17 February 2014

The brutal costs of the World Cup

As the scandal over Vladimir Putin's $50-billion Olympics begins to fade, equally sordid scandals about the World Cup come to the fore.

Brazil, which has won more World Cups than any other country. is holding the Cup this year. To date, things are not going well. Five stadiums scheduled for completion by the end of last year are still under construction. International Football Association (FIFA) President Sepp Blatter said Brazil was further behind schedule than any host since he joined the organization in 1975. Six workers have been killed in stadium construction accidents, four since late November as the deadline pressure accelerates. The waste of lives and money on what are widely seen as white elephants has galvanized street protests that initially had nothing to do with football. "Não vai ter Copa!" (No World Cup) is now commonly chanted at demonstrations.

The loss of life in Brazil is almost trivial compared to the veritable slaughter taking place in preparation for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The deaths of over 400 Nepalese migrant workers have been recorded on Qatar's construction sites and Nepalese make up only 20 per cent of the workforce. The workers, although generally healthy young men, are frequently diagnosed as dying of heart failure, not surprising considering they work 12-hour days in temperatures that can exceed 40C, often without adequate food and water, and are forced to live in squalid, overcrowded quarters with no air-conditioning and overflowing sewage. This in one of the richest countries in the world.

The 2022 World Cup organizing committee has threatened to punish companies who violate workers' welfare and FIFA could yet reassign the venue. The obvious question is why they awarded the Cup to a nation notorious for human rights violations and labour exploitation in the first place. But then these are not criteria for assigning international sports spectacles.

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