Should we be glad that the organization of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Football might soon be taken away from Qatar, because of the enslaved workers there, building the stadiums and facilities?
Or should we pity the fact that these poor workers might become deprived from their only source of income and perhaps… a better future for themselves and their family?! That is the diabolical dilemma that we are currently facing!
May 2015 has definitely been the month of the world football federation FIFA and their “good old” president Josef ‘Sepp’ Blatter.
In May, Sepp Blatter endured the ongoing FBI investigation into the ubiquitous FIFA corruption of the last decades, as well as the recent arrest of seven of his co-members in the executive board of this global football federation.
He did so in the utmost denial of anything being wrong with him or with his conduct as FIFA president, akin to be like Manuel, the helpless waiter from the British comedy series Fawlty Towers: “I know nothing. I am from Barcelona”. And even the accusations against him of his former fellow official and "undisputed-top-dog-of-FIFA-corruption" Jack Warner did not seem to hurt Blatter at all. Instead, all this flowed off of him, like water from a swimming duck.
After that, Sepp Blatter resisted the palace revolution against his position as FIFA president, organized by the Jordanian prince Ali bin Hussein, former Portuguese football superstar Luis Figo and Dutch football official Michael van Praag. He did so with a superior display of ease and seemingly in total control, knowing that he had everybody ‘in the pocket’. Everybody who listened closely, could hear the sighs of relief in Moscow, Russia and Doha, Qatar after Blatter’s re-election was a fact.
However, then the (un)expected climax came, when Sepp Blatter resigned his regained presidency only a few days later, for reasons unknown. And while we still not know which ‘banana peel’ from the past made Blatter stumble, we suspect that his road ahead was probably cluttered with such banana peels, waiting for him to stumble upon.
The most radical consequence of Sepp Blatter, stepping back as president of the FIFA, might be that the FIFA itself will feel forced to take the 2022 FIFA World Cup Football away from Qatar. After all, it seems clear that this country has acquired the organization through massive bribery of FIFA executives during the bidding process.
And by doing so, the FIFA might save the lives of dozens, perhaps hundreds of ‘slave workers’ from Bangladesh, Nepal, India and other East-Asian countries.
These poor workers build the stadiums and other facilities for the football tournament under the poorest of labour circumstances and with virtually no rights, forms of personal protection and privileges. In many cases, the passports and other personal belongings of these workers have been confiscated by their employers or their straw men, thus turning the workers into ‘working slaves’, without any civil rights and legal protection at all.
Every working day, these working slaves run an unacceptable risk to lose their lives or their health, due to the relentless desert heat, the minimal protective measures taken by their employers and the numerous accidents, which happen at the various building sites in Qatar.
Although the unofficial death toll of 1200 foreign workers during World Cup construction activities seems to be seriously flawed, the official Qatari claim that none of the workers has perished during construction work at all, seems appaling to these eyes.
So one could easily think that it is a good thing after all, that all the building activities for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Football might stop in Qatar.
But then what will happen with these poor, enslaved workers from East Asia, when their only source of income vanishes? Will they be sentenced to a life in utter poverty in their home country?!
Reluctantly, I must admit that the answer is probably ‘yes’!. That is, until the next corporate bloodsucker comes along to offer them a new job at extremely poor wages and under the poorest of labour circumstances. And then, these workers will probably say ‘yes’ again to the offer at hand. Simply, because they need the money!
As that is the diabolical dilemma with these so-called ‘slave workers’: even the poorest, worst-paid job under the poorest of labour circumstances generates at least an income and a prospect for a better future for the workers and their families. Staying at home, jobless and without a future to look forward to, doesn’t!
So, in spite of the terrible circumstances, the job in Qatar might have come as a blessing in disguise for the tens of thousands of workers from these poor, East Asian countries. They had at least a job and earned at least some money that they could send home to their families. And even the poorest of payments in Qatar was probably much, much higher than the wages that they could earn by staying and working at home.
That is the reason that many, many fresh workers will take the risk and run the gauntlet in the Qatari desert. All hoping to not die from a heart attack or a heatstroke in the blistering desert heat. Or to become lifelong disabled, as a consequence of an accident at the building site. They need the money in order to get a better future for themselves, their family and loved ones, no matter what.
Of course, the labour unions (f.i. the FNV labour federation) and other non-profit organizations from The Netherlands and other Western countries are totally right with their continuing battle against the many accidents, the poor labour circumstances and the slave-like conditions for the workers in Qatar.
But there is also a certain amount of hypocrisy in the Western complaints, as the western countries won’t offer these workers a chance for a better future in ‘Fort Europe’ or ‘Fort America’. Period! We are glad to help these Nepalese workers, as long as they don't decide to come to us, looking for a job in our very building industry.
And our Western companies themselves, who are operating in the same East Asian countries?! These are not exactly renowned for the generous salaries and wages, or the modern, ergonomical and safe production and accomodation facilities that they offer to these workers, manufacturing our sport shoes, household electronics and clothing.
No, these companies are rather infamous for demanding the lowest cost price for all production work in the clothing, footwear and manufacturing industry in these countries. And everybody can know, by now: low cost prices and poor and dangerous labour circumstances are unfortunately birds of the same feather.
So perhaps we should even hope that the 2022 FIFA World Cup Football is not taken away from Qatar. Not for the rich, spoilt and oil-drained sheiks and other extremely wealthy citizens living there. People, who see this WC as the ultimate toy to show off with…
But for the thousands and thousands of poor workers from the East Asian countries, who desperately need their income from their hard, hard labour in Qatar, while building the modernest and most luxurious temples for the most popular sport in the world.
And that is a bitter conclusion.
Tomorrow part II of this short series will follow.