Just five days after FIFA voted to award Qatar the 2022 World Cup, Jack Warner, a senior FIFA official (and now a politician in Trinidad), received $1.2 million from a company controlled by the leading proponent for a Qatari World Cup (the proponent, Mohamed bin Hammam, has since been banned from football for life ). Some have argued that this impropriety should cost Qatar the World Cup, and FIFA has created and empowered an ethics committee to investigate potential wrongdoing. The United States FBI is also investigating the payments. If FIFA finds wrongdoing, it might reassign the cup on that basis.
I believe that to reassign the Cup on the basis of corruption in the FIFA vote would be a mistake. The Qatari World Cup is a magnifying glass on unfair labor practices in Qatar, and the Cup’s potential impact on human and labor rights is too great to give up.
The allegations of corruption are sweeping. Millions of documents obtained by The Sunday Times purportedly detail conversations about payments and money transfers from accounts controlled by Mr. Bin Hammam, his family and Doha-based businesses. In addition to the money sent to Mr. Warner, documents show that Mr. Bin Hammam discussed trade deals with many of the officials and countries eligible to vote in the decision in 2010, offered car dealerships to FIFA members, and discussed internships and jobs for family of some FIFA members.
Qatar says it had nothing to do with Mr. Bin Hammam payments. “The right to host the tournament was won,” said Cup organizers, “because it was the best bid and because it is time for the Middle East to host its first FIFA World Cup.”
The results of the official investigation, and any recommendations, are still forthcoming. Calls for a revote, however, have not waited for results or recommendations. And even the more cautious would move quickly. FIFA Vice-President Jim Boyce said he would have “no hesitation” in supporting a revote if allegations proved true.
This post calls for hesitation. There are potential human rights benefits to a Qatari World Cup, and corruption should be a consideration — rather than a dispositive factor — in determining the Cup’s fate.
Saying that the Cup might have a positive impact on human and labor rights in Qatar might seem strange, even perverse. After all, the buildup to the World Cup has been plagued by human rights abuses. The Nepalese Embassy reports that 400 Nepalese workers have died working toward the Qatar World Cup due to a lack of food and water; some estimate that Qatar’s World Cup could end up killing 4000 workers. Indeed, it is these human and labor rights abuses (along with soaring summer temperatures that can exceed 100 degrees) that have led many to question the decision to hold the World Cup in Qatar, even before the corruption allegations came to light.
But holding the World Cup in Qatar might have benefits that would outweigh these very real costs. The World Cup is a magnifying glass, and moving the Cup removes that magnifying glass. Human rights organizations are paying attention. The European Parliament passed a resolution calling on Qatar to “fundamentally overhaul” its system of labor, on EU Member States to prioritize workers’ rights in their relations with Qatar, and on FIFA-related institutions and corporate actors to take full responsibility to prevent abuses. FIFA has finally vowed to help improve workers’ rights in Qatar, and Qatar is taking its own measures: Last February, Qatar worked with the International Labor Organization to issue guidelines governing how contractors may treat workers. These guidelines are merely guidelines, and there is work to be done. Developments are in the right direction, though, and there is reason to believe that, with continued international scrutiny, Qatar, FIFA, and World Cup contractors will take additional steps to protect workers’ rights.
Alleged corruption in the vote ought to be considered alongside the potential benefits of international scrutiny. I believe the benefits moving forward overweigh the potential harm done. This is not the first time FIFA has been embroiled in corruption. FIFA operated without a Code of Ethics until 2004, so some FIFA officials received bribes with impunity. The vote for the Russian World Cup in 2018 has also been challenged, and British Prime Minister David Cameron hinted that England could bid again for the 2018 Cup if FIFA decided to annul the voting decisions for the two tournaments. But the Qatari World Cup can mark an inflection point in international football. FIFA has begun, and can continue, to improve its ethical codes of conduct. It can also begin to take seriously its obligation to ensure that its contractors and hosts comply with labor standards and human rights norms. Worker deaths constructing this summer’s Brazilian Cup demonstrate a need for change to FIFA’s economic policies, not only in Qatar but in all host countries.
FIFA’s investigators ought to wield their power to fully investigate and freely report wrongdoing. FIFA’s Ethics Committee ought to independently evaluate the report, and impartially punish those who have broken the rules. Such is necessary to fight what appears to be endemic corruption in the world football body. Committee members have broad discretion in punishment, however, and reassignment is just one potential sanction among many. Whether or not FIFA’s vote for a Qatari World Cup is marked by corruption, FIFA should hesitate to pull itself – and, with it, the international community – out of Qatar.