Qatar: Life, death, and football

Former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly is quoted as saying, “Some people believe football is a matter of life or death.” In Qatar, for thousands of migrant workers – it’s exactly that.

Migrant workers there are banned from joining trade unions. They have often had passports confiscated by employers, been left in massive debt by recruitment costs, and been left without basic protections.

6,500 south Asian migrant workers have died in Qatar in the decade since the hosting rights were awarded, reports the Guardian. Hundreds of thousands have faced human rights abuses, according to Amnesty International, who have called for a FIFA compensation fund of at least £350 million.

And, whether you’re Rovers or City, Bristol is united in the knowledge that Qatar got to host the World Cup thanks to a stitch-up. Sixteen of the people who voted on or were involved on a senior level in where to host this World Cup have been indicted, arrested, or banned from football/sport. Another eight have been accused or investigated. But, however many billions it cost Qatar to get the tournament, or build new stadia and infrastructure for it, the real price has been paid by migrant workers.

The English and Welsh FAs are both partnered with other European football associations to highlight human rights issues. At a tournament in a country where same-sex relationships are criminalised, Harry Kane will be among captains planning to wear ‘One Love’ armbands. England’s Three Lions Pride group are said to be boycotting the tournament, and YouGov found that 71% of Britons think it’s unacceptable for Qatar to host a major sporting event such as this.

At a time when our own national situation leaves us crying out for an escape, let alone the country’s favourite sport in the world’s biggest competition, the atmosphere feels at best fairly muted.

Of course, we’ll be supporting England – but, even if the men follow the women’s lead from the summer, football coming home again this winter would pale against the fact that so many workers won’t be.