‘piecing this all together makes FIFA’s decision scarcely believable.’
Qatar, along with FIFA, hope the £123 billion construction of shiny new cities and stadia will simply gloss over their human rights violations and unambiguous support of Islamic extremism. Indeed, as Prosor elucidates, ‘Qatar has spared no cost to dress up its country as a liberal, progressive society, yet at its core, the micro monarchy is aggressively financing radical Islamist movements’. It is also worth noting that Qatar has a powerful propaganda tool at their disposal in Al-Jazeera, the broadcaster that they own.
It is time for the world to acknowledge Qatar's pernicious true colours, condemn them for their blatant support of terrorism and pressure those in influential positions to push FIFA into stripping them of the World Cup. Allowing them to host this competition would surely tarnish the game we love, while confirming to us all that the powers that be in football care more about money than morals.