Countdown timers have arrived on television screens and social networks across Latin America. They tick off the days, hours, and minutes until the opening match of the FIFA World Cup on November 20. Usually, timers appear in about June, but with Qatar hosting the big event, the games have shifted toward year’s end, to avoid the sweltering Gulf summer.
Six Latin American countries—Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, and Uruguay—have qualified for the Men’s Cup, and millions of fans from other countries across the region will closely follow the tournament.
Latin America is known for its infatuation with football, and the obsession peaks with the World Cup. Argentina’s and Brazil’s national teams also command a fan base that cheers from every nook and cranny of the world.
It is striking, then, that Latin American football associations have remained silent about the serious abuses against migrant workers who have made this year’s World Cup possible. Wage theft, injuries, and unexplained deaths have plagued the workers’ efforts—and Qatari authorities have arrested and deported some who went on strike to protest unpaid earnings.
It is a tragedy for the thousands of people who migrated to Qatar to provide for their families.
Human Rights Watch joined a coalition to call on FIFA and Qatari authorities to provide remedy, including financial compensation, to the migrants who have suffered harm since 2010, when Qatar won World Cup hosting rights. We also wrote to all qualifying Latin American football associations, asking them to announce their support for a remedy that seven qualifying associations, including the French, German, and U.S. associations, have already publicly supported.
No Latin American football association has responded. Maybe they think it is not their problem. But considering how important football is to people in Latin America, it is.
Let’s not tar football, usually called the “beautiful game” for plenty of good reasons, with labor abuses.
Tite, Brazil’s coach, has already set a good example, announcing his support in September for a compensation fund for migrant workers abused in Qatar. What a disappointment that Brazil’s football association didn’t follow through to endorse Tite’s brave step!
Just as it does every four years, the 2022 World Cup will alter the daily routine of a region that, 20 years after its last trophy, when Brazil won the 2002 World Cup, dreams of snatching a victory. Fans can harness their yearning and excitement to the just and legitimate claims of those who have worked to make the event possible.
With only a month to go before the opening kick-off, Latin American football associations need to follow Tite’s example. They need to call on FIFA and Qatari authorities to establish a comprehensive program of remedy for Qatar’s abused migrant workers and their families.