Jock Talk: Outrage sizzles around 2018, 2022 World Cups

  • by Roger Brigham
  • Wednesday November 19, 2014
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Qatar's Minister of Sport Salah bin Ghanem bin Nasser al-Ali
Qatar's Minister of Sport Salah bin Ghanem bin Nasser al-Ali

There was worldwide outrage when Russia and Qatar were chosen as hosts for the 2018 and 2022 men's soccer World Cups, respectively. There were allegations of corruption in the selection process, which wound up selecting two countries with homophobic cultures, and serious concerns about the blazing heat and deplorable labor conditions in Qatar. Little wonder that about now, the shit is hitting the fan.

We begin with the allegations of corruption in the bidding process. FIFA, the global governing body for soccer whose performance in recent years suggests the letters stand for Fucking Incompetent Fucking A-holes, had American attorney Michael Garcia undertake an 18-month investigation into the bidding process, which resulted in a 430-page report. FIFA has refused to publish the full report, but Hans-Joachim Eckert, FIFA's ethics committee judge, released a 42-page summary of the report, which effectively cleared Russia and Qatar.

Garcia has disowned that summary, saying it contained "numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts;" the head of the German league has called upon European clubs to quit FIFA if the full report is not released; and the former head of English football has called for a boycott of the 2018 World Cup if there is not quick and serious reform. At the same time, two women who provided information in confidence to the investigators say they were effectively outed in the final summary report, and one of them says she was pressured by a million-dollar lawsuit to recant her initial allegation.

"When it comes to FIFA, be prepared to be crucified, not once or twice but over and over again," said Phaedra Almajid, who had been a member of the 2022 Qatar bid team and charged that two FIFA executive committee members were paid $1.5 million to vote for that country. "Be prepared to suffer and pay for your actions. Be prepared never to feel safe and never to feel you can trust anyone. But most importantly, be ready to be betrayed by those who have promised to protect you. I am one small insignificant single mum against the richest country in the world and the richest sporting organization in the world."

In a joint statement, Almajid and Bonita Mersiades, who worked for the Australia 2022 bid team, said, "The summary by Judge Eckert clearly breached all such assurances of confidentiality. Although not named in the report, we were clearly identifiable and within hours of its publication had been widely unmasked as the 'whistleblowers' in German, British and Australian media. To compound this situation Judge Eckert used his summary report to question our credibility. This is particularly puzzling as the summary simultaneously uses the same information we provided to form significant parts of his inquiry in respect of the Australian and Qatar World Cup bids."

David Bernstein says he quit his post as head of British football last year partly because he no longer wanted to be associated with FIFA.

"FIFA is sort of a totalitarian set-up," he told BBC Sport. "Bits of it remind me of the old Soviet empire. People don't speak out and if they do they get quashed. The choosing of Qatar was clearly one of the most ludicrous decisions in the history of sport. You might as well have chosen Iceland in the winter. It was like an Alice in Wonderland sort of decision."

He said England should be willing to walk out on FIFA and the World Cup with other European countries.

"England on its own cannot influence this " one country can't do it," he said.

Of course, what has reminded human rights activists lately of the old Soviet empire is the current Russian regime. There was disgust when the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi were preceded by a crackdown on LGBT rights in Russia and that issue will continue to loom for the 2018 World Cup.

But Sochi, one of the sites for the 2018 World Cup, will seem like Fire Island compared with the 2022 host Qatar, where slave labor is commonplace, tournament temperatures are expected to be around 120 degrees, and homosexuality is a crime. Alcohol consumption is also strictly limited. This month the nation's sports minister gave evasive answers about whether beer would be allowed at the stadiums or whether gays would be welcome at the events.

"In the hotels and many areas we have alcohol but we have also our own system that people need to respect," Salah bin Ghanem bin Nasser al-Ali told the Associated Press. "As we bid for 2022, we will respect all the rules and regulations by FIFA. We can study this and minimize the impact on our people and tradition. I think we can be creative, finding solutions for all of this. But we respect all the rules and regulations."

Asked how welcome and safe gays will be, he replied, "It's exactly like the alcohol question. We are studying all these issues. We can adapt, we can be creative to have people coming and enjoying the games without losing the essence of our culture and respecting the preference of the people coming here. I think there is a lot we can do."

Of course, the solution offered in 2010 by Seth Blatter, head of FIFA, was sexual abstinence for gays visiting the Qatar World Cup. Guess that's what al-Ali means by creative solutions.

Construction costs for 2022 World Cup stadiums, hotels, and other facilities will cost an estimated $200 billion " of which very little will go to the workers actually building the projects. The second annual Global Slavery Index by Walk Free Foundation, released this month, estimated that 1.4 percent of Qatar's population, or 29,400 people, were working as slaves, in forced labor or domestic servitude. Qatar was listed as the fourth worst country in a survey of 167 nations.

Walk Free said more than 1.6 million foreign workers, largely from India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Philippines, are employed in Qatar. Their employers can demand large recruitment fees, withhold pay, confiscate their passports and abuse them physically or sexually, the human rights group said.

Qatar has promised to improve labor laws and conditions but has set no timetable " or minimum wages.

"We understand this problem. For us, it's a human question," al-Ali said. "Qataris aren't vicious people who are like vampires. We have emotions, we feel bad."

Of course, not as bad as the workers, of whom more than 1,200 have died since the World Cup was awarded in 2010. It's projected that another 4,000 could die without labor reform, according to the International Trade Union Confederation.

In its initial bid, Qatar promised the construction of 12 new stadiums, which would have modular sections that could later be disassembled and used to construct soccer venues in developing countries. For the World Cup, the stadiums are to be cooled by "hi-tech, carbon-neutral cooling systems."

The cooling technology has yet to be developed and tested. In April Qatar said it would not build four of the stadiums.

Feel like venting on any of this? You can sign a petition on www.forcechange.com to ask that the 2018 Cup not be held in Russia because of human rights issues, or one to (gasp!) praise FIFA for pressuring Qatar to reform its labor conditions.

Let's see: FIFA is the all-male organization that put the careers of two women in jeopardy while covering up corruption in its awarding of World Cups to a country on an anti-gay campaign and to another country with intolerable heat, working conditions and intolerance of basic human rights, and which told Canada it was okay to use artificial turf instead of grass for the 2015 women's World Cup because, well, you know, they're just women " and you want to praise their human rights efforts?

Think I'll pass on that petition.

 

Way to go, Derrick Gordon

A historic men's college basketball season has opened, with Derrick Gordon of the University of Massachusetts becoming the first publicly gay male Division I to compete in basketball, baseball, football, or hockey.

The UMass shooting guard scored 32 points to go with 13 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals in a pair of wins over Boston College and Siena. He is currently third on the team in scoring average.