Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
After Wednesday’s FIFA arrests, probes continue into upcoming games. But we already know it’s unconscionable to hold the World Cup in Qatar.
“This is the World Cup of fraud, and today we’re issuing FIFA a red card.”
That was Richard Weber, chief of criminal investigation at the IRS, issuing one of the sickest dad-burns in sports history Wednesday morning, following the arrests of 14 FIFA officials on corruption charges.
The arrests in the U.S.–led investigation center on past abuses, including bribes linked to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and the upcoming 2016 Copa America tournament. At the same time, Swiss authorities launched their own investigation into the awarding of the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Stocks in Qatar took a dive after the announcement of the Swiss probe. For its part, FIFA answered the Swiss and the markets right away: “Russia and Qatar will be played.”
Maybe they will, but they shouldn’t. Especially not Qatar, where officials just refused to grant bereavement leave to Nepalese migrant workers so they could attend the funerals of the kin they lost in the April earthquake. That terrific insult follows grave injury: More than 1,200 migrant workers have died building World Cup infrastructure in Qatar since the country won the bid in 2010.
According to an estimate from The Guardian, construction for the World Cup will, all told, consume more than 4,000 lives. Those deaths will be the worst likely outcome of a World Cup in Qatar.
There will be other, less tangible consequences, too. Nothing as important as workers’ lives, but still important. Here are two predictions for what will follow if Qatar is allowed to host the World Cup:
Architecture will lose what’s left of its reputation
Back in March, Foster+Partners won the international competition to design Lusail Stadium, the site of the first game and closing ceremonies for the 2022 World Cup. The stadium will be the centerpiece of an entire new city being erected for the event.
That’s just one stadium in the scheme designed by Albert Speer Jr., who developed the master plan for Qatar. The plan calls for 12 regional stadiums (for a nation where 90 percent of the population lives in Doha). Speer pledged at one time to build air-conditioned stadiums for the desert, where temperatures can climb to 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. Yet he has passed his World Cup off as environmentally virtuous, telling Der Spiegel in a January interview, “[S]ustainability has been a priority from the very beginning.”
Foster, Speer, and Zaha Hadid—who designed Al Wakrah Stadium, and who famously told The Guardian that construction workers’ lives aren’t her duty as an architect—are some of the most famous architects in the world. But the list of designers involved extends far beyond them.
One firm after another will be indicted in this mess. Not literally, but morally. Populous, a leading U.S. sports-architecture firm, pushed Qatar to rethink its plans for air-conditioning during matches. But there’s no way that Populous would’ve designed Camden Yards if hundreds of Baltimore workers were destined to die building it. Arup, an engineering group, has had the gall to advertise its work on the Qatar Foundation Stadium as aiming for LEED Gold certification. What about a Slave-Death-Zero standard?
After Qatar, architects may continue to claim that, like doctors, they don’t get to pick their clients. Or that there are no wholly decent clients, so all questions of moral rectitude just fall away. Stefan Klos, Speer’s project manager in Qatar, said as much in Der Spiegel:
SPIEGEL: Would you refuse to work in a country that keeps political prisoners and has the death penalty?
[Stefan] Klos: You are referring to the U.S. and Guantanamo?
No one’s going to buy that dodge after 2022.
The World Cup will be a lost cause in the West for good
Support in the West for hosting mega-events like the World Cup and the Olympic Games isn’t totally gone, but it’s waning. Thanks for that goes to authoritarian states that drive up the costs of hosting events through more and more extravagant bids, and of course the committees and associations that cater to them.
When Beijing, Almaty, Moscow, or Doha bids good money after bad to build whole new cities or stadiums designed to last only days, the rest of the world—the part that is subject to democratic oversight—is disqualified from competition. So what happens after Qatar proves that a host nation can throw lives at a bid, too? It’s plain that FIFA doesn’t care.
If there is any Western appetite for hosting the World Cup after the totality of corruption at FIFA is exposed, then a Qatar World Cup might quash it. There are mega-events that squander resources, and there are mega-events that lay waste to human life.
Years and years of FIFA investigations are bound to draw scrutiny for teams and advertisers. Maybe FIFA will change. Maybe everyone else will support a boycott. But if this world-historic moral blunder of a World Cup proceeds, there aren’t going to be enough red flags to go around.