How 6,500 deaths doesn’t lead to a boycott

Het Laatste Nieuws
Erasmus School of Economics

The FIFA World Cup will take place at the end of 2022 and is deemed very controversial: the Guardian disclosed that more than 6,500 workers have died already while the stadium is under construction. Why doesn’t this ethical disaster lead to a boycott? In an article from Het Laatste Nieuws, sports economist at Erasmus School of Economics Thomas Peeters analyses the potency of a possible boycott and the shortcomings of participants. 

According to Qatar, the organizing country, officially 37 people have died due to accidents on the construction site. All of the other deaths? They are pronounced proportional to the working population in comparison with comparable building projects, even though statistics show that suicide rates are relatively high. One could wonder why Qatar has been granted the honour to organise the event in the first place: the election process is corrupt according to insiders. In addition, people who are homosexual face jail time of three years in Qatar; isn’t the choice for Qatar somewhat strange, knowing that football campaigns to combat homophobic sentiments and discrimination in general have been running for several years now?

Dubious since the beginning

According to Peeters, there have been reasons to doubt the allotment since the start: ‘It’s the choice for the enormous wealth there, but even from an economical perspective it cannot be deemed a logical choice. If the decision would have been rational, FIFA would grant the World Cup to a country with a strong national competition that can make use of the stadiums after the event, such as England’. A boycott is a serious alternative to attending the event with the national teams. However, it is too late by now: ‘right after the allotment, countries had to decline in unity. Qatar wouldn’t have built the stadiums, if 24 out of 32 teams had announced not to come beforehand. This coalition can’t be formed anymore. Regrettably, the stadiums are there, the workers have already died’.

Perspective of huge revenues

Many football associations pretend to be blind to all the casualties and poignant circumstances, since revenues and athletic exposure are too important. Peeters uses Belgium as an example, which can be said for other countries as well: ‘Imagine that Belgium would boycott the World Cup; this would essentially mean that the last big chance will be gone for our “golden generation”. All countries have their backs against the wall. The loss of revenue is simply too costly to back out’.

Many countries speak of a Soft Power strategy instead of a boycott: the rationale of this strategy is that more can be accomplished in terms of human rights by applying diplomatic pressure. Peeters warns for the implications of this strategy: even though a boycott is a harsh measure, this strategy has its downsides as well. Entering in a dialogue can be simpler, but it can be used as an excuse to not really make any effort as well. In the end, the big winner seems to be Qatar: ‘Qatar employs the best marketing strategy for the post-oil age. There is no other sport such as top football that buys as much media attention’.

More information

You can download the full article from Het Laatste Nieuws, 17 March 2021, above.