FIFA (the managing body of the World Cup) is getting hammered this week with exposés about its shady dealings with Qatar & the anti-World Cup protests in Brazil. Allegations & investigations of financial & political corruption have long dogged FIFA (& its counterpart, the International Olympic Committee). There are no human rights violations either won’t tolerate if there’s enough money in it for them.
Qatar is one of those peculiar formations that came out of British colonialism; it’s less a nation-state than a feudal monarchy with capitalism. It has no working class so foreign workers mostly from Nepal, India, & Bangladesh are allowed entry for work. Sepp Blatter, the venal & contemptible head of FIFA, is accused (again) of taking money under the table for awarding the FIFA venue to Qatar in 2022–which requires extensive construction of stadia. Qatar uses the Kafala labor system which requires immigrant workers to relinquish their passports so they can’t quit their jobs or move back to their home countries, often forces them to work without wages, dictates where they live under squalid conditions in labor camps, doesn’t allow them to drive.
The absolute monarchy that rules Qatar responded to public exposure of its labor practices by doing an investigation of the labor camps & concluded 964 immigrant workers had died between 2012 & 2013. That figure should certainly be multiplied (lord knows how many times) but the mortality rate is not the only measure of violence. Thousands of immigrant domestic workers are subjected to violence & abuse in the privacy of homes.
Blatter-ass might be able to walk away from these allegations were it not for the massive protests against the World Cup & FIFA in Brazil. Thousands of Brazilians, including students, striking school teachers, bus drivers, Indigenous tribes, favela dwellers, homeless activists, are out in 12 cities & setting up roadblocks & Occupy-style encampments; protests are being organized in up to fifity cities. Banners declare “FIFA go home,” “The cup without the people, all to the streets again!” & “Na Copa vai ter luta” (The Cup will have protests).
This is a whole new twist on that “bread & circuses” thing from ancient Rome where athletic exhibitions were used to distract & appease public unrest & depoliticize the population. These elite games are peddled as a form of international entente when in fact they are fun & games for the neoliberal elite paid for by the blood & sweat of working people. Brazil paid a (seriously under-estimated) amount of $15 billion to bankroll the games out of the public coffers. Meanwhile education, health care, housing, transportation are in shambles & many Brazilians are protesting the number of construction workers who died because of the push to get the stadia built by the June games. Attendees at the games will pay an average of £6,000 (over US $10,000) to park their asses in their swanky boxes. If you can afford that kind of price tag, you can afford to bankroll your own amusements. Meanwhile, only a handful of the Brazilians who paid for the stadia will be employed to sell peanuts to the privileged.
Our fullest solidarity with the immigrant workers in Qatar; may they bring that feudal monarchy to its demise. And our fullest solidarity & gratitude with the working people of Brazil whose protests are helping take out FIFA; exposing neoliberalism’s version of bread & circuses; & challenging neoliberal plunder.
(Photo of Sao Paulo anti-FIFA protests by Nacho Doce/Reuters)