World Cup Slaves: A Rumpus Roundup


Earlier today, the United States Attorney General charged 14 FIFA officials with 47 counts of corruption, racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering. FIFA is the international association that oversees football (soccer), including the World Cup.

Pundits have already begun to ponder what these corruption charges mean for upcoming World Cups in Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022).

From the onset, many football fans took umbrage with FIFA for awarding Qatar the tournament. For example, alcohol sales, a traditional part of any soccer match, may not be allowed. The desert heat also proved too much for the traditional summer tournament, and the schedule was moved to host the matches in the middle of winter. Winter matches conflict with the European league play.

The winter tournament will also mean it conflicts with American NFL football season. Fox Sports has the the television broadcast rights to both NFL games as well as the World Cup. To appease Fox Sports, FIFA sold the broadcaster rights to the 2026 cup at a discount to avoid a lawsuit.

Television rights are extremely lucrative for everyone involved: FIFA, the broadcasters, and of course the officials, who accepted more than $150 million in kickbacks.

Corruption of FIFA officials is nothing new. The lack of alcohol sales, interruption of European league play, and conflicting television broadcasting rights are all good reasons for fans of the beautiful game to be upset. However, the more urgent issue, and one that fans are rightly outraged over, are the concerns about human rights abuses.

Early reports showed evidence of forced labor (aka slavery), stolen passports, and lack of pay.

On average, construction for the 2022 World Cup has been killing one Nepalese worker every other day.

By March, more than 900 migrant workers died building facilities for the World Cup, and estimates expect more than 4,000 will die before the Qatar cup construction finishes. By May, the number of dead had risen to 1,200 deaths.

Workers have been barred from attending funerals, and following the massive Nepalese earthquake earlier this year, many workers were denied the right to travel home.

Journalists seeking answers on Qatari labor conditions have been arrested and detained, although later released. Their equipment and film footage was destroyed.

Conditions of migrant labor in Qatar are notoriously harsh, not just when it comes to constructing World Cup facilities. Workers often aren’t paid. They live in squalor, defecate in buckets, and are prevented from leaving.

With FIFA having done little about worker conditions, protesters have targeted World Cup sponsors including American corporations like Coca-Cola, Visa, and McDonalds by remaking their logos as a testament to their involvement in slave labor. Visa, for its part, has issued a strongly worded statement. Coca-Cola also explained it was “shocked.”

The 2018 Russian games are not without controversy either. Ukraine called for a boycott of the tournament after Russia invaded. Russia also plans on using prison labor to reduce costs of construction. Players and FIFA officials alike are also concerned with Russia’s homophobic anti-gay laws.

Swiss prosecutors have decided to look into 7 of the FIFA officials relating to their votes for the Russian and Qatar tournaments.

FIFA, so far, insists both tournaments will proceed as planned.

As for the dead laborers, a design firm has proposed a monument to honor them. The proposal calls for laying a brick on a cylindrical tower for each dead worker. At the current rate, by 2022, the monument will stand more than a mile high.

Ian MacAllen is the author of Red Sauce: How Italian Food Became American (Rowman & Littlefield, April 2022). His writing has appeared in Chicago Review of Books, Southern Review of Books, The Offing, 45th Parallel Magazine, Little Fiction, Vol 1. Brooklyn, and elsewhere. He tweets @IanMacAllen and is online at More from this author →