Instead of asking the question “Why we should boycott the World Cup in Qatar?”, the question should rather be “Why do you think this football World Cup should take place despite the evidence of corruption surrounding its winning bid, the deaths reported during the stadium construction, and the negative social and ecological impacts it is causing”?
Too few seem shocked that millionaires travel thousands of miles to play football and run over dead bodies. And when you have the misfortune to point this out, the political and media systems are quick to justify the unjustifiable with the usual“it’s too late“, “yes, but the jobs“, “yes, but it’s carbon neutral“.
The parallels between this World Cup and climate change are very strong. Those who warn about the situation are copiously insulted, mocked and ridiculed, labeled as killjoys. “You want to shatter the dream of these athletes who have been preparing for years, right?“I wasn’t aware that running in air-conditioned stadiums which cost thousands of lives when they were built was the dream of a lifetime.
Justify the unjustifiable
To begin with, why is it that a a 10-year-old child can understand that playing in air-conditioned stadiums is not great for the environment and yet organisers and politicians responsible for the event find it perfectly normal for a football World Cup to be held in Qatar.
The stadiums can be dismantled and air-conditioned, but you will be pleased to know that this World Cup will be carbon neutral. A level of greenwashing that might make you smile if it were not tainted with blood. It takes some nerve to announce carbon neutrality when you know that at least 90% of the carbon footprint of a similar event is linked to spectators, 75% of which is produced by air travel. Simulate a flight from any European capital, multiply the result by a few thousand, and explain how this can be a ‘carbon neutral’ event. Spoiler alert: it is impossible.
There is no need to elaborate on the anti-ecological character of this event, everything is explained in this article. The organisers, FIFA, or anyone else who tells you that this World Cup is an ecological success, is lying to you.
Turning a blind eye to modern slavery
You need to have a strong heart when you look at the conditions under which the stadiums were built. Reports, investigations and testimonies have increased dramatically over the last decade to denounce the abominable conditions in which stadiums were built, by a workforce coming mainly from South-East Asia and Africa.
Those workers on average worked more than 10 hours a day, 6 or 7 days per week and were paid 1€ an hour, when they were lucky enough to be paid. Some have either not been paid or have been paid months late. Although the right to strike or demand wages does not exist in Qatar, and the risks of repression are very high, some had no choice but to demonstrate in the center of Doha, three months before the World Cup.
Among the excellent investigations covering the conditions of workers for the World Cup in Qatar, the one conducted by Rachida El Azzouzi for Médiapart is quite edifying.
Reduced to their sole productive function, these convicts are crammed, without any privacy and by the thousands, sometimes even by the tens of thousands, into “labor camps” rented by their employers: squalid and overcrowded work camps, some which lack running water and electricity, planted in polluted industrial zones and kept under close surveillance, surrounded by high walls, fences, guards, cameras and snitches.
Sujan Miah, 32, was a pipe fitter at a construction site in the desert. His colleagues found him dead in his bed on the morning of 24 September 2020. In the Days leading up to his death , the temperature was over 40°C. Families back home are devastated as they have not only lost a son, a husband, a father, a brother but also very often their only source of income .
You will find the same information in the Swiss, English, Spanish, American and Portuguese press. The journalists are unanimous and speak of prisons and camps of shame, while the authorities on the ground speak of “considerable progress for workers’ rights”. Inhumane conditions have been known since the beginning of the work, yet very few improvements have been made. So millionaire players are going to “celebrate sport” in stadiums built by unpaid or low paid workers. Perhaps a little less money should have been put into bribes and more into paying the workers? Simple suggestion.
At least 6,500 deaths
Of the countless reasons to boycott this World Cup, the first should be the number of deaths linked to the construction of World Cup stadiums. While the World Cups in South Africa (2010), Brazil (2014) and Russia (2018) claimed the lives of two, eight and twenty-one people respectively, the one in Qatar is on a completely different scale and has claimed 6,500 lives .
Since the figure of 6,500 dead workers was published by The Guardian early 2021, FIFA and the organisers kept trying to play it down. They explained that this was not the real number of deaths and the methof of counting was not the right, etc. Except that if you cross-reference the sources you end up with the same order of magnitude and find the same methods as other tragic events in an attempt to minimise their impact. Amnesty International has documented these figures in detail:
When relatively young and healthy men suddenly die after working long hours in extreme heat, it raises questions about the safety of working conditions in Qatar. One of the most documented and predictable risks to the life and health of workers in Qatar is exposure to extreme heat and humidity. Yet Qatar regularly issues death certificates for these migrant workers without proper investigation. Worse, the Qatari authorities attribute their deaths to “natural causes” or vague heart problems.
Dying of a heatstroke off site after working for more than 10 hours in a row at 40°C is not natural. If that wasn’t enough, when asked about the 6,500 deaths, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said “workers have gained dignity and pride” and that thanks to them, working conditions in Qatar have improved since 2010. Shame obviously does not stifle anyone.
The hypocrisy of politicians to avoid offending Qatar
The more calls for a boycott come in, the more politicians find ridiculous and distressing justifications to pretend that this World Cup is not a problem.
Among the most outrageous reactions, Karl Olive (LREM deputy) has tried to put the number of deaths into perspective, claiming that the construction of the Eiffel Tower “had caused more than 300 deaths“, which is not only appalling but also false. Agnès Pannier-Runacher has also lied on national radio on the 11th of September at the microphone of the Grand Jury RTL-Le Figaro-LCI:
A lie for at least three reasons.
Firstly, contrary to what Pannier-Runacher claims, boycotting the World Cup would have an effect on carbon emissions. If the French team (and its staff) were not traveling to Qatar, if hundreds of supporters chose to stay at home instead of going, and if goodies and other merchandise were not purchased for the event, this would evidently reduce the carbon emissions linked to the event by thousands of tons of CO2.
Secondly, it would send a clear message as to what level of indecency is tolerated. When the construction of stadiums cost the lives of 6,500 workers who were on average paid €1 per hour, how can we accept that millionaires play in such conditions while turning a blind eye?
Finally, when she says “this decision was taken in another climate context“… in 2010, there had already been 4 IPCC reports, and scientists had been warning about the consequences of anthropogenic global warming for at least 20 years or more. Unfortunately for the ecological transition, this world summit is a very bad signal for the sharing of efforts. If some people continue to travel in private jets and play in air-conditioned stadiums, how can we ask the French to make an effort and declare the end of abundance?
Business is business
If certain entities and public figures will not boycott the event, it is also and above all for a question of power and money. If François Hollande recently took the liberty of turning his back on the World Cup in Qatar by declaring that if he were head of state, he would not go to Qatar, he did not hold the same position when he was in power. Indeed, Mickaël Correia reports that it was under Hollande, in 2015, that France started a cooperation project with the Qatari law enforcement agencies. A cooperation that has led to 220 French experts being sent to Qatar to manage security and police repression during the World Cup.
Emmanuel Macron will certainly be less courageous than his predecessor. Between the sales of the rafales and the partnerships with TotalEnergies, it would be bad political strategy to offend a commercial partner like Qatar in the middle of an energy crisis. The same is true for Qatar’s other financial partners, such as French banks, which have been multiplying contracts with the country for over a decade. For example, Crédit Agricole, the “green” bank par excellence (according to them) finances LNG pipelines, Qatar Airlines, and other equally “green” companies. To them it doesn’t matter what the social and environmental consequences are, as long as it increases profits.
“It’s too late to boycott the World Cup
It seems that after all the excuses not to boycott the World Cup listed above have been used, the ultimate response to a possible boycott is that it is too late to do so. Noël Le Graët (president of the French Football Federation), for example, thinks that it is too late to complain now, and that the indignation is coming out of the blue.
This overlooks the work of many journalists who have documented the corruption and deaths on the ground extremely well, such as Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert in their book The ugly game, Pierre Monégier and Envoyé Spécial on Qatar in 2014 which, after two years of investigation, highlighted Doha’s construction sites and workers’ camps, right up to the burial of Nepalese workers. Add to this the France Football investigations in 2013 on #Qatargate, the hundreds of press articles over the last ten years, etc. Not only was it essential to establish strict rules at the time of the award for the construction of the stadiums to take place in decent conditions, but it was also quite possible to change the venue for the World Cup if those were not respected.
Fortunately, voices are being raised and several personalities have already declared that they will boycott the World Cup, including former international professional football stars. Philipp Lahm is one of them as well as Eric Cantona, who left a message on social media :
With the World Cup set to begin in over a month’s time, the number of testimonies will increase, including from active players. While it is difficult to expect this boycott to be unanimous, players, sponsors, politicians and citizens still have their cards to play.
The last word
Every week that passes gives us another reason to boycott the World Cup. Human rights abuses and violations, criminal corruption, corruption, thousands of deaths to build stadiums that are anything but ‘carbon neutral’, the list goes on. We are light years away from true sport and its values. This World Cup has every reason to be a fiasco, like the test match that took place last week with just over a month to go before the start of the competition.
But in the end, it doesn’t matter whether the organisation is a success or not. This will not bring the 6,500 dead workers back to life. This will not change the inhumane conditions in which these stadiums were built. This World Cup must show the limit of indecency. Either we close our eyes, or we act, boycott, and do everything to ensure that no future sporting event is marred by the same facts.
Each of us can play a role, according to our means and possibilities. Alert, question players, journalists, politicians and the FFF about the event. Some players, personalities and editors have already chosen to boycott:
If the FFF dares to declare that “participating does not mean endorsing“, France and football fans must do better than simply watch the games and turn a blind eye. Like Kylian Mbappé, the hypocrisy surrounding this World Cup is unbearable. To see players take offence for brand or sponsor deals but turn a blind eye to the deaths in Qatar should alert any football lover that some things should never be accepted.
Football players, politicians, journalists and citizens, you will make much more history by boycotting this World Cup than by celebrating a hypothetical victory.