Slave to the game.

IN May of this year, Gianni Infantino, the head of the FIFA World Cup Organisation said that the workers who built the grand football stadiums in Qatar venues for the World Cup, could feel 'dignity and pride' in their work. Infantino was criticised for his statement because it is well-known that the conditions confronting the workers have been far from ideal.

This Sunday, the Cup finally began, but the workers continued to suffer. According to the New York Times, thousands of workers are still waiting to be paid for their work on and in these venues. Nepal, which is second only to India in the number of workers that it sends to Qatar, has lost workers in the thousands since construction began in 2010. Nepalese workers claimed that they have been waiting to be paid for months and months now.

An investigation by an international news network, possible only because some workers became so desperate that they took the risk of allowing in journalists with cameras, revealed squalid conditions with no proper sanitation, food or water.

Anyone walking around the construction compound at night would have security called on them because they may appear to be escaping. It is not necessary though, because employers confiscate their passports as soon as they arrive, and the workers cannot leave without them. Dead workers are sent home in coffins, allegedly with little explanation to their loved ones of what happened and none of the wages they hadn't already received.

The focus on the workers' conditions has made Qatar sensitive to criticism it is receiving, but carrying out actual reform would mean changing the legal structure on which the country's labour system is based. Not only would this require a reformation of the kafala system but also create some mode of citizenship for the many generations of Pakistanis, Egyptians, Palestinians and others who have lived there for generations.

In the absence of any effort to address these reforms and pass labour laws that would make it harder to exploit workers, Qatar has settled for superficialities. Outside the Al Bayt stadium is a large mural whose ostensible purpose is to recognise the sacrifices of the workers that built the stadium. It features tiny photographs of the workers, impossible to see individually unless the viewer gets very close.

The fact is that most workers, Pakistani or Nepali or Filipino, are irrelevant and replaceable, and live entirely at the whim of their employers.

While the World Cup is...

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