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Destler Dodge

Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the fondly admired world soccer association, is currently drawing media attention for human rights abuses and suspected fraud.  With mostpopularsports.net giving an estimate of 3.5 billion soccer fans around the world, the issue is relevant wherever you live. The RIT community is no exception; it supports a large group of soccer fans and players with two varsity teams, two club teams and three divisions of intramural. Walk into the Gordon Field House just about any night of the week and you will see the beautiful game being played.

FIFA, the international association for the world’s most popular sport, has been under heavy speculation. Suspicion of fraud and human rights abuses concerning the next two World Cup destinations (Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022) have elicited a recent investigation from FIFA. ESPNFC reported an investigation by Hans-Joachim Eckert, one of FIFA’s ethics judges, which cleared Russia and Qatar of any misdoings concerning their successful World Cup bids—but how reliable can we really expect those findings to be? Eckert is refusing to publish Michael Garcia’s (another ethics judge) own 100-page report in full, even as Garcia claims his own investigation is contradictory to Eckert’s. Bonita Mersiades, a whistleblower that gave evidence suggesting bribery was involved in the World Cup bids, put the situation into perspective in her article published by The Guardian. She wrote “I had low expectations of an investigation by FIFA of FIFA from someone paid by FIFA.”

While any fan has the right to be concerned over whether or not there was fraud involved in choosing the locations for the next two World Cups, and certainly this is a serious issue, there are also incredibly serious human rights abuses going on in Qatar.

FIFA is currently promoting the 2022 World Cup, which is being made possible by a system of labor much like slavery. Qatar has zero—that’s right, zero—World Cup-sized stadiums as of today. The city in which the final would be held has not yet been built. Business Insider offered a list of the reasons the Qatar World Cup will not work.

ESPN E:60 documentary "Qatar's World Cup" found that in order to get enough workers, Qatar is resorting to what is known as the kafala system. The system fools workers from poor Asian countries into coming to Qatar with appealing work contracts. When the workers reach Qatar, their contracts are destroyed, their passports are confiscated and they are forced to work in brutal conditions. Often they work 30 days in a month with no breaks during the days in the extreme Middle Eastern heat. When they go home at night, they live in small rooms with up to 12 other men. As a result of the working and living conditions, workers are dying of cardiac arrest. The International Trade Union Confederation estimates that at least 4,000 workers from Nepal and India alone will die building infrastructure in Qatar for the World Cup.

Mark Schalekamp and Sjaak Zonneveld are fans opposing FIFA’s decision to hold the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The two Dutch fans are leading a campaign, "FIFA think again," to collect signatures in opposition of FIFA’s decision in the hope that if enough fans contribute to the cause, FIFA will be forced to change their decision. With 3.5 billion soccer fans in the world, there are definitely enough people to make that happen. Schalekamp commented on what can effectively create this change over Skype, saying it is the concern of FIFA’s sponsors that will motivate FIFA to change. “If they [FIFA’s sponsors] would make it known that they wouldn’t agree either, that would make a difference,” said Schalekamp. 

The two men also hope to create another world soccer association, the Democratic Football Association (DEFA), in order to offer a transparent alternative to FIFA. “I think it will be next year in the summer, we will launch the start of DEFA with a first World Cup for maybe amateur teams or teams of journalists from around the world in Amsterdam, and that would be started. Well, maybe in 20 years it turns out to be the start of something big, we don’t know now,” said Schalekamp. With a huge population of soccer fans worldwide, there is certainly the capacity for change, and with campaigns like "FIFA think again" that connect globally through the internet, there is the possibility for communities like RIT to be involved. Together, the soccer fans of the world can preserve the beautiful game, although changing the minds of FIFA's huge sponsors may take just about everyone.