From the moment that the 2022 World Cup location of Doha, Qatar, was pulled out of the envelope by FIFA president Sepp Blatter, there was an international outcry. Even before reports of the horrendous work conditions surfaced, before the questions about corruption came to light, there was one glaring issue: the heat. An average summer day in Doha, Qatar is somewhere between 38°-47° C, or anywhere between 100° and 117° F. To put this in perspective, the World Cup in Brazil had to use heat breaks during the game for the first time in the history of the tournament due to temperatures in the low to mid-30’s° C ( around 95° F.) During exhibition games in Brazil, it was made clear that the intense heat endangered the players. FIFA instituted a new rule, that “Climate conditions will be evaluated and should the temperature exceed 32 degrees then the FIFA Venue Medical Office will recommend cooling breaks to the FIFA General Coordinator and Match Commissioner.”
Despite the health risks that the 2014 Brazil World Cup presented, FIFA is still sticking by their decision to hold the World Cup in a country that considers 32° C (90° F) a cool summer evening. As of right now, the best idea to combat Doha’s summer heat is to move the cup to the winter, or a cooler season. Instead of moving the World Cup to a more player- friendly environment or even just building indoor stadiums, FIFA plans on altering the entire schedule of soccer across the world, forcing qualification for the cup to be cut short, and giving players less rest before the grueling tournament.
But even worse, holding FIFA’s 2022 World Cup in the winter would interfere with the schedule of other important international competitions, like the 2022 Winter Olympics. The idea of the World Cup as a prequel or sequel to the Winter Olympics greatly tarnishes the intensity and the exceptionality of both quadrennial tournaments. Hopefully, FIFA’s sponsors will object to having to compete for airtime with curling, and veto the scheduled change.
As if the heat wasn’t enough reason to change the World Cup’s location, the world media reports daily on egregious human rights violations of construction workers. In March 2014, in a special report on the Qatar World Cup preparations, the International Trade Union Confederation wrote that, in the last 4 years, more than 1,200 migrant workers have been literally worked to death, with more than one worker dying per day. Estimates suggest that more than 4,000 workers will die before a game is even played on Qatari soil. These numbers are staggeringly high, and yet, little to nothing has been done to improve the workers’ conditions. Qatar has a desperately poor working class, who have no choice but to take these dangerous, underpaid jobs. Moreover, once hired, these workers have no rights or freedoms; they cannot even quit their dangerous jobs. If they had a choice to walk away from the project, one might argue that because they are aware of the risks they have made the decision as free thinking adults to stay, but the working conditions in Doha border on full-fledged slavery. A worker in Doha is at the mercy of their employer because their employer usually takes their ID card (legally), and being without an ID can lead to prison, and their employer can take their passport, so their employer can literally control a worker’s every move. Workers cannot leave their job to seek other employment, and they cannot leave the country to escape these awful conditions. As a result, workers are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
These working conditions and unfair laws have existed in Qatar since long before the World Cup was announced. Without international intervention they will exist long after the final whistle in Doha blows in 2022. The one possible advantage to keeping the World Cup in Qatar is that it gives FIFA power to support the working conditions and rights of manual laborers. In the past, for better or for worse, FIFA has been able to change the laws of the country hosting the World Cup. They did so for the 2014 Cup in Brazil, but unfortunately the change was for the worse. Previously, Brazil had outlawed the sale of alcohol in stadiums due to the drink-induced violence during soccer matches. During the 2014 cup in Brazil, FIFA forced Brazil to pass the “Budweiser Bill” which negated the countrywide ban on selling alcohol in Brazilian soccer stadiums. Anheuser Busch, which makes Budweiser, was a key sponsor of FIFA and wanted their product sold at soccer matches.
Why did FIFA choose a country so poorly suited to host soccer’s biggest tournament? Stories, including those in the New York Times, and the Sunday Times of London, allege corruption in FIFA’s 2022 selection process. In responding to these allegations, FIFA has launched an investigation into the selection process. The London Times reports that they can tie the Qatari bid group to at least $5 million in bribes paid to FIFA voting officials. According to the London Times, FIFA president Sepp Blatter himself now questions the choice of Qatar as the Cup host. Although Blatter was quick to deny this allegation, many soccer higher-ups have been pushing for the first ever after selection change of the host country. Outrage is so great in England that members of the English parliament have voiced their concerns, saying that, if the bribery can be proved, the location should be changed.
At least some substantial changes need to be made in the 2022 World Cup, and quickly, or the effect on soccer, not to mention human lives, will be disastrous.