The dark side of the World Cup

Source - Kamran Jebreili  — AP Photo

Source - Kamran Jebreili — AP Photo

Qatar joins 17 other nations in the prestigious honour of hosting the FIFA World Cup, the tournament that is watched with unblinking eyes around the world every four years. The sport that has inspired love and respect, that advocates for human rights and global unity, actually has quite the dark side to it as well.

Getting the Ball Rolling

Although it is a nonprofit organisation, which invests most of its earnings back into the development of the game around the world, FIFA undoubtedly has quite the earning power. As is the truth in the world, most of the money is made through marketing and also organisation on part of FIFA in international competitions, as well as selling broadcasting rights, licensing rights, and of course, ticket sales. Arguably, the costs for FIFA have always remained minimal, as the infrastructure development costs for major international competitions are at most times left to host countries.

A competition in which 200 countries participate, there is immense potential for profit for those who play their hands well. Yet, as has been the case with nearly every earthshaking opportunity, corruption is rife, and much inhumanity has been largely ignored.

As this year is once again a World Cup year, it is important to take a look back at the story thus far. In 2014, the competition was hosted in Brazil, the nation that had both participated in every World Cup held to date, as well as won five times, the most number of times any one country has won the Cup so far. Their national flag also pays homage to their love for the sport, and the world watched eagerly for their preparations.

The Brazilian Pacification

The costs for stadium construction and renovation were estimated to be around USD3.6 billion, and the overall cost borne during the competition was in the range of over USD11.6 billion. Official records show that less than 15 percent of the cost was from private investors, and the rest was covered by the state. This sounds like a financial venture by a well-off nation, yet this could not be further from the truth.

Brazil has been famous in recent decades for the immense disparity between the rich and poor in the country, and for both the World Cup and the subsequent 2016 Olympics, the government attempted to paper over this reputation through a favela pacification programme.

It ended up being as dark as the name suggests, if not more, as nearly 130,000 residents within the Rio De Janeiro area were either forcibly removed to make space for both stadiums, as well as more infrastructure to accommodate competitors, or made to endure steep rises in public service pricing. More than a million people participated in rallies that turned violent to protest the increase in costs, yet the mayor, Eduardo Paes, claimed that this venture was to make way for a modern city and a legacy for future generations. Protestors drew parallels to social cleansing.

Over 19,000 families were moved, some over 40 kilometres away, just to make space for roads and other infrastructure as part of the event. Their voices were muted against the clamour of the impending tournament, and even then FIFA officials were constantly accused of cosying up with government officials for their own benefit, taking advantage of the political instability that was simmering.

It didn’t help matters that Brazil suffered their most humiliating defeat of recent history at the hands of Germany, on their home soil, nonetheless.

The Qatari Secret

A Muslim nation made rich by the blessed oil reserves underneath sifting sands, Qatar was quite a surprising winner for the hosting opportunity. Being a nation situated within some of the hottest climes, there was much controversy regarding the suitability and the fairness of the selection process on the part of FIFA, and this extended beyond just the environment and 40+ degree Celsius temperatures.

For an expenditure of this scale, bribery was the usual suspect. There has been numerous allegations of dirty money exchanges, and on top of this, multiple FIFA members have gone on record to say that awarding the tournament to Qatar had been a "mistake." 

Yet, with the deal signed, sealed, and to be delivered, the onus falls upon the development conditions of the project. Slavery, a word not unheard of in history books, resurfaced on news headlines as allegations of forced work and inhumane treatment of migrants came to light. Multiple deaths on work sites due to exposure and botched safety measures have been reported, with one Nepali national dying PER DAY thus far. This fact alone borders on crimes against humanity. 

The allegations have been answered with rose water apologies and promises by the Qatar 2022 Committee, who had stated their commitment to changing the working conditions to ensure a lasting legacy of improved worker welfare, which though may not happen overnight, they were working towards . They also helpfully stated that the FIFA  World Cup is acting as a catalyst for this change, which raises eyebrows for the legacy they have already left behind in the development of the nation thus far.

Qatar has been taking pains to adapt the infrastructure to the harsh climate, with the introduction of fully air-conditioned stadiums powered by solar, yet alternatives had once been discussed in terms of timing. However, due to another powerful player on the negotiating field, such changes cannot occur, as warnings were issued from Richard Scudamore, Chief Executive of the Premier League, that any change and interference with the Premier League schedule and New Year fixture program will be met with legal action.

To put the cherry on top of the icing, here are some bullet points of corruption accusations and how they turned out:

  • In March 2014, it was alleged that a firm linked to Qatar's successful campaign paid FIFA committee member Jack Warner and his family almost $2 million.
  • On 1 June 2014, The Sunday Times claimed to have obtained documents including e-mails, letters and bank transfers which allegedly proved that Bin Hammam had paid more than USD5 million to Football officials to support the Qatar bid. He denied the charges.
  • In January, a whistle-blower from inside Australia's 2022 World Cup bid published a book which alleges that in the months before the vote in December 2010, FIFA executives were privately worried that a Qatar win would leave a financial shortfall for the governing body in 2022 which Al Jazeera (now beIN Sports) agreed in a secret deal to pay USD100 million if Qatar won the vote. 
  • According to leaked documents obtained by The Sunday Times, Qatari state-run television channel Al Jazeera secretly offered USD400 million to FIFA, for broadcasting rights, just 21 days before FIFA announced that Qatar will hold the 2022 World Cup.
  • The contract also documented a secret TV deal between FIFA and Qatar's state run media broadcasert Al Jazeera that USD100 million will also be paid into a designated FIFA account only if Qatar wins the World Cup ballot in 2010. An additional USD480 million was also allegedly offered by the State of Qatar, three years after the initial offer, which brings the amount offered by Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup to USD880. Police already have the document and the case is reportedly being investigated. 
  • Last, but not least, former UEFA President Michel Platini was arrested by French police on 18 June 2019 in relation to the award of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.

The Roar of the Crowd

Regardless, the competition is scheduled to go ahead as planned. With the Winter Olympics scheduled for the same year, broadcasting giants such as Fox also have a pressure point to press upon when it comes to the competition. While the corrupt deals between FIFA and such media giants are also numerous, the world is now coming to a turning point in the love of the game. This year’s tournament would expose the greed of powerful nations in securing the hosting rights, with the immense earnings in terms of ticket sales, merchandising, accommodation and all the expenses that come along with it. 

Yet, has the spirit of football truly failed if matches are played upon fields surrounded by bleachers built upon the sweat and blood, and death, of the many people who were forced to build them?

More from MFR