Summer 2018 is sure to be one to live long in the memory for millions. Not for the six-week long heatwave, or Dani and Jack winning Love Island, but for the England Football Team’s unprecedented run to the World Cup semi-finals which captured the hearts and minds of the nation in a way not seen since Euro ‘96.
Speaking for football fans across the country like me who are too young to remember ‘96, I can safely say this is the most exciting time to be an England fan. A new generation eagerly anticipate the next instalment of the greatest football tournament on earth to come around so the Three Lions can attempt to go one step further. However, in the undergrowth of this hysteria, the ugly face of corruption in football is rearing its head once more.
In the week when FIFA Ethics Judge Sundra Rajoo was arrested by Malaysian authorities under charges of corruption, it seems almost right that word of yet more human rights violations surrounding the upcoming World Cup in the winter of 2022 surface. Recently the Guardian reported that workers helping with the construction of stadiums to be used in the tournament are in some cases being paid the equivalent of just £40 a week for their services. The fact that this is being allowed to happen at all in the 21st century is awful, but in the richest country in the world? Disgraceful.
Of course, any example of worker exploitation is wrong and should be acted upon, but the fact that football as a sport is seemingly turning a blind eye towards it is ridiculous. In my opinion this indicates that despite the alleged revamp undergone by FIFA, the sport’s governing body is still the corrupt, money-hungry monster it was when the likes of Blatter and Platini roamed its halls. Something that can easily be backed up, not just by pointing out the aforementioned Rajoo, but also by the string of controversies surrounding the Middle Eastern tournament itself.
Right from the word go, problems with the Qatari tournament were evident for all to see. The most notable example of this was the International Trades Union Confederation’s (ITUC) report highlighting that 1,239 Indian and Nepalese migrant workers had died between 2011 and 2013 and that up to 4,000 workers could die before construction is finished. In addition, the overcrowded and unhygienic living conditions paired with working in 50 degree heat and an inadequate supply of food and drink means that the desperate migrant workers are being exploited to a level that replicates slave labour.
There seems to be some sort of cruel irony around the fact that the victims of this scandal are not of Qatari descent at all but are instead from different nationalities across the globe. And the reason for their sacrifices? A football tournament supposedly promoting diversity, equality, and inclusion.
As if that was not enough to make the prospect of a country such as Qatar holding the tournament laughable, a recent report from Sky Sports highlighted that homosexuality and drinking in public places will both be illegal at the tournament and a terrorist attack could be likely. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the spread of football to all corners of the globe, yet in the hostile social climate we find ourselves in today, millions turn to sport as a means of distraction regardless of their race, gender, or sexual orientation. Therefore, the fact that FIFA see fit to persist with allowing a nation that actively persecutes homosexuality proves beyond doubt that the governing body are out of touch with the sport and just how financially motivated they truly are.
Even as I write this it is hard not to feel embarrassed that the most watched sport on the planet has seemingly no qualms with such issues being associated with its name so long as they are making maximum profit. After the debacle that was the end of the Blatter era, stripping Qatar of the World Cup would have been the perfect way for incoming president Gianni Infantino to pave the way for a more ethical, transparent, and fan-orientated regime at the head of the game, but their lack of action shows that all these “changes” are simply smoke and mirrors to hide the fact that FIFA’s priority is and forever will be money first.