How many worker deaths would you ignore for $277 million?

Unpacking the corruption and scandal of the Qatar World Cup.

Every four years since 2006, millions of Australians soldier through inconvenient time zones, broadcaster price gouging, and a growing sense of pessimism about world affairs to watch the Socceroos get humiliated by some of the most athletically gifted individuals on the planet. 

But in 2022, the inevitable embarrassment faced by Australia at the hands of France and Denmark on the pitch is nothing compared to the shame and hypocrisy of the global football establishment in legitimising Qatari working conditions that make Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory look like a union paradise.

Everything about the choice of Qatar to host the world’s most watched global sporting event has been mired in corruption and scandal. Many of FIFA’s own rules about hosting tournaments had to be specifically altered, like the time of year the tournament takes place and the geographical spread of host cities, just to accommodate the first Middle Eastern foray into global sportswashing, giving Saudi Arabia a handy blueprint.

Worries for player welfare have seen the tournament moved to November rather than the traditional European summer, to prevent us from having to see Paul Scholes immolate on the sideline. All the stadiums have been purpose built for the tournament and include air conditioning, so that FIFA haven’t had to develop unmeltable leather footballs.

However, that concern for safety has not been extended to many of those responsible for the stadiums being there at all; namely, the thousands of migrant workers forced to work in near slave labour conditions with zero protections. 

It is estimated that over 6500 workers, largely from India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan, have died since Qatar was awarded the World Cup in 2010.

This has presented many dilemmas for some of football’s biggest names and many of its rank and file supporters as well. 

David Beckham has employed the newly-titled ‘Greg Norman: take the money and a blindfold’ technique, by entering into an ambassadorship contract with the Qatari kingdom, reportedly worth AU$277 million. These deals are generally reserved for those faded stars with room temperature IQs and an impenetrable ignorance of public opinion.

No one truly believes Becks when he appears in Qatari ads spruiking how open and accepting this worker’s nirvana actually is. The choice of a man with a full back tattoo of Jesus to advertise your Muslim monarchy should at least make people question the authenticity of his glowing endorsement.

But beyond the Beckham sideshow, the last few weeks has seen some other more respected football figures find out that the serenade of a Qatari accountant can drown out all voices of reason. 

Ex-Manchester United player and current commentator Gary Neville announced he penned a deal to work for ITV and Qatar state broadcaster beIN Sports, no less than three weeks after he launched a documentary lambasting the treatment of workers in the refrigerated stadium death camps.

This sudden pivot showed the dexterity normally reserved for Liz Truss crashing the British economy, u-turning and still losing to a lettuce. Suddenly, a World Cup played in temperatures favoured only by Salem witch trials, with no alcohol and the threat of jail for homosexuality, has an enduring appeal for these already super-rich football pundits.

That’s not to say that all broadcasters have been so willing to prop up the global reputation of the latest despotic regime to gain FIFA’s approval.

Australian commentator and SBS stalwart Craig Foster has said that he will continue to broadcast the World Cup but will not travel to Qatar and plans to use his platform to advocate for human rights protections. 

And he is more than just talk. Foster has been a crucial figure in advocating for the ending of refugee detainment and was able to secure the entry to Australia for the Afghanistan women’s football team when the resurgence of the Taliban threatened their ability to continue to play sport.

Foster’s strategy represents the ideal scenario for how this World Cup should be covered. It is unfair and frankly unrealistic to expect the players and fans who wait for four years to participate in such an important global event to suddenly boycott at the expense of their personal careers and country’s chances at glory.

But a prevailing silence for four weeks about human rights abuses based on a commodification of labour should not come simply because certain individuals fancy a new refrigerated wine cellar, similar to the one where the bodies of workers were stored in the stadium.

So, when you’re up at 4am watching Benzema and Griezmann slot another four past the hapless Aussies, spare a thought for the thousands of workers who paid the ultimate price to buy David Beckham a slightly bigger tyre for his rope swing.