Throughout recent history, there have been developments and growth in how sports operate on an international level. The global appeal of sports, specifically football (soccer) has been able to hit new heights of innovation with technology, growth in the mega-sporting event industries, and the consolidation of transnational organizations. Through the globalization of streaming live sporting events, we have been able to close gaps between fans across the world and create an even larger fan-based phenomenon (Billings & Hardin, 2014); FIFA has been exemplary in capitalizing on these innovations. With the expansion of global organizations, the necessity to govern these bodies increases. Currently, FIFA has three branches of its own internal governance system to “ensure separation of powers.” But in recent years, there have been many scandals surrounding corruption and unfairness from the organization. In this case study, I will be researching the effectiveness of these branches in light of Qatar’s blatant lack of human rights compliance, and how this illogical country was chosen to begin with. Also, further research has been completed into the atrocity to determine how FIFA has let thousands of migrant workers turn into modern-day slaves without proper interference? Is FIFA inherently corrupt and hold values of financial gain over the safety and basic human rights of these migrant workers?
The FIFA World Cup is just around the corner, and fans all over the world are gearing up to watch the infamous tournament, cheering for their most beloved countries and players. We should just take a step back from the crowds, merchandise, teams, and the event itself, and pose an initial question: Who made this event possible? Nations have a strong incentive to bid for hosting rights for the World Cup, likely the largest sporting event in the world, because “hosting [this event] can serve as a significant bargaining chip in global politics, making the competition amongst bidding countries and cities to host [the event] intense” (Youd, 2014, p.170). There are many allegations about FIFA’s executive committee selecting Qatar on unequal terms. Besides the initial bid of the event, questions also surround what involvement FIFA has in the human right’s violations of migrant workers building the necessary infrastructure for the World Cup.
There are two main stakeholders in the development of the quadrennial tournament. First would be the host country, each country’s climate, foreign policy, governing body, and other factors affect the surrounding conditions in which the event can be held under. These conditions vary drastically from each country, but in this case, would pertain to Qatari conditions. Secondly, would be The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) as the sponsor of the event; They have a high investment in also controlling the conditions. Since FIFA is the sole organization to determine where and how these events will be held, they have great control over what ultimately occurs. The executive committee has full control over the process on who gets selected for the bid, they are “not accountable to any person or entity for the fairness of its decision” (Youd, 2014, p.171). The following FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar should be highlighted and asked a similar question. What made this event possible?
Many factors ultimately play a part in the creation of such a large sporting event that reaches audiences across the globe. Once the bid has been won, the infrastructure to host these events is one of the main priorities. Each host country is tasked with building new and more extravagant infrastructure for the tournament. This task could be seen as nearly impossible for a country with only over 250,000 citizens (Brannagan & Rookwood, 2016). Building such large stadiums and luxurious villages for athletes and spectators demand a large labour workforce. Qatar has chosen to import labour from neighboring countries to fulfill its labour necessities. In doing so, they have increased their population to over 2.3 million (Shropshire, 2015). This is where things get malicious: More than a million and a half migrant workers have moved to Qatar with promises of financial stability for their families and job security and are being held captive in poor living conditions, unable to leave back home if they wish.
What’s Happening in Qatar?
In a land (not so) far far away, 1.6 million workers are slaving away in deplorable living conditions with no running water, too many occupants in their designated slum dormitories, endless hours of heat, with no end in sight (Still Slaving Away; Qatar’s Migrant Workers, 2015). Men from neighbouring countries such as India, Nepal, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and, increasingly from Africa make up the majority of migrant workers who were tricked into Qatar for work, and now are unable to leave (Sobel, et al., 2017). One of the main catalysts for the entrapment of migrant workers stems from the Kafala system. Through this system, local employers may sponsor migrant workers to enter the country on a working contract. Many of the contracts they are required to sign are in Arabic, but many of the workers do not speak Arabic so they must trust their sponsor (Shropshire, 2015). This gets them stuck in questionable situations once they are in Qatar. Once entering the country, the workers are prohibited from leaving their employer or changing jobs without direct permission. In some cases, the employers have been known to withhold wages, and confiscate passports (Still Slaving Away; Qatar’s Migrant Workers, 2015). The current system in place does not allow for any flexibility or terms of contract termination duration. Migrant workers are seen as less than equal to Qatari nationals, that means that they are equated with a status that is less than second-class (Shropshire, 2015)
The Structure of FIFA
FIFA has three main governing branches that work simultaneously to run the organization. I believe it is necessary to outline the institutional details for greater understanding where the problems may arise. The first branch is the FIFA Congress, it is the legislative branch which is also the largest. It is comprised of 209 members spread across six confederations. The executive committee consists of the president, eight vice-presidents, and 15 members. The president is elected by the Congress in the year following a FIFA World Cup and the vice-presidents and 15 members of the committee are appointed by the confederations. The general secretariat is the third branch and takes on the administrative role. It is comprised of 400 staff members in Switzerland. The general secretariat is responsible for FIFA’s finances, international relations, the organization of the FIFA World Cup, and other FIFA football competitions (Boudreaux, et al., 2016). In May 2015 FIFA’s top executives were arrested after allegations of bribery, fraud, and money laundering. Questions about their legitimacy have been prevalent for the last decade, but are strengthening in truth because of the scandals that have ensued in the last few years. Throughout all three of these branches, there is not an independent organization that holds these members accountable for their actions. This organization is international so not any specific country has jurisdiction to conduct an investigation.
FIFA’s Executive Timeline and Current Involvement With Qatar
December 2010: Russia and Qatar were awarded the hosting of 2018 and 2022 World Cup. Qatar could be perceived as the illogical choice given the extremely hot climate, pre-existing human rights violations, and lack of sports facilities (Youd, 2014). Qatar is ranked #5 on the global slavery index, with one being the highest in the world.
February 2011: two of FIFA’s executive committee members get banned for misconduct in the bidding campaigns for the above-mentioned World Cups.
March 2011: Mohamad Bin Hammam, a Qatari national and FIFA executive committee member, announces his bid for FIFA presidency against Sepp Blatter (the previous FIFA president).
June 2011: FIFA bans Bin Hammam for life on account of improprieties in the 2022 World Cup selection process and collusion charges in respect to his run for the presidency (Youd, 2014).
May-July 2015: a number of FIFA officials are arrested on charges of racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering. FIFA re-elects Blatter for a new four-year term. The USA asks for the extradition of several FIFA officials. Illicit exchange of tens of millions of dollars is revealed by several investigations.
July 2015: UEFA President Michel Platini states he will run for FIFA’s presidency.
September 2015: Swiss authorities initiate criminal proceedings against Blatter on charges of mismanagement and misappropriation of FIFA funds over TV rights. Exclusive TV rights to FIFA’s games have the potential to reach millions of fans for huge financial gains and “further distribution of promotional commodities” (Compton, 2015, p.53). Moreover, Blatter is also accused of making a “disloyal payment” to the UEFA President Platini for two million Swiss Francs.
October 2015: Blatter and Platini are suspended from soccer for 90 days.
December 2015: After further investigation into the allegations of FIFA executives, both Blatter and Platini are suspended from soccer for eight years on account of their corrupt activities (Boudreaux, et al., 2016, p. 870)
February 2016: Gianni Infantino is appointed as the new FIFA president.
February 2017: The Human Rights Advisory Board (HRAB) was created to develop reports on the upcoming World Cup events and ensure changes are made.
November 2017: The HRAB published their first report on recommendations around human rights.
Highlighting this timeline shows the reoccurrences of corruption and necessity for an independent governing body. As for FIFA’s current involvement with Qatar’s migrant workers, they say their hands are tied. They are using their HRAB to move forward and to shift the responsibilities for future occurrences onto this new independent organization. On FIFA’s website, it summarizes some of the milestones that FIFA has achieved: “the adoption of FIFA’s Human Rights Policy in May 2017, the further strengthening of the mechanisms in place to address human rights risks to workers employed on FIFA World Cup construction sites in Russia and Qatar, the integration of detailed human rights criteria into the bidding and hosting requirements of future FIFA tournaments, and the broadening of FIFA’s engagement with external stakeholders.”
Many of their achievements seem very important for the future events held by FIFA. But what about now? What has changed now? Migrant workers are still trapped in these living conditions by the Kafala system unable to do make change for themselves.
Do People Care?
Many news outlets have previously reported on the story unfolding in Qatar right now. CNN, ESPN, newspapers such as The Guardian, Independent, and even John Oliver have all had segments contributing to the knowledge dissemination around such an important topic. One would think that after hearing about this outrageous violation of human rights that there would be organizations solidly and effectively working towards a positive change for these mega-events – or just be more well-known. Sadly, similar instances have been occurring time after time (Shropshire, 2015). Why after such reputable companies have reported on this issue that there are not large boycotts of these events?
From a study done in the Journal of Global Sports Management about twitter fans willingly supporting the legitimacy of mega-events after finding out about instances of corruption, collusion, and other illegal activity, the consensus was that fans just do not care (Hölzen & Meier, 2018). Sport is distinct in that way, fans become truly attached to the reoccurring tournament, games, and teams that make up the mega-event (Billings & Hardin, 2014). When we watch sport, we are more than spectators (Jennings, 2011). Twitter and other social media platforms are viewed as the “second screen” that fans reach for during live sporting events, and other moments of life that encompass their desire to be a part of the game (Compton, 2015). Fans then use social media to portray their opinions and identities towards sports, which research shows that fans have short-lived and volatile reactions to these scandals and then move on back to the hopefulness of sports entertainment that we embody (Hölzen & Meier, 2018).
Future Alternatives and Considerations
In January 2017 a set of guidelines/white papers called Corruption and Human Rights in the Sports Context was created by the Mega-Sporting Events Organization in addition to FIFA’s HRAB. We have moved in the right direction by creating independent HRAB. I suggest that FIFA undergoes great reform and change within the branches to create more transparency between countries, and governing bodies. More awareness surrounding the post-effects of hosting the World Cup and all positives and negatives should be displayed for countries pre-bidding while keeping all bids purely fair and ethical. Heading into the future, we have seen that the World Cup and its hosts are willing to split the costs across nations. For an example, Canada, United States, and Mexico were willing to share all its resources without damaging any countries economies. This is a great step in the right direction.
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Boudreaux, C. J., Coats, R. M., & Karahan, G. (2016). Bend it Like FIFA: Corruption On and Off the Pitch. SSRN Electronic Journal, 9(42), 866-878. doi:10.2139/ssrn.2719718
Brannagan, P., & Rookwood, J. (2016). Sports mega-events, soft power and soft disempowerment: International supporters’ perspectives on Qatar’s acquisition of the 2022 FIFA World Cup finals.
Compton, J. (2015). Mega-events, media, and the integrated world of global spectacle. In R. Gruneau & J. Horne (eds.), Mega-Events and Globalization: Capital and spectacle in a changing world order (pp. 48-64). New York, NY: Routledge.
E:60 Qatar’s World Cup – ESPN Video. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=11019010
Hölzen, M., & Meier, H. (2018). Do Football Consumers Care About Sport Governance? An Analysis of Social Media Responses to the Recent FIFA Scandal. Journal of Global Sport Management,1-24.
Jennings, A. (2011). Investigating corruption in corporate sport: The IOC and FIFA. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 46(4), 387-398.
Shropshire, K. (2015). Sport, Corruption and Human Rights: the Case of FIFA Sport, Corruption and Human Rights: the Case of FIFA (Doctoral dissertation, University of Economics, Prague).
Sobel, A. (Director), & Haddad, R., & Garthwaite, R. (Producers). (2017). The Workers Cup [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.theworkerscupfilm.com/
Still Slaving Away; Qatar’s Migrant Workers. (2015, Jun 06). The Economist, 415, 38-39. Retrieved from http://proxy.lib.sfu.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/docview/1686489394?accountid=13800
Youd, K. (2014). The Winter’s Tale of Corruption: The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the Impending Shift to Winter, and Potential Legal Actions against FIFA. Northwestern Journal Of International Law & Business, 35(1), 167-197.