In mid-November, the world’s galore of flags will rise and wave, pints will fly to ceilings in pubs across the UK, and children, adults, and grandparents will jump and scream at each goal that is scored in football nets across the eight newly-built football stadiums in Qatar. But as tourists are bound to lay asleep in freshly established hotels and vacation around Doha over the next month, will our blissful attitude toward the 2022 FIFA World Cup come to a halt when we realise that our favourite footballers, and our countries themselves, are playing on the lives of 6,500 people—left dead?
Qatar is expecting to bring a glowing financial return of $17 billion to its economy from the upcoming event. The gulf country is anticipating an estimated 1.2 million eager visitors from the UK, France, Germany, Argentina, and the US. But to host such a crowd, Qatar needed to build from the ground up, and it needed to do it fast.
Qatar has had a long 12 years of hard work to prepare, though this has come at a cost of lives. The exploitation of migrant workers should be on the minds of football fans as we embark on this tournament, but are fans actually ready to take their blinders off? It’s time we had the conversation.
A new airport, 100 hotels, and a new metro system were all built to support the expansiveness of this bid. In preparing for this tournament, Qatar had to find labour—sourcing migrant workers from other Middle Eastern countries including Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, and Bangladesh, as reported by The Guardian.
Migrant workers came to the nation to take advantage of a seemingly alluring opportunity of work, to support their families back home, though the idea of the treatment and salaries they were sold back in their homeland were not reflected upon setting foot on Qatari soil.
Workers were paid $3,000 to $4,000 a year, an amount that would make a significant impact back home. Workers came to the nation through the sponsorship system, Kafala, which required foreign nationals coming into Qatar to work on various construction projects. Once they arrived, they were to sign away their rights to Qatari companies—which would then confiscate passports and withhold wages.
The system has been considered by Amnesty International to be a rendition of ‘modern slavery’ due to findings that workers would often go months without pay from their employers. In 2019, Qatar abolished the Kafala system, though the damage had already been done.
Migrant workers were subject to 12-hour physically demanding work days while working in 100-degree temperatures. They were also made to live in overcrowded accommodations on the outskirts of Doha. These conditions were not conducive to fair and equal treatment, triggering exploitation, and the deaths of thousands.
Though the deaths of migrant workers in Qatari are mostly unaccounted for, little research was done into how and why labourers may have died. A report from the Karger journal found that one of the causes of death for Nepali migrant workers in Qatar was due to “cardiovascular disease.” It noted that the causes of death are vague, with “natural causes,” “cardiovascular diseases,” and “unknown causes” being attributed.
In one example, a family from India—relatives of worker Madhu Bollapally, 43—never understood how he died of “natural causes.” The Guardian has reported that his body was found lying on his dorm room floor.
These accounts from the victims’ families show the insufficient reasons that are being attributed to migrant deaths, further silencing the truth behind what it took to get us to the completion of construction for the World Cup to take place.
Deception and cover-up have been a perpetual theme for the upcoming tournament. A lack of accountability and sorrow for those who have had to lose their lives to make this possible casts an unfortunate dark shadow over the event. A culture of silencing has been a common tactic throughout the 12 years of construction—perhaps because the reality of the situation may be too much for football fans to bear.
According to Qatari officials and FIFA president Gianni Infantino, three people have died “in work-related accidents while actively building World Cup stadiums.” Contrary to his defence, it was reported in 2015 by the BBC that the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) went to the embassies of Nepal and India, and those two embassies had counted more than 400 deaths a year between them—coming to a shocking total of 1,239 deaths in the three years to the end of 2013.
This finding completely dispels the defence of Qatari officials and Infantino. Defaulting to lowering the number in a lie completely diminishes the experiences of migrant workers in Qatar who had to die at the sacrifice of business opportunity and fan gratification.
On 3 November, Infantino further attempted to reassure fans and all 32 participating nations through a letter, claiming to just “let football take the stage.” But how can football take the stage while the lives of thousands lay beneath the pitch? Will fans continue to turn a blind eye to the abuses, deaths, and power imbalances that made the 2022 FIFA World Cup possible?
Even this close to the beginning of the highly anticipated sport event, it seems like more controversy is bound to take place, with the latest one being World Cup ambassador Khalid Salman telling German TV broadcaster ZDF that homosexuality is “damage in the mind.” While organisers have repeatedly said that everyone is welcome to Qatar, the country’s tainted human rights record has led to calls for teams and officials to boycott the entire tournament in itself.
On Saturday 1 October 2022, an Indonesian derby game between rival clubs Persebaya Surabaya and Arema FC ended in a tragedy that saw 125 people killed and more than 320 others injured. Many have described the terrible incident as one of the world’s worst sporting disasters.
After the away team Persebaya Surabaya won the match 3-2, Arema supporters, angry at their team’s first at-home defeat by the rival club in 23 years, decided to storm the pitch of the Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang Regency, East Java.
In an attempt to quell the invasion and disperse the agitated supporters, riot police officers fired tear gas at the crowd of the losing home side. It has since been reported that “thousands of Arema supporters invaded the pitch and threw bottles and other missiles at players and football officials,” as stated by Sky Sports.
“It had gotten anarchic. They started attacking officers, they damaged cars,” East Java’s police chief Nico Afinta told reporters on Saturday night. Clashes spread outside the stadium where at least five police vehicles were overturned and set on fire.
Regardless of this however, world football governing body FIFA specifies in its stadium safety and security regulations that no firearms or “crowd control gas” should ever be carried or used by stewards or police. So how come in this specific instance, both took place?
Well, so far, East Java police have not commented on whether they were aware of the regulations against using gas in stadiums—understandably so, as it seems many experts are blaming the use of the banned crowd control chemical for the gravity of the event.
As shown in horrifying footage of the evening, as soon as the stadium security unleashed the tear gas on the Arema rioters, a stampede followed. Some people were suffocated and others trampled as hundreds panicked and ran to the exit in a bid to escape the chemical.
Though initial figures from Indonesian officials reported the death count at 174, that has since been lowered. That being said, with over 320 injured, there are fears that the number could continue to rise.
“Many of our friends lost their lives because of the officers who dehumanised us,” Muhammad Rian Dwicahyono, 22, told Reuters, crying as he nursed a broken arm at the local Kanjuruhan hospital. “Many lives have been wasted.” The publication further reported that hospital head Bobi Prabowo also told Metro TV that some victims had sustained brain injuries and that the fatalities included a 5-year-old.
Indonesia’s chief security minister, Mahfud MD, claims the stadium was beyond its 38,000 capacity, stating 42,000 tickets had been sold—a fact that might remind many of the Astroworld tragedy, where a fatal crowd crush occurred during the first night of the 2021 festival, killing ten people in total.
Following the incident, the Indonesian Football Federation announced that Arema FC will not play games at its stadium again for the remainder of the season. The opposite team also released a tweet to express their grief at the situation. “The great family of Persebaya expresses its deepest condolences for the loss of life after the game of Arema FC vs. Persebaya. No life is worth more than football. We pray for the victims and hope that their families have strength,” the post’s translation read.
Worldwide renowned football clubs all followed suit, with Arsenal writing, “We are deeply saddened to learn of the events in Malang at the Kanjuruhan Stadium Indonesia today. Along with everyone who finds a connection through football, our thoughts are with everyone affected by this tragedy.”
Paris Saint-Germain stated, “Paris Saint-Germain would like to offer its deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives in the stadium tragedy in Malang, Indonesia.”
Indonesia’s human rights commission plans to investigate security at the grounds, including the use of tear gas. With the country being scheduled to host the FIFA under-20 World Cup in May and June of 2023, it’s no surprise that the incident might injure its football image.
Indonesia is also one of three countries bidding to stage next year’s Asian Cup, the continent’s equivalent of the Euros, after China pulled out as hosts.