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Perspectives on the World Cup in Qatar

By Amairah (Grade 11), Taylor (Grade 10) and Abhinav (Grade 9), UWCSEA East
30 November 2022

Football enthusiasts have counted down the days, eagerly anticipating the beginning of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Some of this energy can be felt across our campus. We interviewed both students and staff about how this global event provides learning opportunities across UWCSEA’s five elements. In academics, the UWCSEA course Critical Perspectives focuses on human rights. In activities, football has taken over the conversations between players and coaches. Lastly, in service, students are debating on and raising awareness about whether stereotypes are being challenged or reinforced by the nature of this competition.

This year’s host is the first Arab nation to organise the tournament, and the news has been awash with updates on players and matches and highlights, yet there is very little coverage addressing the controversies present this year. 

The Gulf state has been widely criticised for its treatment of migrant workers and the conditions in which they work in, however, these concerns seem to have taken a back seat amidst preparations for the World Cup. Qatar was chosen in 2010 to be the location of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, causing a construction boom across the country: new stadiums, hotels, and roads were being built in anticipation of the huge crowds coming to visit. However, it faced intense international scrutiny for the treatment and working conditions of those constructing facilities for the World Cup, prompting the enactment of labor reforms in 2017. Despite these reforms, workers have continued to endure labor exploitations and human rights violations, including nationality-based discrimination, unpaid wages, exposure to extreme heat, and workplace violence. Officials in Qatar have made statements about extensive changes being made to policies about the treatment and safety considerations of workers, however, according to USAToday, workers are subjected to a "captive and controllable workforce amounting to forced labor". What’s worse is that they are forced to keep silent about these injustices; they are not allowed to express their concerns and problems or they risk deportation.

Hear about independent research carried out by Rida and Harshini around awareness on human rights issues.

The World Cup presents a unique opportunity to not only bring people together under the sport, but also raise awareness in our school community. Harshini and Rida, Grade 10 students in UWCSEA East studying Critical Perspectives, took their learning beyond the classroom and interviewed two female academics from Qatar. “We now have an informed perspective about how the World Cup has caused controversy regarding the issue of migrant worker rights. [They] face bureaucratic barriers when attempting to change their jobs without the permission of their employers…the Kafala system is one where workers are required to have a sponsor, usually their employer who is responsible for their visa…”

From the classroom to the football field, Coach Fadzly, who has been at the school for nearly five years, takes a more hopeful view in regard to the debate. He comments that  “football is noted for bringing a lot of people together. The very fact that there are different groups of people, whether they are protesting or agreeing towards the World Cup, it already unifies.” For Fadzly the underlying values remain unshaken in the event. “However, with the right spirit, with the right element of competition, with the right values that which we usually see and the world has, I think it should”.

Students in the Voices of Women (VOWS) Focus Group, which aims to advocate for and empower women, take a different angle on this year’s World Cup. In their service, students were given the opportunity to watch an Al Jazeera documentary titled “The Fans Who Make Football: PSS Sleman” about how women are challenging cultural norms and trying to change the face of the football fanbase in Indonesia. Two students from the focus group, Elliana and Anushka, highlighted that women were thoroughly 'underrepresented’ and ‘underappreciated’, especially considering the immense popularity of football amongst them. The students commented on how the documentary illustrated a trend that men’s ideas were respected regardless of their knowledge of a topic, whereas women had to fight for recognition. When asked about possible solutions to this problem, the students believed that advocacy was crucial in creating change. They also stressed that there needs to be a culture shift in order to prevent violence in male-dominated spaces, especially when looking at the football tragedy a few weeks ago, where more than 130 people were killed in a football match in East Java. Elliana and Anushka express hope that gender equality is a value present in the landscape of the World Cup, where all fans are hopefully respected and appreciated, and violence isn’t the epilogue to any match.

The topic of sustainability is also of consideration this year. Coach Fadzly particularly believes that improvements can be made to the sustainability of the event “I've been a coach for almost five years in East. And I've seen lots of young players, too, they get older, and they get better. And I always think that someday they're gonna, they might be able to represent an hour's motivat[ing] displays, [were] they might be able to represent the country. With regard to sustainability in the world cup, I think it shouldn't be just that [big] spectacle. Every four years, when there's big players, big money, big cash, big stadiums. So how I think FIFA should help sustainability in football is to help with the grassroots level. And then from there, they go up.”

Though in the end, Coach Fadzly sees the unity amongst the disruption.

Isaiah (G10) catches up with Coach Fadzly on all things football.

 “One example of unifying is in a positive manner where the spectators are supporting, and of course, always, which we practice a lot at UWC [and] at the end of every game, shake hands with the opponents, you know, respect them, respect the referee, respect the coaches respect, the game plan. I think there is an opportunity for football to unify.” 

Being that Football is in essence a grassroots game, Fadzly maintains the importance to sow the seeds for the next generation: “That [it] should be starting from the bottom and all the way to the top, [we are] leaving behind the legacy.”