CHENNAI: Brazil are well placed to win a record sixth World Cup, Led by Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal lead the European charge. An ageing Lionel Messi can finally silence his remaining critics with global gold. African champions, Senegal, have the squad and the personality to become the first from the continent to reach the semifinals.
There will be goals, cards, penalties, enduring images, heartbreaks and tears. Yet, it feels vulgar to talk about the World Cup from a footballing context knowing what has happened in the last 12 years.
Since that still surreal Thursday on December 2, 2010, almost everything about the Qatar bid and the subsequent win has been questioned. Allegations of bribery and corruption continue to linger like impure Delhi air. Workers have not only been exploited but people who went to Qatar to build a better life for their families back home returned to their families in coffins. That both of these are facts and not allegations itself is a terrible look for the organisers.
At some level, this World Cup could have been genuine cause for celebration. A first Muslim World Cup. A first Arab World Cup. And the revamp of the infamous kafala system.
Yet, it's a World Cup that will probably be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
It was supposed to be a Summer World Cup. It will be played in the Winter. Out of the 22 FIFA Ex-Co members who voted to give the World Cup to Qatar, at least 16 have faced some corruption-related charge or other. Some have gone to jail. Some have been banned for life. One of them became a whistleblower... the rap charges reads like the mafia took over the game for a while.
This is even before you come to the human cost, one of the greatest tragedies of the 21st century. Never before have so many poor people suffered because of the wanton acts of so few rich people in a sporting context. Human rights groups still do not know the exact number of people who died while constructing the stadia and other World Cup-related projects. The figures have ranged from 6500 to 15000 (this figure, published by Amnesty International, is the number of foreign nationals who died in Qatar between 2010 to 2019 so this includes people like doctors and engineers). For what it's worth, FIFA maintains that only three people died as a result of their work on the site.
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A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, published on Monday, made for grim reading. "FIFA granted Qatar the games in 2010, with no human rights due diligence and no set conditions about protections for migrant workers who would be needed to construct the massive infrastructure," the body said.
"FIFA is responsible not just for stadium workers, a minority of the total migrant workforce whose employers are held to higher standards for workplace conditions, but also for workers to build and service projects for tournament preparation and delivery, including transport and accommodations, security, cleaning and landscaping.
"Despite repeated warnings from the workers themselves and civil society groups, FIFA failed to impose strong conditions to protect workers and became a complacent enabler to the widespread abuse workers suffered, including illegal recruitment fees, wage theft, injuries and deaths.
"FIFA has the responsibility to identify and remedy these abuses in accordance with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which FIFA adopted into its Statutes in 2016 and its Human Rights Policy, adopted in 2017. FIFA also has ample resources for remedy since the 2022 World Cup is expected to generate over $6 billion in revenue. Key labour reforms introduced by Qatari authorities came too late or were too weakly implemented for many workers to benefit."
Amnesty International's final pre-tournament briefing was on similar lines. The world body maintained that human rights abuses 'persist on a significant scale'. “Despite the positive evolution of Qatar’s labour system, substantial work remains to effectively implement and enforce these (changes),” the report said. "Ultimately, human rights abuses persist on a significant scale today.”
It's a damning indictment that teams, a few days out from their first games, are asked questions on how they will tackle questions specifically related to Qatar. Will they protest? Will they challenge the country's lack of rights for marginalised communities? Will they ask FIFA to create a $440mn (prize money for the World Cup) fund towards reparations?
That last question has already been answered resoundingly as several federations in Europe demand FIFA take necessary steps to compensate migrant workers who made this World Cup a reality.
FIFA, of course, does not want to talk about any of this. Two weeks ago, they wrote to all the participating nations with the message 'now focus on football'.
It's hard to focus on football when it's alleged to have been sold to the highest bidder.
The officials who voted on December 2, 2010
Was under some investigation, and/or accused of corruption, and/or arrested and indicted, and/or banned, or cleared of all charges: Sepp Blatter, Julio Grondona (dead), Michel Platini, Chuck Blazer (dead), Michel D’Hooghe, Worawi Makudi, Issa Hayatou, Jack Warner, Angel Villar, Chung Moon-joon, Ricardo Teixeira, Nicolas Leoz, Franz Beckenbauer, Rafael Salguero, Vitaly Mutko, Geoff Thompson, Marios Lefkaritis, Jacques Anouma, Hany Abo Rida, Junji Ogura, Jacques Anouma
Faced no charges: Senes Erzik