• $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • other
  • use Paypal

CALLING ALL COUNTERPUNCHERS! CounterPunch’s website is one of the last common spaces on the Internet. We are supported almost entirely by the subscribers to the print edition of our magazine and by one-out-of-every-1000 readers of the site. We aren’t on the receiving end of six-figure grants from big foundations. George Soros doesn’t have us on retainer. We don’t sell tickets on cruise liners to the “new” Cuba. We don’t clog our site with deceptive corporate ads or click bait. Unlike many other indy media sites, we don’t shake you down for money every month … or even every quarter. We ask only once a year. But when we ask, we mean it. So over the next few weeks we are requesting your financial support. Keep CounterPunch free, fierce and independent by donating today by credit card through our secure online server, via PayPal or by calling 1(800) 840-3683. Note: This annoying box will disappear once we reach our fund drive goal. Thank you for your support!


Qatar and the World Cup


The construction of the Great Wall of China, initiated by the Emperor Qin Shihuang, was achieved at incredible human cost. Bodies sacrificed in the course of construction were buried near the wall as reminders of their labour in what became, in accordance with a Chinese expression, “The Longest Cemetery on Earth”. The legend of Meng Jiangnu tells a different tale, a widow who, on discovering that her husband had died and been interred in the fortifications, wept such tears as to wash the earthen ramparts away, thereby revealing his remains.

Where there is industry and construction in the name of image and security, death is the standard tariff. The more recently constructed Hoover Dam, to take another spectacular example, was built at the cost over 100 lives, with 96 identified as “industrial fatalities”. Others perished due to pneumonia occasioned by exposure to high levels of carbon monoxide. They remain the uncompensated, the forgotten.

While lacking that cadaverous gravitas, the football World Cup, like other enormous sporting occasions, generates its own cruelties, its own brutalities. Impressions by the host state have to be made. Slums have to be cleared. Infrastructure has to be improved. The streets need sprucing. In the case of Qatar, already plagued by its grant of the 2022 football World Cup, the body count of its bloodied labour is rising, specifically over appalling working conditions. The ball must be kicked on time, after all.

Unions keeping an eye on the event are already claiming that as many as 4000 will die before the opening match. The International Trade Union Confederation is making a bold and unappetising prediction: 600 workers will die annually unless changes to labour conditions are forthcoming. Casualties are even greater – people rendered invalids by a proliferation of construction accidents.

The donors of blood in this case are mainly migrants, drawn from a huge army of some 1.2 million workers who are toiling for the egomania of Qatar’s sporting Meisterwerk. The labourers themselves hail from the Philippines, Nepal, Sri Lanka and India, huge markets of labour and potential misuse.

Investigations by the ITUC reveal that autopsies rarely take place of the victims. The standard response is simple: death from heart failure. Besides, there are always more where they came from. Such rates of mortality and cause may seem less surprising given the remarks of the now recalled Nepalese ambassador to Qatar, Maya Kumari, who called the country “an open jail”. The strong reaction came after revelations that 44 Nepalese had died during the summer. Indian authorities are also puzzled: some 82 workers lost their lives in the first half of this year alone. The embassy in Doha has been swamped with complaints.

Cramped accommodation is typical. The terrific levels of heat are proving lethal. Workers are bound to their place of labour by sponsors who confiscate their passports and withhold their salary till the contracts are discharged.

What seems to be at work in the Qatari labour system is the modern disposable economy – cheap labour, cheap values and, at the end of the line, silence and death. Workers have an in-built obsolescence and are infinitely replaceable. Assets do, after all, depreciate with use.

Secrecy is also maintained by contracts of employment that muzzle the workers and prevent any discussion about labour conditions. This fosters a clandestine state of employment, one fed to the grizzly industrial complex Qatar boasts so readily off. And much of it for the greed and gravity of football.

The ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow has argued that the government has simply been throwing good after bad, assuming that the problem can be solved by a bit of tinkering. “Labour inspection in Qatar has failed miserably, and the government’s announcement that would put new staff into a system that doesn’t work is futile” (Arabian Business, Oct 3).

James Lynch of Amnesty International, who has had his eye on Qatari non-compliance with safety regulations, argues that efforts on the part of the government should go “beyond looking solely at how the stadiums or training grounds will be built”. That would seem to be wishful thinking.

British sports minister Hugh Robertson has made the claim that it would be “a precondition of the delivery of every major sports event that the very highest of standards of health and safety are applied” (The Guardian, Oct 3). But the political platform is not necessarily the actual one. Football is business, and Qatar wants to do it better than the rest.

Not that FIFA, the world governing body of football, is that concerned. Politics and advertisement are the twin features of the organisation. Football tends to languish at the lower end, the bottom feeder to an empire almost papal in its power. What matters are the stadia, the facilities, the grotesque pleasure domes being developed with cheap and dangerously abused labour.

Besides, a statement on behalf of the Qatar 2022 organising committee sets out to reassure: “The health, safety, wellbeing and dignity of every worker that contributes to staging the 2022 FIFA World Cup is of the utmost importance to our committee and we are committed to ensuring that the event serves as a catalyst toward creating sustainable improvements to the lives of all workers in Qatar.” Exactly what the power doctors at FIFA ordered. Making stadia for football will actually, suggests the spin, improve the lot of all workers.

Should Qatar be allowed to continue on its sanguinary bursts of labour exploitation, it will be drawing upwards of 500 thousand more foreign workers. All to make sure that a ball is kicked on time.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  He ran for the Australian Senate with Julian Assange for the WikiLeaks Party.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

October 13, 2015
Dave Lindorff
US Dispatched a Murderous AC-130 Airborne Gunship to Attack a Hospital
Steve Martinot
The Politics of Prisons and Prisoners
Heidi Morrison
A Portrait of an Immigrant Named Millie, Drawn From Her Funeral
Andre Vltchek
Horrid Carcass of Indonesia – 50 Years After the Coup
Jeremy Malcolm
All Rights Reserved: Now We Know the Final TTP is Everything We Feared
Omar Kassem
Do You Want to See Turkey Falling Apart as Well?
Paul Craig Roberts
Recognizing Neocon Failure: Has Obama Finally Come to His Senses?
Theodoros Papadopoulos
The EU Has Lost the Plot in Ukraine
Roger Annis
Ukraine Threatened by Government Negligence Over Polio
Matthew Stanton
The Vapid Vote
Mel Gurtov
Manipulating Reality: Facebook is Listening to You
Louisa Willcox
Tracking the Grizzly’s Number One Killer
Binoy Kampmark
Assange and the Village Gossipers
Robert Koehler
Why Bombing a Hospital Is a War Crime
Jon Flanders
Railroad Workers Fight Proposed Job Consolidation
Mark Hand
Passion and Pain: Photographer Trains Human Trafficking Survivors
October 12, 2015
Ralph Nader
Imperial Failure: Lessons From Afghanistan and Iraq
Ishmael Reed
Want a Renewal? Rid Your City of Blacks
Thomas S. Harrington
US Caught Faking It in Syria
Victor Grossman
Scenes From a Wonderful Parade Against the TPP
Luciana Bohne
Where Are You When We Need You, Jean-Paul Sartre?
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
The US Way of War: From Columbus to Kunduz
Paul Craig Roberts
A Decisive Shift in the Balance of Power
Justus Links
Turkey’s Tiananmen in Context
Ray McGovern
Faux Neutrality: How CNN Shapes Political Debate
William Manson
Things R Us: How Venture Capitalists Feed the Fetishism of Technology
Norman Pollack
The “Apologies”: A Note On Usage
Steve Horn
Cops Called on Reporter Who Asked About Climate at Oil & Gas Convention
Javan Briggs
The Browning of California: the Water is Ours!
Dave Randle
The BBC and the Licence Fee
Andrew Stewart
Elvis Has Left the Building: a Reply to Slavoj Žižek
Nicolás Cabrera
Resisting Columbus: the Movement to Change October 12th Holiday is Rooted in History
Weekend Edition
October 9-11, 2015
David Price – Roberto J. González
The Use and Abuse of Culture (and Children): The Human Terrain System’s Rationalization of Pedophilia in Afghanistan
Mike Whitney
Putin’s “Endgame” in Syria
Jason Hribal
The Tilikum Effect and the Downfall of SeaWorld
Gary Leupp
The Six Most Disastrous Interventions of the 21st Century
Andrew Levine
In Syria, Obama is Playing a Losing Game
Louis Proyect
The End of Academic Freedom in America: the Case of Steven Salaita
Rob Urie
Democrats, Neoliberalism and the TPP
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
The Bully Recalibrates: U.S. Signals Policy Shift in Syria
Brian Cloughley
Hospital Slaughter and the US/NATO Propaganda Machine
Paul Street
Hope in Abandonment: Cuba, Detroit, and Earth-Scientific Socialism
John Walsh
For Vietnam: Artemisinin From China, Agent Orange From America
Hadi Kobaysi
How The US Uses (Takfiri) Extremists
John Wight
No Moral High Ground for the West on Syria