You would have to be living under a rock to have not heard of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup. As one of the biggest global sporting events to ever take place, millions of football fans look forward to it with aggressive fanaticism; after all, it does only occur once every four years. Even someone like me—who used to only fathom how the sight of 22 sweaty athletes passing a ball to one another using their feet invigorates fans with an almost-blind enthusiasm—could easily understand the sanctity and magnitude of the event.
But this year’s World Cup, while still possessing as much fanfare and excitement as the ones that took place prior, is shadowed by a myriad of human rights violations and censorship cases that have taken place in its host country, Qatar. Even the announcement of Qatar’s winning bid to host the World Cup was mired in controversy, with many accusing its organizers of corruption and folding under bribes.
Regardless of all the suspicion and corruption allegations, Qatar set to work immediately after the announcement, revealing its grand designs and plans to construct eight football stadiums in time for the sporting event. But what they failed to be transparent about was the modern-day slavery that would be inflicted upon the thousands of migrant workers, eventually leading to their untimely and easily-preventable deaths.
One report by Amnesty International includes an account from a migrant metalworker who likened his life in Qatar to a “prison”. Aside from being forced to work hours under the sweltering heat of the country’s desert climate, the workers were also threatened with “consequences” if they were ever to complain. A Time article about the same inhumane treatment reports that “thousands of workers have returned home in coffins, with no explanation given to their loved ones”.
Now all of this begs the question of how these blatant human rights violations could be so easily swept under the rug. Well, if the chief executive of the Qatar World Cup himself can be so blasé about these deaths, really anything goes. In a press conference concerning these issues, he was quoted saying with an alarming indifference that “death is a natural part of life”—specifically about a Filipino migrant worker who had lost his life in the process of building a stadium he would never be able to set foot in.
Yet, egregiously, the problems do not end with the horrifying working conditions of migrant workers. Qatar has never been silent about its extreme disapproval of the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, homosexuality is considered a crime in their country, one punishable by death. This is quite a problem, since inclusivity regardless of race, sexuality, gender, and religion is usually expected of the host country. But instead of voicing out their support for the LGBTQ+, FIFA had done the opposite, declaring that any team caught making political statements, like wearing a rainbow armband, would be issued a yellow card. As you could imagine, many players and fans alike were up in arms about the ruling, with the organization putting out a feeble defense saying that it was for the protection of the players. Although FIFA President Gianni Infantino had also made sure to reiterate his support for the community, potentially sending a player off the pitch just for defending gay rights is not exactly what I would call pro-LGBTQ+.
With the world watching, the tournament has had its fair share of players making public declarations of advocacies in the past, and this wasn’t about to change. One team in particular chose to speak out against the censorship. The members of the German national team were photographed before their opening match against Japan putting their hands over their mouths as a protest against FIFA’s efforts to keep them silent. German government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit furthered that “the rights of LGBTQ+ people are non-negotiable,” a statement that one could definitely fall behind.
Still, one can’t exactly blame the players for just doing exactly what they came to do: play. Belgium’s Jan Vertonghen lamented the circumstances that all players were forced to contend with, and admitted that he was “afraid” to even be speaking out about human rights. To enforce that kind of fearful control over teams that just want to represent their country in the world’s biggest single-sport event is harsh, cruel even. Vertonghen concluded his statement by expressing that he “wants to appear on the pitch tomorrow,” bringing home the idea that these rulings have only reinforced an uncomfortable atmosphere for all involved.
At the end of the day, entertainment at the expense of lives and personal morals can never be excused. There is no room for abuse, bigotry, and homophobia in these sorts of spaces; it feels so archaic to even be talking about the basics of acceptance and human rights in this day and age. Despite the fact that this year’s World Cup is touted as one of the most fascinating and memorable in the history of World Cups, it feels almost like a crime to enjoy it, knowing that it has laid its foundation on the blood of thousands of migrant workers and the invalidation of human rights.
Football is an international sport, beloved by many. A part of its beauty is that it is inclusive and anyone can partake of it, no matter what background one belongs to. If you take that away, a part of its heart and essence fades away as well. It is despicable to downplay the deaths of thousands of workers, and it is never okay to be prejudiced against someone just because of who they love. The abuse, injustice, and downright murder that have occurred during this time should never be repeated again and should be something that will forever taint the history of the FIFA World Cup.