Ffrom the Beijing Winter Olympics to the Saudi funded LIV golf tournament, 2022 has already provided ample evidence of the value of sports laundry for states with a global image problem. The upcoming World Cup in Qatar, only five months away, will complete a series of events designed to increase the soft power of authoritarian regimes.
The decision to grant the rights to host the World Cup to a hot Persian Gulf state with a poor human rights record has sparked widespread bewilderment, suspicion and dismay. Last November, the US Department of Justice supposed that officials working in world football’s governing body, FIFA, were bribed ahead of a decisive vote in 2010. But since then, the spotlight on Qatar has provided an opportunity for human rights activists. Lobbying for a huge migrant workforce that has historically been brutally exploited has produced tangible results. A minimum wage was introduced, albeit at a very low level. The abusive kafala system, which tied workers to one employer, has been largely eliminated, and in most cases an exit permit is no longer required to leave the country.
This is obviously welcome progress. But there is a long way to go before the rights of labor, mostly from South Asia, from some of the world’s poorest countries, are properly protected. The Guardian has been reporting since 2013 on the need for action to protect migrant workers supplying the labor force that fuels the ambitious “state-building” programs of Qatar and neighboring states. Thousands of people have died in Qatar since 2010, according to an analysis published last year. A minority of them were directly involved in the construction of new stadiums. Many others will be involved in the unprecedented building program, including a new airport, public transportation systems and hotels.
Unexpected deaths of previously healthy young people remain unexplained or attributed to natural causes. Amnesty International report published in April found that some migrant workers were forced to work in conditions amounting to forced labor, with illegal long hours in extreme heat and no days off. Other investigations dedicated salary abuses, with some workers not being paid for five months.
The two largest unions in the UK, Unite and Unison, have joined Amnesty and Human Rights Watch to call Gareth Southgate’s English team will publicly endorse two proposals to protect the rights of migrant workers in Qatar. First, a center for migrant workers needs to be set up to offer advice, support and representation in a country where it is still illegal to join a union. The second concerns compensation for the relatives of workers who died during the performance of major public works. Fifpro, which represents the interests of 65,000 professional football players worldwide, has offered $440 million to the cause, the equivalent of the World Cup prize money offered by FIFA. With a profit expected to exceed $7 billion, that doesn’t seem like much.
In his wonderful “Dear England” letter, written ahead of last summer’s Euro 2020 football tournament, Mr Southgate wrote that he and his players are obligated to use their profile and platform to “talk debate, raise awareness and educate”. On issues such as anti-racism, they have done so with great success. This was announced by the captain of the team Harry Kane. discussions occur among the players due to the fact that they take a collective position on human rights issues in Qatar. They and the FA should follow the example of their counterparts in the Netherlands and Denmark and support these proposals. The positive legacy of the controversial World Cup can still emerge.