Football as a source of a modern-day slavery. A critical look by Samuel Velebný on the FIFA World Championships in Qatar
From a young age, he was fascinated by ultras and their way of enjoying the game on the tribunes. He didn’t want to just sit next to them. He wanted to sing, dance and create the atmosphere of the match with them in all possible ways. He became an artist at the TJ Lokomotiva Stadium in Čermel, Košice. A long-time football lover, local artist, muralist and participant of the Home Residency – Samuel Velebný – criticizes in his newest artwork the inhumane working conditions in Qatar, due to which thousands of migrants lose their lives in the course of the construction of football stadiums.
Europe became the cradle of football 150 years ago. At that time, the working class lived in poor health and financial conditions, injustice and illiteracy. Later, in the 1970s, a state-owned company built similar multi-sports stadiums across Slovakia. During socialism, people built them together as part of compulsory brigades. Over the years, the state of the football industry and the living standards of the working class in Europe have significantly improved and the game has become an entertainment for everyone.
Championship of Shame 2022
The process that precedes the selection of a destination for the World Cup is quite complex. Submitted applications are assessed by a panel of participating countries approximately 10 years in advance. The organization of the World Cup is a prestigious opportunity and the selection process is not always transparent. The successful candidacy of Qatar was preceded by several legitimate lobbying but also illegal steps. For example, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bought a stake in a favorite team of the French president – Paris Saint-Germain, which he then began to actively sponsor. He also promised that if they were to be successful, he would give preference to the French companies in the implementation. FC Barcelona received 170 million for putting the Qatar Airways inscription on the player’s jerseys. “Several FIFA officials have been fined for taking bribes. Therefore, it can be said that Qatar got the championship by fraud,” explains Samo.
Qatar is a country without a football tradition. At present, 8 football stadiums are being built up there, most of which will be dismantled after the championships. “We have stadiums in Europe and Slovakia because people enjoy football. This is a one-off event for Qatar, in which a genuine link with the country is non-existent,” he says. We mostly perceive football as a physical contact with the ball, a healthy activity, time spent with friends, but also fun. In a broader context, even in the case of Qatar, football is proving to be a tool for gaining geopolitical power. The country has serious problems in the Arab region. It is leading military conflicts, there’s a threat of war with Saudi Arabia and there is also the fact that sooner or later it will deplete its non-renewable resources. The championships will be watched by 4 billion people and Qatar will become famous. This will bring further investment to the country.
From progressive Europe to the land of modern-day slavery
In one of the Emirates on the Arabian Peninsula, preparations are underway for the biggest celebration of football – a sport that originated in Europe. In recent years, it has become apparent that Qatar has some serious shortcomings in addressing the issue of migrants. The European football industry clearly has the best conditions for workers and it also has the strongest diplomatic position in the world. “Therefore, I do not understand how it is possible that no one, except for Amnesty International, has criticized the Cathars. No one from Europe has threatened to take away their title,” Samuel explains.
Foreigners who work in the country (unskilled workers) mostly come from Third World countries (Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia and others). In Qatar, they don’t work based on regular employment agreements, but on the basis of a sponsorship system, the so-called kafala. It works on the following principle: the sponsor pays for the migrant’s visa and issues a residence permit for him/her. Both will sign an employment contract, which commits the migrant to 5 years of work without the possibility of switching jobs or quitting. If a worker refuses to continue, the sponsor has the right to report him, and they can then arrest him and deport him from the country. They will take his documents and leave only one – the one with permission to work and live in the country. The working time of workers can be up to 16 hours, while the hourly rate for work performed on a construction site at 50 °C is often less than $ 1. In fact, workers are paid late or not at all. Workers’ associations are banned in the country so they are completely powerless in enforcing their rights.
Over the last 10 years, the Qatari government has committed itself to reforming working conditions with several documents. However, according to Amnesty International, they have taken only a limited number of real steps. The organization points to the huge paradox of massive financial income of FIFA, which is the governing body of the championship. As an example, its income in 2014 was $ 2bilion (€ 1.87 billion), while the monthly income of a worker working on the construction of the largest Khalifa Stadium is $ 220 (€ 193.41).
The voice of the tribunes resonates, it must be activated
“Seeing that there was no action from anybody, I felt the need to activate the voice of the tribunes,” Samo explains. He embarked on a long-term art project that presents the theme of the history of football from the perspective of the working class and calls for manifestation. He created a website where users can find a video and 3 essays on the following topics: Football is a game, Football is an industry, Football is a geopower. Merchandise will also be created – a flag and a scarf, which can be showcased in stadiums, but also at home on the balcony. “I know I can’t do anything about the situation on my own, but I firmly stand against it. And if something appears on tribunes, it resonates, because it is seen by many. I want to raise people’s awareness so that we can exert pressure together,” he adds. He compares this to the situation in Europe, where football has helped to improve the position of workers. The paradox is that football outside Europe does not help workers at all. And an even greater absurdity is that although the whole world is moving to Qatar to improve conditions there, in reality this is not happening at all.
His project was preceded by a critical-reflexive research, which he is determined to turn into an international campaign that he would spread among communities and fans around the world. One person is not enough. Share Samo’s project and show that you are not indifferent to the fates of others. You can help by signing the Amnesty International petition. Listen to Samo’s talk at the mini conference in Tabačka Kulturfabrik on August 26, 2020.
The project is co-funded by the Creative Europe programme of the European Union.