Playing your part

At the start of April, I travelled to Doha as part of an investigation into the conditions of migrant workers labouring on the construction sites of Qatar. What I saw was a disgrace. The workers I met told me of abuse, exploitation and deception.

One Kenyan father I met had been unable to see his child for five years because his employer had seized his passport and left the country, leaving him stranded and unable to work or go home. Others told of no payment or underpayment and said the conditions they lived in were inhuman. Sometimes as many as eight men shared a room no bigger than a child’s bedroom.

Many of those I met told me about a total lack of health and safety protection. The number of deaths by heart failure is so extreme that the firm appointed to assess the allegations which were unearthed by the Guardian, Amnesty International and others, recommended a full inquiry.

The Qataris have since announced very limited reform, including some changes to kafala, the sponsorship system for migrant labourers. But let’s be clear, this is a very small step in the right direction; there is industrial-scale abuse of workers in Qatar and nothing announced so far will bring that to an end. These proud workers shouldn’t have to die while building a World Cup.

–       Jim Murphy, The Guardian

What are you supposed to do? How are you supposed to feel? Surely you’re not to blame, right?

You’ve been looking forward to the World Cup for 4 years. It’s a month during which you can revel in sport, fascinated by all of the cultures coming together over one of the world’s most widespread, simplest, and cheapest games to play.

But men are dying in Qatar. Dying miles away from their families, in one of the world’s richest countries, having attempted to flee from poverty. Dying while building stadiums that will be used for the 2022 Cup.

You don’t know how many have died. According to Slate, Qatari officials were saying as recently as April that no-one had died while doing work for the World Cup. However, the International Trade Union Confederation has said that 1,200 migrants have died in the four years since Qatar was awarded the Cup, with the Nepalese Embassy in Qatar saying that 400 of them have been from their country.

But what are you supposed to do? How are you supposed to feel?

Surely, you’re not responsible. You’re just a random who watches the games, talks about them with workmates, attends World Cup parties down the pub and at your mates’ houses. Someone whose complete knowledge of Costa Rica and Honduras comes from their occasional qualification for the Finals. You’re just an armchair critic of the sport, the teams and through them the national characters of as diverse a range of nations as you’re likely to engage with for a long time. You’re just someone who loves the games, the narratives, the history and the spectacle. You’re just someone playing your miniscule, irrelevant part in one of the world’s biggest events.

So you’re not even close to being responsible, right?

Isn’t it the fault of FIFA for awarding the World Cup to Qatar in the first place? Isn’t it the fault of Qatar’s government, or any other people with power in the country who don’t speak out about the indescribable conditions migrant workers are forced to endure?

Or is there just the slightest bit of guilt that belongs to you? For isn’t this tournament’s success all thanks to the casual fans? The literal millions of people soaking in the games, the spectacle, and all of the advertising surrounding them? Aren’t they, and by implication you, the ones bringing FIFA the billions of dollars that the tournament earns through tickets, advertising, sponsorships and broadcasting rights? Aren’t they the reason Qatari officials allegedly bribed their way to the hosting rights, as the officials so desperately wanted casual fans like you to watch games, participate in conversations and hold parties at which everyone would be talking about, promoting and sharing in the biggest event in Qatar’s history?

Don’t FIFA and Qatar know that you’ll watch the games and soak in the advertising regardless of the issues surrounding the World Cup? Doesn’t this make you just a little culpable?

You don’t know.

And either way, what are you supposed to do? How are you supposed to feel?

Are you supposed to stop watching the games? What a pathetically pointless protest. Cutting off your nose to spite your face – missing out on sharing in sporting history with your friends and family in order to suggest that a tiny country on the other side of the world should be changing its migrant worker laws. It’d be a protest that no-one would hear – you don’t even have a black-ratings-box on your TV to register the fact that you wouldn’t be watching.

No, you know what will happen.

When the World Cup starts in Brazil later this month, you will watch the games the way you always do. You will be sucked in to the joy-de-vivre of the occasion and feel as cultured as ever, learning about countries far away from yours. You will use the event as an excuse to catch-up with family and friends, reminiscing about old times while sharing in the love of their company during the present.  You will feel as righteous as you can, as you know what’s going on in Qatar – you will voice your disgust and despair at what has been reported – but you will be safe in the knowledge that there’s nothing you can do from your position half-way across the world. You’d change the world, if only you weren’t so magnificently insignificant.

And besides, Qatar isn’t holding the World Cup until 2022 and some believe FIFA might even take the tournament away from the country between now and then.

So, for now, you will relax and enjoy Brazil 2014 without feeling any reservations at all. You’ll remind yourself that one of the benefits of this World Cup is that it’s made you aware of all of Brazil’s various social issues. And such knowledge, even if you can’t do anything about it and will probably never think about it again after the tournament, is a good thing, right?

You’re educated. You know what’s happening.

And you’re going to love the World Cup regardless.

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