Slavery, Racism and Homophobia – The Future of the World Cup

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The 10th of December 2010 won’t seem like a particularly important date to most football fans, but it was the day when FIFA announced the hosts for the next two World Cups.  Russia and Qatar were awarded footballs showpiece event which at the time was controversial. 

Unfortunately, over the years FIFA’s actions have been marred with the whiff of scandal and this was no different. This time it centred on the alleged buying of votes. The Garcia report, compiled by US lawyer Michael Garcia, set out to expose any wrongdoings in the bidding process. Some of the notable findings included a £2 million payment to the child of a FIFA official, along with then French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s involvement in Qatar’s victory. Sarkozy was alleged to have received payments based around deals in which Qatari firms bought PSG and French energy company Veolia. In return he backed the Qatari bid.

Fast forward 8 years and it’s just a matter of hours before the 2018 World Cup kicks off in the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow. A country of massive population, strong football tradition most notably in its former guise as the USSR, all the relevant facilities, but still one with numerous question marks over its merits as hosts.

Thousands of fans are going to flock to Russia in June from all corners of the globe in what is a truly international gathering. While the vast majority will experience a country rich in culture, there has been some examples of issues within Russian society which may be shown up under the microscope of hosting such an event. Some of the more pressing issue have included racism, homophobia and the football hooligan culture present.

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There has been an increase of racist and anti-gay chants this year at football grounds with 19 reported cases this season, up from 2 last year. Included in that were members of the French national team at a friendly match in St Petersburg in March. Another high profile incident saw the Spartak Moscow official twitter account tweet a racist slur about its own black players in January – it was later revealed that is was in fact Spartak and Russia defender Georgi Dzhikiya who had sent the tweet. He has since apologised but remained unpunished.

Spokespeople for the Russian World Cup bid have stated how they will clamp down on incidents like this by what is only the minority in society but since the bid has been won there have worryingly been similar examples from officials.

In 2015, Vyacheslav Koloskov the former head of the Russian FA and an integral part of Russia’s World Cup bid said that people were making “too much” of racism in Russia and questioned whether monkey chants were even racist. “Monkey chants are believed to be racist. Where is it written?”

It is this negligence from authorities that has led England left back Danny Rose to advise his family not to travel to Russia. His comments come after Russia had been fined £22,000 from FIFA for related incidents which the Tottenham man described as “disgusting”. He is the only high profile player to publically state that he has advised a Russian boycott, but how many other players or fans from minority groups have done the same in private?

Some of the same contradictions have been present when it comes to views on homophobia in Russia. World Cup Ambassador Alexi Smertin has spoken about how it will be an LGBT-friendly event but in a country which as recently as 2013 enforced anti-gay propaganda laws, it makes you think again that there may be a disconnect from what officials are saying and the reality. More proof came in these quotes from Vitaly Milonov, a prominent anti-gay campaigner and politician, who began by saying how he would not try and tell World Cup officials how to run their tournament or be staging any anti-gay protests, before adding: “We have never persecuted people on account of their Satanic sexual perversions”.

It’s too easy to spurt out lazy clichés about Russia and I don’t subscribe fully with the Cold War 2.0 version of opinions that’s present in 2018. It’s not simply the west is good and Russia is bad, but since the bid has been announced there have been too many occasions where Russia have been trying to defend the indefensible. The aforementioned issues may not have any effect on proceedings but for some those, along with Russia’s annex of Crimea in 2014 and the state doping scandal were inexcusable for a host nation.

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In 2022 Qatar will host the World Cup, an incredibly wealthy gulf state with a population of 2.7 million and one with no notable footballing tradition. Qataris only make up roughly 10% of the population, with the other 90% consisting of migrant workers. A lot of these workers who come from central Asia and Africa are in Qatar to work on the construction of either World Cup or World Cup-related projects.

Similarly to Russia, Qatar has quite backward views on same sex relationships but it’s the treatment of the migrant workers who are building the new state-of-the-art facilities that is equally as horrifying. The workers who are mostly from rural villages in Asia and Africa are brought over by recruitment companies generally under false pretences. The majority of the workers are brought over on the Kafala system, a law in some middle east countries which requires workers to have a sponsor (most often their employer). Under Kafala it is quite common for companies to confiscate employee passports, force them to work long days without a day off and pay them far less than what they were originally promised while living in unacceptable conditions sometimes ten to a room.

These are some of the most vulnerable people in the world and are being exploited to build the aesthetics for the Qatari elite’s showpiece event. But many don’t want to leave because despite the reduced wages they are receiving, they have taken out massive loans to get to Qatar so must stay in order to pay them back. According to a report published by the International Trades Union Confederation (ITUC) approximately 1200 workers have already died since the World Cup was awarded to Qatar in 2010.

“Human rights organisations have put pressure on FIFA to punish Qatar but any changes that have been implemented have barely scratched the surface.”

The workers are forced to work all day in the unbearable Qatari heat, temperatures which are so bad that the officials decided to change the World Cup to the winter of 2022 instead of the traditional summertime, meaning that the final will now be held on the 18th of December. On the very same day others will celebrate international migrant workers day, a depressingly perfect coincidence, one that this World Cup probably deserves.

FIFA could have insisted on using the World Cup as leverage to force both Russia and Qatar to reform but instead have taken a back seat and ended up with two of the most unsuitable hosts to date. No doubt once the first ball is kicked between Russia and Saudi Arabia this will be forgotten for the most part. It will fulfil its primary function as a football tournament, maybe even as a great one, who knows, but it leaves a few lingering thoughts.

What is meant to be football’s great global showcase is slowly being diluted into a corporate event for sale to the highest bidder, a golden ticket for the PR departments in countries who are looking for a dramatic rebrand. There have been incidents before in the lead-up to various World Cups, the crime rate in South Africa, corruption in Brazil, but as we draw ever closer it feels that the World Cup as a competition is on a knife edge and a lot could happen during this 8-year cycle. The historic tournament that turned the likes of Maradona and Pele into all-time greats could be viewed very different come early 2023.

 

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