• Opinion by Myles Benham (Doha, Qatar)
  • Intermediate Press Service

On my way to work I stopped for a coffee and the barista was from Gambia, the server from Uganda and the cashier from Nigeria. They all smiled and greeted me as I made my way through the line. As I entered the office, I was greeted by Indian and Bangladeshi security guards and then passed by Filipino, Togolese, and Algerian cleaning staff preparing for a staff rush on what was sure to be a busy morning.

The real melting pot of the world is not London, Melbourne or Los Angeles. It’s right here in the Middle East. The cultural representation here in Doha dwarfs anything outside the Arabian Gulf and many are here for the job prospects and opportunities brought by the ongoing FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

Qatar’s doors are open

As the basic wave of xenophobia has spread across much of the world – the Global West has closed its borders, restricted migration and made entry, let alone work, more difficult – Qatar has opened its doors. The people who work here are looking for ways to improve the situation for their families.

Many come from some of the poorest places on the planet where people are most in need. The media has filled newspapers and TV screens with negative stories about Qatar, a country they have never been to and a culture they have never experienced.

When the majority have turned their backs on these poor nations, can this talk of workers for the World Cup not be about opportunity? About the incredible impact and lasting legacy, the work produced here will impact families and communities around the world? About spreading wealth back to areas and people who really need it?

For decades the world has shifted industry to areas where it can provide cheaper labor. The movement of entire sectors to Asia and the sub-continent has kept many organizations afloat. This is seen as a creative way to save money, encourage higher dividends for shareholders, and keep prices low for consumers despite the impact on local jobs.

This paradigm is alive and well. Salaries and wages are much lower in Eastern European countries such as Poland, Hungary or Bulgaria than in countries such as Germany, Austria or France. In many cases, this has led to companies based in Western Europe establishing subsidiaries in Eastern Europe to take advantage of lower labor costs. Western European economies depend heavily on migrant workers from the East who earn low wages and work in poor, unregulated conditions. It’s not very controversial in Europe.

The same can be said for Eastern European countries that are replacing departing workforces with workers from Central Asian countries such as Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. So, for all the anger and condemnation aimed at Qatar, a quick Google search will show the very thing they advocate for happening under their own noses.

Unite instead of divide

However, the hypocrisy is not limited to Europe. Australia, for example, became the first 2022 World Cup team to release a collective statement against Qatar’s human rights record, composing a video message criticizing the World Cup host’s treatment of migrant workers. It may surprise those people to learn that Australia’s track record on human rights is not exactly spotless.

More than 40 countries at the UN Human Rights Council, including Germany, South Korea and the United States, have questioned Australia’s policies towards asylum seekers and refugees. Among the issues raised were Australia’s continued use of offshore processing and the prolonged detention of asylum seekers. The council accused the Australian government of not following through on some of its key promises in the past and still causing refugees huge losses.

The World Cup in Qatar is the 22nd iteration of the international tournament which was first held in Uruguay in 1930. In the 92 years since then, the ‘game of the world’ – despite its worldwide interest – has hosted 15 of the 20 World Cups in Europe and South America.

Five countries have hosted the event more than once. Excellent concentration considering participation and interest. This time everything was different. Game world is branching out and reaching new audiences.

The World Cup in Qatar was the first major sporting event in the Arab and Muslim world. The impact will not only be felt among Qatar’s 2.7 million people, or even across the 475 million people living in the Middle East. This event will resonate with 1.9 billion Muslims around the world.

From Indonesia to Morocco, the Maldives to Egypt, roughly a quarter of the world’s population, for nearly 100 years of World Cup football in the background, will be front and center.

If the focus of the next four weeks can be on the extraordinary football played on the pitch, the generosity and good nature of the hosts and the collective joy that unites cultures, religions and people – not just from Europe and South America – the World Cup this will probably be the turning point for a real world game.

They say the World Cup is a life-changing experience for the players and teams competing in it, and even more so for the winners. However, for this World Cup, for the first time in history, the actual winner will not be at the Lusail Stadium on December 18.

They will be behind the scenes, at Ubers, coffee shops and security points across the country, seizing the opportunity, the generation-changing opportunity, that only the World Cup in Qatar has to offer.

Myles Benjamin is a Freelance Events Manager with 15 years experience working in Global Mega Events and currently based in Doha for the World Cup.

Read more about the debate surrounding the FIFA World Cup.

Source: Politics and International Society, Brussels, Belgium

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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service