Over the weekend, two very different stories emerged out of the tiny Gulf State and its controversy-plagued World Cup plans.
First, video was released of the Al-Wakrah Stadium. Not to revive the old “Mulva” joke of “Seinfeld” fame, but one popular website immediately declared the stadium looked alarmingly similar to a part of the female anatomy. (Use your imagination.)
Decidedly less funny is the report filed by Amnesty over the weekend about the working conditions to build the $220 billion worth of stadiums and infrastructure in the desert for the month-long tournament in 2022. The phrase “treated like cattle” is used to describe the working conditions of the mostly migrant labor force from southern Asia, who many have labeled modern-day slaves. One hospital treated over 1,000 injuries from workers falling from a heights during construction.
There’s also the issue of exit visas in Qatar, where workers aren’t allowed to leave the country without the consent of their employer. The plight of French soccer player Zahir Belounis, who is unable to leave the country after a dispute with his club, has helped bring this story into the spotlight.
FIFA says it is working with Qatar to improve working conditions, but given the organizations track record for dragging its feet and hiding behind bureaucratic jargon, it’s hard to be anything but dubious about its claims. Last week Sepp Blatter said Qatar was “on the right track” toward improving the conditions for workers.
Monday Qatari organizers responded to the Amnesty report, saying they are working on establishing standards that contractors must follow.
An interesting counterpoint about the criticisms over the Qatar World Cup and its questionable human rights track record was raised in October by FIFA communications Walter De Gregorio who said there might be a “human rights hypocrisy.” He wondered would the existence of Guantanamo Bay exclude the United States from hosting a World Cup?
That said, there are still nine years before the World Cup goes to Qatar. That creates ample time for the organizers to find a time in the schedule to play the games so they aren’t conducted in 120-degree heat. It should also give them time to at least attempt to improve working conditions for the people building the stadiums. It’s hard to think deep-pocketed FIFA sponsors like Budweiser and McDonalds want to see their names used in the same sentence as slave labor.
Whether or not they want to see their logos attached to a stadium that looks like, you know, remains to be seen. Maybe the last-laugh is going to be on Qatar itself as it prepares to host the 2022 World Cup.