Tag Archives: qatar world cup

Qatar world cup: a dilemma that ought to be easy to resolve

A lot has been talked about the football world cup that starts today in Qatar. Questions like ‘Should it have been awarded to Qatar?’, ‘How many construction workers have really been killed and injured?’ and ‘Where does having a global sporting event in a state where same-sex relationships are illegal leave the fight for sexual equality?’ are all reasonable, but they don’t address the fundamental question of what sports fans should do over the next month: to watch, or not to watch?

I was in Qatar in December 2006 for the Asian Games, a continent-wide mini-Olympics with a range of sports open to Asian athletes only. I covered the tennis, and it was a fascinating experience in which Asian tennis players were allowed to shine the way they normally don’t on the global men’s and women’s tours. But it was also a troubling one.

Near our hotel was a building site, where Tamil construction workers from Sri Lanka were ferried in every day in a decrepit yellow American school bus. Because I much prefer walking when working at events where I’m sedentary for much of the day, I shunned the official transport and walked to the Games’ hub from where I entered the credential zone and made my way to the tennis.

On that daily walk I saw a number of things that make it very easy to believe that the number of construction workers killed in building the eight stadiums that make up the 2022 world cup venues is way above the already horrendous estimates of 6000-7000 that international human rights groups are giving. These are migrant workers, brought in reportedly for very low wages, who never make it home. Others do make it home, but with injuries sustained in building ‘accidents’ that they may never recover from, and with little or no financial support in many eastern Asian countries like Sri Lanka and Nepal.

Last week, German television broadcast a documentary in which the former German international Thomas Hitzlsperger went to Nepal to speak with families who have lost relatives on the Qatari building sites, or are now looking after family members with horrific injuries. One of his motives in making the documentary was to drum up some money to pay for the support such people need to live out the rest of their days (in many cases another five decades) in some comfort and dignity.

Hitzlsperger is one of the few top-level footballers to come out as gay, and the only former Premier League footballer to have done so to date. That adds piquancy to the documentary, and emphasises that the common thread running through the various criticisms of the Qatar world cup (abuse of migrant workers, LGBT+, questionable aspects of the bidding process, and more) are all to do with human dignity, or the lack of it.

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