Soccer is a useful political tool for dictatorships. But Qatar is able to milk the World Cup as much as possible because the sport is infected by unbridled capitalistic greed.
BOGOTÁ — Soccer lost its innocence years ago. Its history of spectacular feats and heart-wrenching moments contain a catalogue of outrages. Beyond the miracles and goals, the "beautiful game" must face up to its own infection by capitalism and greed for profits.
The soccer governing body FIFA, a private multinational that meddles unchecked in the public sphere, has become a byword for excess and shady financial practices. The Qatar World Cup illustrates this perfectly.
Money knows best
Beyond the many marvels of the game, soccer has served to hide brutality and ignominies. Today, it is helping Qatar's ruling elite display boundless power in a land where the people don't receive the benefits.
Qatar snatched the opportunity, not with prayers and piety but with gold.
Even before 2010, Qatar's shady dealings and strong-arm tactics were somewhat known. But FIFA, which has little time for petty details like a host country's hellish conditions, let the country host the World Cup. The pressures, deceit, political haggling and payments that led to this decision are widely know, but they just called this old-fashioned business. Money knows best, bless it.
Qatar snatched the opportunity, not with prayers and piety but with gold. Better still, it was black gold, which made it all possible — nay, inevitable. FIFA's former President Sepp Blatter later belatedly admitted that picking Qatar was a mistake.
But the die had been cast, and the event demands a colosseum. That is where the migrants come in, from Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka or Nepal, working from "January to January" and "Sunday through Sunday" without rights but with so many needs. In the eyes of the elite, they exist to be exploited by the untouchable rich and their banks, who are there to run things.
Building stadiums in Qatar ahead of the World Cup
What's the price of quashing human rights?
Thanks to investigations by places like The Guardian, the world began to learn about the mistreatment of workers in Qatar. It was already a harsh place for press freedoms, women and LGBTQ+ people, but now migrants were being worked to death. A stadium was built with the blood of workers.
A stadium was built with the blood of workers.
As The Guardian observed, more than 6,500 workers have died building the shining structures now hosting the games. Was it worth it? Should we care about a few thousand families mourning a relative who will not return, or that Qatar quashes freedoms for women and gays?
Soccer is more than just a game. Italy's dictator Mussolini knew it in 1934, as did the Nazis, some African dictators and the Brazilian generals who were enthralled by Pele's genius. The Argentine junta knew it in 1978, when cheering crowds obliterated the sound of detainees screaming under torture.
Soccer needs a bit of blood and sacrifice, they'll say — watch that expert dribbling or gobsmacking goal, and forget the injustice.