THERE’S been severe criticism, primarily in the Western media, of the gross exploitation of migrant workers in Qatar’s bid to host football’s World Cup that began in Doha last week. There’s more than a grain of truth in the accusation, and there’s dollops of hypocrisy about it.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino brought it out nicely by calling out the Western media’s double standards in what is tantamount to shedding crocodile tears for the exploited workers.
The CNN, unsurprisingly, slammed Infantino’s anger, and quoted human rights groups as describing his comments as “crass” and an “insult” to migrant workers. Why is Infantino convinced that the Western media wallows in its own arrogance?
It is nobody’s secret that migrant workers in the Gulf are paid a pittance, which becomes more deplorable when compared to the enormous riches they help produce. As is evident, the workers’ exploitation is not specific to Qatar’s hosting of a football tournament, but a deeper malaise in which Western greed mocks its moral sermons.
As their earnings with hard labour abroad fetch them more than what they would get at home, the workers become unwitting partners in their own abuse. This has been the unwritten law around the generation of wealth in oil-rich Gulf countries, though their rulers are not alone in the exploitative venture.
Western colluders, nearly all of them champions of human rights, have used the oil extracted with cheap labour that plies Gulf economies, to control the world order. The West and the Gulf states have both benefited directly from dirt cheap workforce sourced from countries like India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the far away Philippines.
Making it considerably worse is the sullen cutthroat competition that has prevailed for decades between workers of different countries, thereby undercutting each other’s bargaining power. The bruising competition is not unknown to their respective governments that benefit enormously from the remittances from an exploited workforce. The disregard for work conditions is not only related to the Gulf workers, of course, but also migrant labour at home. In the case of India, we witnessed the criminal apathy they experienced in the Covid-19 emergency.
Sham outrage over a Gulf country hosting the World Cup is just one aspect of hypocrisy.
Asian women workers in the Gulf face quantifiably worse conditions. An added challenge they face is of sexual exploitation. Cheap labour imported from South Asia, therefore, answers to the overused though still germane term — Western imperialism. Infantino was spot on. Pity the self-absorbed Western press booed him down.
Sham outrage over a Gulf country hosting the World Cup is just one aspect of hypocrisy. A larger problem remains rooted in an undiscussed bias.
Moscow and Beijing in particular have been the Western media’s leading quarries from time immemorial. The boycott of the Moscow Olympics over the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan was dressed up as a moral proposition, which it might have been but for the forked tongue at play. That numerous Olympic contests went ahead undeterred in Western cities despite their illegal wars or support for dictators everywhere was never called out. What the West did with China, however, bordered on distilled criminality.
I was visiting Beijing in September 1993 with prime minister Narasimha Rao’s media team. The streets were lined with colourful buntings and slogans, which one mistook for a grand welcome for the visiting Indian leader. As it turned out the enthusiasm was all about Beijing’s bid to host the 2000 Olympics. It was fortunate Rao arrived on Sept 6 and could sign with Li Peng a landmark agreement for “peace and tranquility” on the Sino-Indian borders. Barely two week later, China would collapse into collective depression after Sydney snatched the 2000 Olympics from Beijing’s clasp. Western perfidy was at work again.
As it happened, other than Sydney and Beijing three other cities were also in the running — Manchester, Berlin and Istanbul — but, as The New York Times noted: “No country placed its prestige more on the line than China.” When the count began, China led the field with a clear margin over Sydney. Then the familiar mischief came into play.
Beijing led after each of the first three rounds, but was unable to win the required majority of the 89 voting members. One voter did not cast a ballot in the final two rounds. After the third round, in which Manchester won 11 votes, Beijing still led Sydney by 40 to 37 ballots. “But, confirming predictions that many Western delegates were eager to block Beijing’s bid, eight of Manchester’s votes went to Sydney and only three to the Chinese capital,” NYT reported. Human rights was cited as the cause. Hypocritically, that concern disappeared out of sight and Beijing hosted a grand Summer Olympics in 2008.
Football is a mesmerising game to watch. Its movements are comparable to musical notes of a riveting symphony. Above all, it’s a sport that cannot be easily fudged with. But its backstage in our era of the lucre stinks of pervasive corruption.
Anger in Beijing burst into the open when it was revealed in January 1999 that Australia’s Olympic Committee president John Coates promised two International Olympic Committee members $35,000 each for their national Olympic committees the night before the vote, which gave the games to Sydney by 45 votes to 43.
The Daily Mail described the “usual equanimity” with which Juan Antonio Samaranch, the then Spanish IOC president, tried to diminish the scam. The allegations against nine of the 10 IOC members accused of graft “have scant foundation and the remaining one has hardly done anything wrong”.
“In a speech to his countrymen,” recalled the Mail, “he blamed the press for ‘overreacting’ to the underhand tactics, including the hire of prostitutes, employed by Salt Lake City to host the next Winter Olympics.” Samaranch sidestepped any reference to the tactics employed by Sydney to stage the Millennium Summer Games.
This reality should never be obscured by other outrages, including the abominable working conditions of Asian workers in Qatar.
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
Published in Dawn, November 22nd, 2022