With horrible working conditions, wages and living conditions for migrant workers; but also a complete denial of rights for women, for LGBTQIA+ people — who risk prison or even death; and the colossal environmental cost of the construction and use of stadiums: this year’s Men’s World Cup has plenty of things to provoke anger.
Working conditions worthy of slavery in scorching heat, with passports seized and for a miserable wage (sometimes unpaid), horrible housing and living conditions: this is the daily life of hundreds of thousands of workers mainly from South/South-East Asia and North-East Africa. Since 2010, at least 10,000 have died on the World Cup building sites.
According to FIFA, without this World Cup, the rights of migrant workers would not have been improved. It’s wrong. Even if the “kafala” system — largely ensuring this quasi-slavery status — was reformed and then abolished under pressure, in practice almost nothing has changed, including some non-payment of wages. As summarised by a sports journalist from RMC (French based Radio station): “we have taken a step forward of 10 centimetres, congratulations…”. Worse, by pushing (through massive corruption) to organise the event in Qatar, the FIFA-mafia has in fact collaborated for 12 years in this large-scale murderous campaign to build all the necessary infrastructure in time from scratch.
Corruption, alliances with authoritarian regimes, investments running counter to social needs: these are old FIFA habits. Between fascist Italy in 1934 and the Qatari regime in 2022, let us mention in particular the 1978 World Cup organised in the midst of a military dictatorship in Argentina; that of 1982 in the Spanish State, after the death of Franco but whose candidacy was chosen in 1966, in the midst of Franco’s reign; that of 2018, in Putin’s Russia (awarded at the same time as Qatar)…
Protests around World Cups have often suffered brutal and murderous repression, as in Brazil in 2014 when strikes and demonstrations demanded that the money from the World Cup be used socially and not for the prestige of the clique around President Dilma Rousseff. Profit and prestige are the ‘core business’ of FIFA and its political allies.
Danger of racist division
Many people in (or from) the Middle East and North Africa, view this debate with mixed feelings. Much of this discussion is accompanied by attempts to exploit the event, in particular by a part of the extreme right which sees in it a way of attacking Arabs and/or Muslims by tarring them all with the same brush as the criminal and reactionary Qatari regime. The Qatari regime also tries to take advantage of it, by trying to “bring together” the populations of the region around their event.
Therefore, for many, the organisation of this tournament by Qatar is mixed with the feeling of being once again a victim of racism: this World Cup has been subject to particular criticism, however the Qatari regime is far from being the first authoritarian and reactionary state to organise the event.
In 22 tournaments over 92 years, this is the first time that this region of the world has hosted this major global event, despite numerous applications from countries in the Middle East and North Africa in the past — and from countries with much greater footballing legitimacy than Qatar, and a base of stadiums and suitable infrastructure. However, they didn’t have the Qatari dollars and gas reserves, which make the eyes of FIFA and political leaders around the world glisten.
On the environmental level, the air conditioning of stadiums has been widely condemned. It should be noted that there is immense hypocrisy when we look at the tendency to air-condition everything in certain advanced capitalist countries, and taking into account the fact that practicing sport in hot countries necessarily implies having to find this type of solution. Also on this question, the discussion can be tinged with racist characteristics. Many of the huge problems with this World Cup comes mainly from the construction of all the necessary infrastructure, in a country where a large part of it will be useless after only one month of use. The environmental absurdity of the capitalist system will not stop there, as evidenced by the recent decision to organise the Asian Winter Games 2029 in Saudi Arabia, for example.
The Qatari regime, FIFA and its allies are responsible…
For their (almost) inaction in the face of scandals, footballers from national teams are sometimes singled out as being part of the problem. Likewise often supporters who follow their teams regardless of where the competitions are organised are also labelled as part of the problem. However, they are neither responsible nor accomplices. The Qatari regime and FIFA are responsible for this slaughter and the environmental impact that accompanies it; their accomplices are the political and football leaders who have at best allowed things to happen, at worst actively contributed.
This is what is revealed in particular by the investigations into the awarding of this World Cup at the end of 2010, and the role played mainly by the European football federations. For example, a meeting a few days before the awarding of the tournament to Qatar, brought together French President Nicolas Sarkozy, UEFA President and former star of French football Michel Platini, and two senior Qatari leaders. On the agenda was the vote for Qatar’s bid and the takeover of Paris Saint-Germain football club by the Qatari regime, as well as other financial investments.
Today, even more than then, Qatar is an important regime for imperialism: the freezing of relations with Russia following the war in Ukraine pushes many states to increase their relations with Qatar, the world’s second largest natural gas producer. Offending allies is not part of the “values” of capitalist political leaders.
…not the footballers and supporters
As usual, footballers and supporters bear the brunt of decisions taken far above their heads without their consent. Many supporters legitimately wonder if they have the right to follow the sport they love this winter. However, such boycotts will have no impact on the situation, the future in Qatar nor the future of our sport; they also carry the risk creating division and guilt with the supporters who decide to watch the matches.
Many supporters, but also political, trade union and sports activists have opposed the awarding of this tournament since 2010. In the following years, several corruption scandals concerning Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 led to the beheading of the most senior officials of FIFA and other football bodies — but the heads soon grew back. The current FIFA President Gianni Infantino has embraced the same cause, he even decided to move to Qatar and said at the beginning of May that the work on the World Cup sites gave “dignity” and “pride” migrant workers…
The question of a boycott is being considered today due to the absence of a worldwide opposition campaign against the holding of this tournament in Qatar. Such a campaign could have been carried out jointly by trade union organisations, associations for the defence of human rights and the fight against climate change. Such a campaign could have also tried to involve footballers (amateur and elite levels) and other sports people, as well as volunteers from the sector, supporters and local communities.
Today, broad layers of the working class and young people no longer accept oppression, the deepening of the climate crisis, and that a handful of ultra-rich people can decide on prestige investments when the misery and death are rampant. The criticisms against the organisers of the World Cup are an expression of this.
Let’s rid football of FIFA and big business
FIFA rests on a multi-billion dollar bonanza, a bonanza that contrasts with the lack of resources from which the vast majority of clubs, volunteers, footballers and fans suffer around the world. The crazy sums transferred to the tops of world football, and which concern only a small percentage of footballers, bear witness to the perversion of the practice of sport and sports competitions by the capitalist system, of which FIFA and other such organisations are the inevitable by-product.
The existing financial means must be used for real sport, and be used to develop basic infrastructure and training facilities for those who play football and engage in sport as a hobby. These resources could be used to develop real, healthy competition, in a spirit friendliness, with no stake other than sport. But we must also ensure that the management and control of sports clubs and federations are in our hands: let’s take back our sport from their hands!
The fight to wrestle the future of football from the hands of FIFA must begin. It will have to be carried out collectively and part of the general fight to bring down the capitalist system and set up a society that meets the social and environmental needs of all.