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Brutal Migrant Labor and Heat: Qatar Unfit to Hold the World Cup

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Brutal Migrant Labor and Heat: Qatar Unfit to Hold the World Cup

Ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the world should heed lessons from the past.

The power brokers of FIFA are scheduled to meet later this week in Zurich to discuss the thorny issue of moving the 2022 World Cup. But the only thing that should be on the agenda is not when the World Cup should be played, but where.

Qatar is simply a terrible choice to stage the world’s preeminent sporting event. And the weather is not even the chief reason.

The story has been well told: FIFA awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar, respectively, in a vote on Dec. 2, 1010. Both selections were controversial: Russia has demonstrated little inclination towards improving its human rights record under the Putin regime. Qatar, meanwhile, is a small gulf state the size of Connecticut (or the Falkland Islands) with a population of a mere 2 million.

But the votes, despite ample evidence of corruption, stood. And Qatar won the right to host the 2022 Cup, beating the United States, Australia, Japan and South Korea. It was a stunning coup, but one that was not likely accomplished without bribes.

Shockingly, it was revealed after the vote that summer time temperatures in Qatar can reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) and death by heat stroke for spectators and players alike is nearly guaranteed if the matches are held at that time. Thus, the talk began about moving the World Cup to the winter.

But the problems with Qatar go beyond searing heat. It should be disqualified because of the ruling regime’s humanitarian record.

When Qatar was awarded the right to host, FIFA boss Sepp Blatter dismissed concerns about Qatari law that deems homosexuality illegal. He went as far as saying that gay fans should refrain from sex while in Qatar. But now something even more serious has been revealed about Qatar.

The Guardian has reported that 44 Nepalese migrant workers died while building Qatari infrastructure for the World Cup, within a mere two months between June and August this year. The conditions under which these workers were forced to perform were brutal and verged on slave labor.

A worker told The Guardian: "We were working on an empty stomach for 24 hours; 12 hours' work and then no food all night," said Ram Kumar Mahara, 27. "When I complained, my manager assaulted me, kicked me out of the labour camp I lived in and refused to pay me anything. I had to beg for food from other workers."

Qatar is an absolute monarchy run by some of the world’s wealthiest people, yet migrant workers from some of the world’s poorest countries make up 99 percent of the Qatari labor force. Exploitation of these downtrodden is the only way for Qatar to erect the stadia and infrastructure needed to host such a massive sporting event.

But with the event still nine years away, there’s a way to put an end to this. Somebody has to stand up and say no. If FIFA, with Blatter and his minions, and Union of European Football Association (UEFA), now run by the plutocratic Michel Platini, are too morally bankrupt to move the World Cup out of Qatar, then it’s up to the people who have real clout to force it to happen.

The world’s most powerful national associations, such as England’s Football Association, Germany’s DFB and France’s FFF – and even U.S. Soccer – should make it loud and clear that their respective national teams have no interest in competing in a tournament built on the trampling of human dignity. And history shows why it must be done.

The 1934 World Cup in Italy was hosted by the Fascist government of Benito Mussolini, who seized the occasion to achieve a propagandist victory on and off the field, one that was emulated and trumped by Adolf Hitler in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

While nobody seriously contemplated boycotting the 1934 Cup, a debate raged in 1978, when the host country was Argentina. Two years before that tournament was to be held, a military junta seized power in Argentina after ousting president Isabel Peron in a coup. Once in charge, the junta continued to prosecute its “Dirty War,” during which up to 30,000 dissidents vanished.

A number of teams discussed boycotting the 1978 Cup, including eventual runner-up the Netherlands, but nothing materialized. The host rode its superb play and questionable behind-the-door politics, including a potentially fixed 6-0 victory over Peru, all the way to the final, where it defeated the “Total Football” Dutch team in overtime for the title.

The success of the tournament coupled with the home team’s triumph went a long way to bolster the junta’s legitimacy. Emboldened by this, the military leaders provoked a disastrous war with the United Kingdom over the Falkland Islands four years later. Only after losing that war did the regime lose its grip on Argentina.

Keeping the 1978 World Cup in Argentina was clearly a mistake, and the same may be said for sticking with Qatar nine years from now. But there’s still time for the world to take action. 

Samuel Chi is the Editor of RealClearSports and RealClearWorld. His column on world sport appears every Thursday in The Diplomat.