Sports
3:01 pm
Fri May 16, 2014

FIFA President On Qatar's World Cup: 'Of Course, It's An Error'

Originally published on Fri May 16, 2014 7:00 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. The World Cup in Brazil begins in less than a month. But why talk about that? The one scheduled for eight years from now in Qatar seems to be making as many headlines. And that's all because the head of soccer's international governing body said in an interview today that it was a mistake to schedule a summer tournament there. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins us now to talk more about it. Hey there, Stefan.

STEFAN FATSIS, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.

CORNISH: So, obviously, it's hot in the Middle East in the summer. Did FIFA not check the forecast?

FATSIS: No, FIFA did. Its own inspection team had rated the country a high-risk option with temperatures sometimes exceeding 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. Nonetheless, in December 2010, Qatar easily won a vote of FIFA's executive committee to host the 2022 tournament. Then, a sort of qualified backpedaling began. FIFA now is negotiating with sponsors and broadcast partners and domestic leagues to move the event to the winter. What's not clear now though is whether Seth Blatter - the head of FIFA - whether his latest remark really just refers to the weather or to the totality of the decision to take the tournament to Qatar.

CORNISH: Right. There's a more serious issue of working conditions for those who are building stadiums and infrastructure.

FATSIS: Yeah, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers in Qatar. There's been worldwide condemnation since the Guardian newspaper and Amnesty International last November reported horrific living and working conditions for them in Qatar. In response, the government commissioned a report that was released this week that proposed a set of reforms - most prominently to the kafala system that binds workers to employers. Those reforms were immediately criticized by international labor rights groups as cosmetic. The report did, however, confirm that almost a thousand workers from Nepal, India and Bangladesh alone died in Qatar in 2012 and 2013.

CORNISH: And then, ESPN had a report this week on the whole issue. And I understand that's been getting a lot of attention.

FATSIS: Yeah, and deservedly so. It's a moving and shocking piece of reporting by the network's E-60 newsmagazine. ESPN showed squalid living conditions for workers, reported other abuses at the hands of employers and the Qatari government, and traveled to Nepal to interview the relatives of some dead workers. A labor rights executive on the program estimated that if current conditions continue, more than 4,000 migrant workers would die building the 2022 World Cup.

CORNISH: Stefan, how has FIFA responded?

FATSIS: Well, after the first reports in November, FIFA said that working conditions in Qatar were unacceptable and it called for changes. This week, it declared that the proposed reforms confirm the expressed commitment of the country's authorities to improve the welfare of migrant workers and to use the hosting of the World Cup as a catalyst for positive social change. Which seems like a bit of a leap, given where we are right now. In any case, Seth Blatter was supposed to visit Qatar next week but postponed the visit until after the World Cup.

CORNISH: But is there really any chance that FIFA actually takes the World Cup away from Qatar?

FATSIS: Well, in the Orwellian world of FIFA, it is possible that it strips Qatar of the World Cup and then declares that, of course, this was the plan all along. More likely, though, FIFA will move the tournament to the winter and then declare that this was the plan all along.

CORNISH: Stefan, thanks so much for talking with us.

FATSIS: Thanks, Audie.

CORNISH: Stefan Fatsis. He's a panelist on Slate's sports podcast Hang Up and Listen. He joins us on Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.