By Helen Kelly
Imagine this: Trained in architectural design, you hear of a job going in Qatar helping with the engineering of the gulf state’s $79.1 billion stadia and supporting infrastructure for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. You sign a $3,300 per month contract before you leave home. Then you arrive in Doha, only to be told you will be a labourer working 60 hours per week for $260 per month. You can’t get away because under Qatari law you can’t change jobs or leave the country unless your employer agrees.
As a migrant, you are made to live in a remote and squalid camp, 14 to a room, and denied entry to shops, restaurants and other public places. All around you your colleagues are dying. A body a day leaves Qatar for Nepal alone – 162 Nepalese deaths over a ten month period from heart attacks, suicides and workplace accidents.
It sounds like a dystopian science fiction novel, but this is a real story from a Philippino worker trapped in Qatar right now.
When Sepp Blatter announced that Qatar would host the 2022 World Cup it left a lot of people wondering how it would be possible to play football in 50 degree Celsius heat. The answer, we were told, was that Qatar would spend a little over 31 billion dollars building air conditioned stadia – something that had never been attempted anywhere in the world before.
This World Cup is costing $150 billion – 9 times the amount spent on the London Olympics and 60 times more than South Africa 2010. FIFA assured the world that this would be a wonderful thing for the development of the game in new places where the World Cup had never been before.
What we weren’t told was that this would all be accomplished on the back of what can only be described as slave labour.
Qatari workers have no right to unionise or strike and they can’t change jobs without the permission of their employers. Leaving a job can result in jail. 86% of migrant workers in Qatar have their passports held by their employers. Wages can be withheld for months without cause. Many more people will die building the 2022 World Cup infrastructure than will take to the field in the tournament.
Not even star footballers are exempt from the country’s dodgy employment practices. Former Fulham player Abdeslam Ouaddou, who played 57 times for Morocco, had his contract broken and is still owed unpaid wages by his former club owned by Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the media magnate who is also the president of Paris Saint Germain.
Ouaddou, having been fortunate to escape the country, is now speaking out about the situation in Qatar. He says “The Qataris think they can get away with everything, because they think money can buy anything – buildings, shares, beautiful cars – and men. For them, I was nothing but a slave!”
Another international player, Algeria’s Zahir Belounis, has publically stated that he was almost driven to suicide by a similar situation to that of Ouaddou.
Despite many meetings and promises made by both the Qatari Labour Minister and FIFA, with and to the International Trade Union Confederation, nothing has changed.
Qatar was awarded hosting rights to the 2022 World Cup five years ahead of the usual schedule. There is still plenty of time for FIFA to save lives, undo some of the damage they have done and prevent what should be a wonderful sporting tournament becoming any further tarnished in this way – by rerunning the vote to award the World Cup to Qatar.
Some say that sport and politics don’t mix. But in reality they have always been connected and entwined. As lovers of football we all have a responsibility to ensure that the game is not covered in the blood of workers, dying unnecessarily in Qatar. You can help stand up for these workers and protect the reputation of the game.
You can send a message to Sepp Blatter and the FIFA Executive Committee to do the right thing by going to www.RerunTheVote.org and signing the petition. You can also follow the campaign on Twitter @equaltimes and via the hashtag #rerunthevote
[Helen Kelly is President of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions]
Categories: FIFA New Zealand 2015
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.