Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey (D) called on FIFA, international soccer’s governing body, to strip Qatar of its 2022 World Cup hosting duties amid allegations of labor abuses and corruption in the bidding process.
“I am writing to urge the FIFA executive committee to re-allocate the winning bid for the 2022 World Cup from Qatar to the United States due to significant concerns regarding workers’ rights in Qatar and corrupt practices surrounding the original Qatari bid for the tournament,” Casey wrote in a letter to FIFA president Joseph “Sepp” Blatter. “It is clear that allowing the World Cup and the infrastructure projects leading up to it to take place in Qatar is no longer acceptable in the face of allegations of bribery and labor rights abuses.”
“Rewarding these labor practices with the 2022 World Cup is the wrong approach,” Casey said in a release accompanying the letter. “Recent reporting has raised new concerns about the way Qatar treats its workers and the manner in which the country was selected for the 2022 World Cup. FIFA’s own President has recently called the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar a ‘mistake.’ I’m urging FIFA to remove the cloud that hangs over the 2022 World Cup and swiftly reallocate this event. The U.S. submitted a quality bid to FIFA that should once again be given serious consideration. Bringing the 2022 World Cup to the U.S. will also have a significant jobs impact that strengthens our economy.”
Casey isn’t necessarily right about the “significant jobs impact” the World Cup would have, as most academic research shows that mega-events like it and the Olympics have little economic effect on host countries. But he is not the first to raise concerns about Qatar’s labor abuses or corruption around the awarding of the 2022 World Cup.
Human rights groups have called Qatar of “modern-day slave state” when it comes to its labor practices, where workers have few rights under the existing kafala system. Under kafala, workers must have a domestic sponsor to enter the country and can only switch jobs or leave Qatar if their sponsor approves. They also have little say in wages or living conditions and little recourse against employers. Qatar announced reforms to the system earlier this year, but rights groups and international unions have said the changes do not go nearly far enough. Qatar has also faced scrutiny over the safety of workers, as one international union estimates that more than 4,000 workers could die working on World Cup-related construction projects.
Qatari officials also allegedly provided millions of dollars in bribes to FIFA officials in an effort to buy votes during the bidding process, according to recent reports in the Sunday Times. And there are concerns that sweltering summer temperatures would make playing the World Cup in Qatar dangerous for both players and fans.
FIFA has never relocated a World Cup once hosting duties have been awarded, though Colombia voluntarily relinquished its hosting duties in 1986. But there are signs that FIFA could be considering stripping Qatar of the tournament. ESPN’s Jorge Ramos has reported that FIFA had asked American soccer officials to begin preparing a new bid for the 2022 Cup in case it decides to move the tournament and re-open the bidding process. Both FIFA and U.S. Soccer denied the report.
As part of its bid, the United States said it had plenty of existing stadiums that would be ready to host. The U.S., which finished second to Qatar in voting, hasn’t hosted since 1994, the last time the tournament was played in North America. South Korea and Japan, which submitted independent bids and finished third and fourth, co-hosted in 2002. Australia finished fifth in the voting and has never hosted.