Posted on 13. June 2014
by Elias Vartio
The FIFA world cup began in Brazil. The long expected football event has to some degree been overshadowed also by the past year’s demonstrations and demands for social reform. In the last couple of months, however, the arrangements for the world Cup to be held in Qatar 2022, have been drawing an increased amount of heat. The last inch in the growing annoyance and regret was the bribing and corruption suspicions that have been raised in the international media in the last few weeks. What do all these high status sporting events and their controversies tell us about the state of humanity? The answer is rather expected, albeit all the less flattering.
In the last few decades there has been a growing trend to perhaps get away from the western eurocentricity of the most popular sporting events. In the 1980s there were the summer Olympics of Moscow (1980) and Seoul (1988) and in this Millennium again the olympics in Bejing 2008 and the Fifa World Cup in South Africa. This spring we first had the (in)famous olympics in Sotschi and now the ice-hockey championship in Belarus.
From a humanist perspective, the results of these events have been rather mixed. Some claim that the summer olympics in Moscow and the great international crowd staying in the city, was one of the catalysts for the Perestroika and the downfall of the Soviet Union. It is said that the atmosphere in both Belarus and South Africa were quite special and unique. We can perhaps draw a conclusion that hosting a major event like this indeed has several benefits and potential positive effects. But what is the flip-side of the coin? What is the cost for executing this grandeur and sharing the innocent halo of great athletes at times even upon autocrats and despotic rulers?
As the Quatar scandal has unravelled, brief mentions have been made on also the Human Rights abuses. While it is fine, that the human rights abuses are noted in media, I do find the context and the way they are portrayed somewhat concerning. Stalin once said, that while the death of a person is a tragedy, the death of millions is statistics. This ugly idea translates also quite well in to human rights; if we just brush of grave violations upon the dignity, freedom and health of human beings as “some human rights issues”, then we are not paying enough attention. Human rights violations can range from anything to forced deportations, unpaid wages and restriction of movement (Sotchi 2014), to arresting troublesome civil rights activists and journalists just before the games (Belarus 2014), to the death of more than a thousand construction workers several years before the games have even begun (Qatar 2022). According to a report released by the International trade Union Confederation (ITUC) in March, more than one thousand workers (700+ Indians, 400+ Pakistanis) have died due to the inhumane working conditions. There seems to be no respect for human dignity here, and FIFA appears to be just a passive accomplice, unwilling to bear responsibility.1
One would think that one death just for a sporting event or creating a building would be too much in the modern world – and yet, now we are talking about thousands. And what happens?
The hazardous working conditions are seen as regrettable, while the corruption scandal suddenly really moves us? Why is this? Perhaps we indeed are more concerned about living in functional institutions in ‘our’ societies rather than about the tragic deaths in far-away places. The alleged corruption reveals a weakness in ourselves, our structures and our societies, a failure that we need to deal with. The thousands of workers living without fresh water and dying of heart failures, well – as long as no further action is taken – that appears to be ‘just statistics’.
For once, I really do hope to be proven wrong.
1. These issues of grave human rights violations in the name of something good and spectacular, is not something monopolized by events for elite athletes. Yet they gain visibility here. Even workers of American universities in the region – of the very institutions that should resemble enlightenment and civilized manners – appear to be facing similar harsh, violent conditions (as also a scandal concerning the building of New York University’s facilities in Abu Dhabi became public, see more here).