Is the 2022 World Cup Really Going to Be a Byproduct of Slave Labor?

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The FIFA World Cup is one of, if not the, single largest global sporting events on the entire planet. Held once every four years, the Cup is a fantastic competition in the sporting sense, as national soccer (or football, if that’s your preferred nomenclature) teams compete in an attempt at international bragging rights and displays of athletic superiority. On the pitch, the World Cup is awesome, and, if nothing else, it provides audiences an opportunity to watch some really, really good soccer. Off the pitch, though, the ethical mixture is considerably more muddled than you might want to know about. Beyond the scandals and the protests from within the host countries and the questionable spending practices borne out of graft and corruption is Qatar, and Qatar’s involvement with the World Cup, which they are scheduled to host in 2022, has been nothing short of a disaster.

Not only is Lusail, the city which is scheduled to host some of the matches, including the Final, not finished yet, but The Guardian is reporting that at least four of the city’s stadiums are being worked on by North Korean workers that are described by the news outlet as “toiling for years on construction sites in Qatar for virtually no pay – including on the vast new metropolis that is the centrepiece [sic] of the World Cup – in what may amount to state-sponsored slavery’.” That is, needless to say, not something we’d like to associate with such a great event.

So what’s actually happening? One worker was quoted as saying “people like us don’t usually get paid. The money does not come to the person directly,” and, essentially, the North Korean government is collecting all of their worker’s payment while they’re abroad, and although there’s an on-paper expectation that they’ll get their wages when they return, the reality of the situation, as described by people working on the site now as well as those who’ve defected, seems to be that they’ll get very little of it (as in 10% or none at all). Hence the state-sponsored slavery denotation given to the practice.

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There are nearly 3,000 North Korean migrant workers in Qatar right now, and while the official word from the country’s labor department is that there isn’t a recorded problem, they said much the same thing last year, when Qatar was under fire for the shadiness surrounding its bid and an International Trade Union report that claimed nearly 4,000 workers would die before the construction was completed — an estimate that looks to be even more grim, if a significant amount of those building the future grounds for our entertainment aren’t even getting properly compensated for their efforts.

This is all in addition to the fact that Qatar may wind up being too hot during the summer (when the World Cup is traditionally held) to play the games anyway, which complicates things even beyond the cost of human life and ethics. So far, there seems like there’s no good solution, and with FIFA digging in their heels at every turn in regards to a relocation, there might not be any thing to be done about it anyway.