Instead, there are many Nepalis boycotting the games. Others have expressed frustration over campaigns seeking compensation for the abused. Many Nepalis watched the games with a bitter aftertaste — love for the beautiful game tainted by the blood, sweat and tears of compatriots.
Read also: My uncle died in Qatar, Ramu Kharel
The host country and the football governing body FIFA are both set to make billions in profits. But demands to compensate families for the deaths of relatives have been ignored. Financial support will not make up for their tragedies, but it would have provided some relief.
Neither FIFA nor Qatar are particularly low on resources. Yet they have blithely ignored reports of abuse of workers. They accuse critics of hypocrisy and engaged in whataboutery about historical atrocities committed by colonial powers.
But what the din of the cheering crowds at Lusail Stadium drowned out are valid concerns about workers who were abused and never compensated. What about the families of the deceased who died to make this tournament possible?
But as we reported during the 2018 World Cup, quoting a Qatar based migrant worker from the documentary The Worker’s Cup: “It is not about the worker. It was never about the worker”.
The stories of mourning families in Nepal are happening here and now. They are grieving while the world is transfixed by the glamour and glare of the stadium lights.
Read also: Qatar refuses payoffs to World Cup workers
There may be unending disagreement on the actual number of deaths of migrant workers in Qatar, or if they occurred during construction of the stadiums. But the stories of bereaved families knee-deep in loans are well documented. Despite Qatar’s advanced health system, many of the workers’ deaths are attributed to unexplained causes.
Many of the deaths of workers are not unique to Qatar, but the tournament has helped bring them to light. Yet, the hosts managed to pull off this global event denying the scale of deaths, or calls for compensation, telling people to instead just focus on football.
Qatar is set to host other mega events, including the 2023 AFC and is vying for the Olympics. Saudi Arabia has its eyes on the 2030 World Cup and has started laying the foundations for its $500 billion NEOM city project.
These will be built and delivered on the backs of migrant workers, including Nepalis. Restrictive regimes will continue to limit freedom of speech and punish any migrant worker who dares to speak up. Governments from countries like ours will self-censor, and ignore their own citizens being unpaid, abused or left to die.
Read also: Labour rights legacy of the FIFA World Cup, Meenakshi Ganguly and Mohna Ansari
Workers will continue to leave Nepal in droves to transform deserts into cities. These jobs are important, even transformational, for some families. Landing a good employer is like winning the lottery.
Many families buy land, build houses, afford education for their children or medical bills for parents back home. So the exploitation is tolerated by families who depend on the money, or by the country whose economy depends on those remittances.
It is unfair to blame just the host countries as some of the gravest abuse begins in Nepal with workers drowning in debt by the time they land in Qatar. It is governance failure and corruption back home that is a major push factor, and ‘manpower’ agencies in Nepal also blatantly cheat workers eager for jobs overseas.
Read also: “Pay Qatar’s World Cup workers”
It does not matter how Qatar won the World Cup hosting rights, why in the world Saudi Arabia wants to build a fantasy city, or what steps Malaysia is taking to ramp up medical gloves production. It will not matter that origin countries including Nepal are complacent and complicit in the abuses their citizens face abroad. Abject poverty and the desire to provide for families back home overshadow all other concerns.
Jobs, even without safeguards, will always be a superior option to no jobs. This is the reality of a workforce that does not want to be limited by finding work back home, or the Nepal government’s own apathy to push for stronger, tangible migration reforms.
After the 2022 Qatar World Cup is done, it is unlikely that the next mega project in the desert will be any different to maximise the gains of international migration and its abuses minimised.
More vanity projects, more jobs. More remittance. More uncompensated abuse. More silent boycott. More global events in which the poorest pay a steep price. More deafening silence from our government. More viral stories on coffins received at the airport by broken families.
The only difference is that the bodies will now arrive in more than one international airport in Nepal.
Cup of the world, Nepali Times
The workers’ football, Upasana Khadka
Rights referees blow whistle on World Cup fouls, Kunda Dixit