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Why did bribery and not human rights abuses get us talking about Fifa?

The working and living conditions of some migrant workers in Qatar have been widely denounced.

THE WORLD HAS watched as controversy engulfs the governing body of soccer.

On 27 May, nine Fifa officials (together with five corporate executives) were taken into custody from a hotel in Zurich, Switzerland over allegations of corruption, specifically the receipt of enormous bribes totalling $100 million (€92 million).

On 2 June, Sepp Blatter – who was not arrested – announced he was going to step down as president of Fifa, having been in the role since 1998. The news came just days after he was re-elected for a fifth term.

Former Fifa vice-president Jack Warner has threatened to implicate Blatter and several others.

FIFA WCup Bids Investigation Sepp Blatter announces Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup (2010). Source: AP/Press Association Images

All of this has cast the spotlight back onto Qatar – which won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup – in controversial circumstances in 2010.

The country has a questionable human rights record and its ‘kafala’ labour law has been harshly criticised.

During the week, the Washington Post released a stark graphic highlighting the number of migrant workers who have died in Qatar in recent years.

An estimated 1,200 migrant workers have died since Qatar was awarded the competition in 2010, according to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

The Qatari government completely refuted the Washington Post’s report, saying no workers whatsoever have died in relation to the build.

After almost five million work-hours on World Cup construction sites, not a single worker’s life has been lost. Not one.

“In preparing its report, it appears that the Post simply took the total annual mortality figures for Indian and Nepalese migrants working in Qatar and multiplied those numbers by the years remaining between now and the 2022 World Cup – a calculation which assumes that the death of every migrant worker in Qatar is work related.”

A Qatar-commissioned report into worker conditions claimed close to 1,000 migrant workers died in 2012 and 2013, although none died while at work.

Human Rights violations

Shane Darcy of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at NUI Galway is keeping a watchful eye as proceedings unfold. “It’s fascinating,” he said, noting the Fifa arrests have been “a long time coming”.

Darcy said it’s “frustrating” that human rights violations related to the World Cup bid in Qatar have been repeatedly overlooked.

However, he said it’s “heartening” that Fifa is finally being taken to task over the alleged corruption in the organisation.

The reason Fifa is being investigated is because of corruption charges and money laundering. They’re not being taken to task for human rights abuses. Corruption can be related to that, but that’s not the reason [US and Swiss authorities] are doing this.

Darcy said he “quite frankly wouldn’t be surprised” if the investigation found that bribes exchanged hands when awarding World Cups to Russia and Qatar.

Soccer Yearender FIFA President Sepp Blatter is flanked by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, right, and Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Emir of Qatar, after the announcement that Russia would be the host country for the 2018 World Cup 2018 and Qatar the host for the tournament in 2022. Source: AP/Press Association Images

He said another positive offshoot of the controversy is that it has got people talking and thinking about what goes on behind the scenes when preparing for a World Cup.

“Most soccer fans now know about the situation in Qatar,” Darcy noted.

He said it’s “hard to say if they’ll move the World Cup from Qatar” as it might not be “feasible” due to the huge amount of financial investment in the project.

During the week, England said it was ready to take over as host of the tournament in 2022 if needs be.

I don’t know if that’s feasible. There has been a huge amount of investment in Qatar – legally and maybe illegally.

An obvious consequence of the World Cup being moved from Qatar would be that thousands of migrant workers would lose their jobs. Many work and live in poor conditions.

Mideast Qatar Labor Migrant workers taken on a Qatari government organised media tour. Source: AP/Press Association Images

BBC journalists reporting on this issue were arrested last month.

Last year human rights lawyer Orna Joyce told TheJournal.ie the living conditions for many of the workers are “absolutely horrific“.

You could have anything up to 15-20 people living in a tiny room. They’re expected to cook in that room as well … There have been reports of open sewers, right outside the dormitory places that they’re living in.

She was also very critical of the country’s ‘kafala’ labour system, which she said could lead to the exploitation and essential slavery of some workers.

Mideast Qatar FIFA Sponsors Photo taken during a government-organised media tour of migrant workers' accommodation. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Darcy noted that Qatari officials have promised to reform the kafala system, but no real change has occurred.

This might only be brought about if major international sponsors – such as Coca Cola, McDonald’s, Adidas, Visa and Busweiser – remove their support.

Darcy noted that such sponsors have been “hesitant to fully remove themselves” but said: “The corruption thing might push them more than the human rights thing.”

Read more on the subject:

Concerns raised about some Irish businesses involved with Qatar World Cup

Explainer: What on earth is going on at FIFA?

Qatar isn’t happy about claims of thousands dying on World Cup construction sites

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About the author:

Órla Ryan

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