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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Dying for sport – the real scandal of the World Cup

In addition to the recent media outrages over the Winter Olympics in Sochi, another international sporting event grabbed controversial headlines recently. After many months of avoiding the issue, the world governing body for soccer, FIFA, has announced that the 2022 world cup in Qatar will probably be played in the winter rather than the summer. This will be the first world cup to be held in the Middle East, and the event has never previously had to cope with the sweltering summer temperatures of that part of the world. The idea of the world’s best (and most expensive) players having to deal with 40C (104F) heat has proved untenable for FIFA, and the event will be moved.
This has generated criticism from traditional soccer-playing nations, especially those in Europe, whose domestic seasons are usually played through the winter months. The breaking down of ‘tradition’ and the disruption to the lucrative European soccer leagues is not going down well with fans, commentators, clubs, or…well, anyone, really.
If only this level of outrage could be generated about the labor conditions involved in building the world cup stadiums in Qatar. As with the Olympics, newspapers in other countries can always find some organizational flaws to complain about when it comes to the hosting of large sporting events, but those same newspapers are often conspicuously quiet about a much bigger problem – the exploitation of poor migrant workers in the building of stadiums and infrastructure to put on these events.
In this sense, Qatar is one of the worst offenders. Official records released last week show that at least 185 Nepalese workers died during construction of soccer stadiums in Qatar in 2013 alone. The number is expected to rise as more cases come to light, and that’s only the workers from Nepal. Qatar has a population of 2 million people, but only 250,000 of those are actual Qatari citizens – the rest are migrant workers, ranging from rich western expats working in banks and schools, to Filipino housemaids, to the Nepalese, Bangladeshi, and Pakistani laborers that are building the stadiums and roads. The causes of death included traffic accidents, falls, impacts from heavy objects, and a huge amount of deaths listed as ‘heart attacks’ – presumably either to cover up the real cause, or simply due to doing hours of strenuous work in searingly hot temperatures.
Despite the horrific figures, these deaths are considered secondary. They are reported in a few of the more serious papers, but will generally be forgotten by the time the 2022 world cup rolls around. The minor nationalism of sporting contests will take over again, and we’ll all cheer on our own teams (mostly European and South American), while ignoring the exploited poor from less sporting countries who had to die for our enjoyment. We’ll complain about the fact it’s in winter, and forget the hardships of those who allowed it to happen at all. And we’ll cheer on people who are paid millions of pounds, euros, and dollars, while pushing to the backs of our minds the lives of those who were paid a pittance.
At NRGLab, we stand against this dehumanization of migrant workers – the poor and unfortunate of this world have just as much right to comfort, fair wages, and good working conditions as the rest of us do. It’s something that we always strive for in our own work and our development of new energy technologies, and it’s something we think every employer should be working towards right away.


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