Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., has sent a letter to world soccer leaders calling on FIFA to strip Qatar of the 2022 World Cup, and award it to the United States instead. His letter cites widespread reports of corruption in the bidding process, in addition to deplorable working conditions endured by the country’s huge number of migrant workers.
“I think it just makes sense in the interest of fairness that the United States should be awarded this opportunity,” Casey said in the latest edition of the ESPN podcast series “Capital Games.”
“If you can’t have that, then you would at least consider having a revote on the bidding countries.”
The United States was the runner-up in its bid for the 2022 cup, narrowly missing the chance to put on the soccer tournament it previously hosted in 1994, in nine U.S. cities But since Qatar was awarded the tournament over the United States, reports have emerged of some $5 million in bribes showered on FIFA officials by the oil-rich Mideast country.
Plus, the construction boom associated with building gleaming new soccer facilities in the tiny nation has brought new scrutiny on the migrant worker system in Qatar. The system, known as “kafala,” allows construction companies to import workers from countries such as India and Bangladesh, pay them only a few dollars a day and treat them in a manner human-rights groups have equated to modern-day slavery.
“FIFA has an obligation and I think individual countries have an obligation to meet the highest standards,” Casey said. “There’s no reason why you can’t have a successful World Cup in a particular country and still have basic labor standards, and not have this cloud of corruption hanging over it as well.”
The Pennsylvania senator added that he hopes U.S. interest in this year’s event in Brazil will encourage a new conversation about labor standards and fairness that could lead to another World Cup on U.S. soil.
“We’re always hoping that the timing will facilitate a better result and, obviously, when it’s on people’s minds and the sport is in front of people, it can only help,” Casey said.
But even the fiercest critics of Qatar’s human-rights record are skeptical of attempts to strip the soccer tournament from Qatar. Nick McGeehan, a researcher at Human Rights Watch who specializes on Qatar, said simply moving the huge tournament from Qatar would take away a golden chance of reform, and could negatively affect some of the workers advocates are trying to help.
“We do see it as an opportunity to, as you say, shine a light spotlight on the region and move for change,” McGeehan said. “The question is, can the World Cup be the lever for change, be the driver for change that we want? I hope so.
“If Qatar were to lose the World Cup, unfortunately [workers] would be sent home, the project wouldn’t go ahead,” he added. “They’d be going home into thousands worth of dollars of debt which they can’t afford to pay off, and the consequences could be catastrophic.”
FIFA officials have stood by their choice of Qatar, vowing to work with the Qataris to bring worker reforms to make the hosting of the World Cup a “catalyst for positive social change.”
FIFA President Sepp Blatter said in May it was an “error” to award the cup to Qatar, based on the extremely hot temperatures in the country, but FIFA officials have clarified that they aren’t pushing to revisit the decision.
McGeehan said changes by the Qatari government so far constitute “half-measures.”
“So far there is a glimmer of hope, yes, but, there’s also cause for great concern,” he said.
The “Capital Games.” episode also includes an interview with ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap, who traveled to Qatar to investigate working conditions for an E:60 episode that aired earlier this year. Schaap said pressure from sponsors and other financial backers of FIFA could be more influential going forward than appeals by U.S. lawmakers.
You can listen to the full podcast HERE.
“Capital Games with Katz and Klein” is part of the new podcast series, ESPN Perspectives, with original programming on issues across the sports world. It is hosted by ESPN’s Andy Katz and ABC News’ Rick Klein.
The program explores the intersection of sports and politics, through interviews and analysis, and can be downloaded free via iTunes or on the ESPN Website.