Qa-ching for Christmas

World of pain: this is where foreign workers in Doha sleep.

It’s confirmed. As the March national team break slowly comes to an end, the greatest mockery in the history of international football was just given another green light to go through. Ten days ago, Joseph Sepp Blatter, the President of FIFA, insisted to schedule the 2022 World Cup Final for December 18th, with the opening of a tournament to be held couple weeks earlier, in the middle of November. For the first time in history, the most prestigious FIFA competition has been moved to winter, effectively ruining the calendars of nearly all clubs and players for that year. Hundreds of people who are normally participating in domestic leagues, as well as the continental cups during this part of the season, shall be forced to abandon their duties in the middle of the proceedings and visit the Middle East for a month-long safari trip – a trip that’s going to completely alter their training schedules. While staying on this abrupt break, they’re also going to be exposed to injuries, which randomness will most likely decide the outcomes of 2022-23 Champions League, Europa League, Serie A, Premier League, La Liga and many other club competitions. The football world will effectively remain upside-down for a year.

The real world shall be a mess for a much longer, though.

I like numbers – they often paint the right picture. For instance: in 2010, six FIFA executive committee members were accused of accepting bribes totalling $1.5 million, should they vote for Qatar in 2022 World Cup biding contest – as they did. But those figures are still little business abstractions, compared to the real-world variety of stats. The country that’s going to be on everyone’s lips in seven years remains a home for 29400 strictly-defined slaves – as reported by 2015th Global Slavery Index provided by the Walk Free Foundation. 1200 deaths were reported amongst people working on future World Cup facilities between 2010 and 2014 – as counted by International Trade Union Confederation. Two German filmmakers got detained for 27 hours in Doha prison in 2013 for filming the working conditions of labourers from the balcony of the Mercure Grand hotel in Qatari capital. People they’ve monitored and talked to, receive salaries of between $220 and $360 for a 12-13 hour long workday – enough for one person to live, but rarely enough for someone who’s sending his money overseas to help the rest of his family back in their native country. All of that – to complete the $200 billion worth of investments before a one-month long, football frenzy.

It doesn’t take war anymore to create the slavery or worker abuse – poverty is enough. The amplitude of wealth differences between desolated, overpopulated countries and oil-rich states of the Middle East creates a foundation to the processes that could only be described as Karl Marx’s worst nightmares. As we speak, Qatar, the country smaller than Montenegro or Connecticut, is having around 2.2 million of inhabitants. However, over 24% of them are Indians, over 18% – Nepalis, over 9% – Filipinos, over 6% – Bangladeshis, and so on. For every single native Qatari citizen, there are roughly nine foreigners, mostly assigned to menial jobs under mediocre to horrific work conditions. The Kafala employment system, which requires all foreign workers to have corporate sponsorships before entering the country, remains a constant source of exploitation that would’ve been impossible to imagine even in the 19th century Europe. It forces an employee from abroad to gain an exit visa before leaving Qatar – a document, which in reality, is frequently exchanged for workers’ approval to give up his or her unpaid wages. Before that happens, the contracted worker is his company’s property: he can’t switch jobs without a permission and if he ever wants to enter the state again, he has to earn another document, containing a positive review of his residence in Qatar.

But there’s still more to it than this. Because of the insane pace at which the investments are being made, companies in Qatar are reaching a step further. In November 2014, a group of about 20 000 North Koreans arrived to Doha to speed up the construction of Lusail Iconic Stadium in Al-Daayen – the masterpiece of modern engineering with 86 250 seats for spectators inside. North Koreans are also responsible of works at Al-Daayen’s hotel complex – and a golf course located nearby. But here’s the catch: despite the vast majority of those foreigners working every day, from 6 AM to midnight, their wages are consistently being retained by Pyongyang’s government, leaving people with only a small, 10% fraction of their salaries. Even despite their anonymity being preserved in the interviews for Western media, some of the workers still fearfully claim that they’re going to receive the remaining money once they come back to NK. Alas, there are still some more upfront with their opinions: according to them, neither their families or anyone is ever going to see those funds again, as they’re being transferred directly to the bank accounts of Kim Jong-Un’s regime. Well, Nazi businessmen, who “borrowed” concentration camp prisoners for work in their companies  really do come to mind.

Al-Daayen will look like this very soon. But at what cost?

Compared to these developments, the footballing issues of WC 2022 seem insignificant – but, on the other hand, they may be a major topic that steals the spotlight before the first whistle in Qatar is blown. As it stands, Guinea, the newly chosen 2023 Africa Cup of Nations host, has initially rejected the offer to move the AFCoN tournament to June. Not without a reason: the summer in Guinea is usually when rainy season starts and with such season in progress, the country turns into a high-humidity vegetable steamer. Still, FIFA hardly seems bothered by that: a month ago, their secretary general Jerome Valcke has announced the agreement with Fédération Guinéenne de Football to move the AFCoN to summer. The mystery behind this development is even greater if we take in account that 2023’s Cup of Nation hosts were unveiled through an unscheduled announcement by Confederation of African Football – the announcement that’s been justified by the officials with “a desire to solidarize with Guinean Ebola victims”. A little footnote to this noble explanation: just like in every other en-masse host announcement, this one gave CAF a perfect chance to trade, rig and corrupt votings taken behind the scenes.

More concessions are yet to come, though. By the looks of it, Champions League group stage will be either put on hold after four series of games or is going to be launched earlier to finish one month ahead of schedule. However, this raises even more questions – because we will either have to wait patiently for four weeks to know who’s going to advance from groups, or we’ll be forced to watch the CL in late August, meaning that the qualification stages of of this tournament might be moved directly to the summer. Trying to imagine teams like Palermo, Panathinaikos, Sevilla or Marseille getting to play their most important games of the season in +35 degrees hometown conditions proves that the heat is not just a Sepp Blatters’ concern. Clubs, however, will have to deal with it by themselves – which is exactly the reason why French league president Frederic Thiriez is threatening to sue FIFA for the sporting and economic damage the league is going to sustain. According to him, the system of compensation fees for clubs that send their players to the World Cup, only suits the big teams – and will suit them even more, as the volume of money in this department was recently tripled to reach a total of $209 million.

Thiriez isn’t alone in his complaints. In a detailed, 430-page report, Michael J. Garcia,  the head of the investigatory chamber of FIFA’s ethics committee, has reportedly accused several FIFA members of bribery. Reportedly – because Garcia, who isn’t particularly ‘clean’ himself and who came under fire from angered football fans from all across the world, has refused to leak the entire document. His findings were published in what we can assumed to be a laughably censored, limited, 42-page version by FIFA itself; a version which obviously does not reveal anything notable at all. It’s been thought that only four people in the whole world know the full transcript of MJG’s revelations and that the final, “official” version of the document has been rewritten by FIFA’s head judge and Blatter’s loyal acolyte, Hans-Joachim Eckert. The latter official was also panned in media and the internet by two whistleblowers, Phaedra Al-Majid and Bonita Mersiades. Those ladies’ confidential testimonies to Garcia suffered a breach of confidentiality, leading them to receive sacking from their jobs and multiple anonymous threats to them and their families – both of which they blame on Eckert himself, as he was the one responsible of labelling the 2022 Qatari bid as “legal”.

So much is going on right now that the most recent past disappears from the horizon. So let’s not forget: in December 2010, immediately after receiving the right to organize the World Cup, Qatari Association insisted that they’ll be able to implement an air-conditioning technology that will cool down all stadiums, training pitches and fanzones to a moderate temperature of 23 degrees Celsius. The idea was to accumulate sun’s energy through solar panels and use it to support the production of a huge ice bank located below the stadium. The ice would then cool down the water which should circulate directly under the stadium’s surface to absorb the heat from it. Neat – and completely impractical, as the architect John Barrow pointed out as soon as in November 2011. Barrow claimed that the overall cost of air conditioning of such large areas will be too much even for the bottomless pockets of local sheikhs. And he was right. Soon after his claims, Qatar ditched the idea for another one – playing all games in the middle of the night. But this in turn, would certainly damage TV revenues – some people have to get up early for work, after all. Thus, Blatter eventually whispered three words to himself. Exactly three: “Winter is coming”.

With laughable past, laughable future should come as well. If Qatar keeps his rights to the World Cup – which is 99% certain – their national football team is going to qualify for it by default. And this already has certain consequences. In Summer 2014, Qatar’s Aspire Football Dreams program has scouted over 3.5 million young football players from all around the world. The most promising of them were contracted and brought to Doha, where they can enjoy some of the most excellent training conditions in the world as well as the help from competent coaches hired from top-class European clubs. The locals claim it’s just a natural part of their pro-football approach they’ve adapted since FIFA decided to choose their bid. But as far as a 300 000 people nation goes, we can safely assume that they want to gradually create new citizens by naturalizing foreign talents – otherwise, double-digit World Cup defeats to Brazil, Spain or Germany in 2022 should not be out of question. The blueprints already exist: in 2004, Qatar offered €1 million to the Brazilian striker Ailton to play in their national team, while recently, Qatari handball men team played in World Championship’s final after bringing in eight players from Europe. We’re all in for a treat…

How low we’ll go this time?

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