Football and morality should not be used in the same sentence, writes Percy Zvomuya.
"Everything I know about morality and the obligations of men, I owe it to football," French writer Albert Camus wrote decades ago. But the more you look at Fifa – the bureaucracy established by God himself to watch over his football interests on Earth – the more you realise that the words football and morality shouldn't be in the same sentence.
Nothing shows the antithetical relationship between football and morality better than the recent Fifa meeting in Switzerland on whether Fifa should move the 2022 World Cup from Qatar, a country described by a Nepalese diplomat stationed in the emirate as an "open jail".
Nepalese immigrant workers toiling on the construction sites are dying at a rate of one a day from accidents and heart attacks, which is strange because most of the workers are in their 20s and 30s. Projections by labour lobby groups say as many as 4 000 workers will have died by the time the stadiums are finished in time for the tournament in 2022.
A Guardian investigation found "evidence of forced labour on a huge World Cup infrastructure project"; of workers going unpaid for months or not being paid at all so that they don't desert the job; of confiscated passports; and of being denied access "to free drinking water in the desert heat". The Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee, a statutory body tasked with realising the football showpiece, told the Guardian that it was "deeply concerned".
Instead of focusing on the allegations of slavery, the Fifa meeting in Zurich concentrated its energies on how footballers will play in 50°C plus summer temperatures.
Fifa president Sepp Blatter said "the workers' rights will be the responsibility for Qatar and the companies who work there. It is not Fifa's primary responsibility but we cannot turn a blind eye. Yet it is not a direct intervention from Fifa that can change things."
Typical Blatter blabber. He's always careful not to upset a status quo that benefits the country of Fifa. (Yes, Fifa is a state with embassies all over the world.) But if there was one threat that would have resulted in an immediate change in the conditions for the workers, it was the risk of the tournament being taken away.
We have to ask how a game built on a primitive democratic ethos came to be controlled by Jérôme Valcke, who says this: "I will say something crazy, but less democracy is sometimes better for organising a World Cup. When you have a very strong head of state who can decide, as maybe [Vladimir] Putin can do in 2018, that is easier for us organisers than a country such as Germany." He is Fifa's secretary general.
Or how did football became so divorced from real lives that a player, Gareth Bale, can be bought for £86-million? Even football people don't seem to think Bale's transfer from Tottenham Hotspur is worth that much. French football legend and former Real Madrid midfielder Zinedine Zidane found the fee "incomprehensible"; Barcelona's coach Gerardo Martino noted that "Bale is a very good player, but the numbers are a lack of respect for the world in general".
How do you reconcile this in Spain, a country in the grip of a recession and whose youth unemployment rate is 56%. It seems the transfer figure was plucked from the stratosphere and has no relationship to the player, the fact of football as a popular sport and the situation in which Spain finds itself.
Football, to be sure, has always been a plaything of dictators. Francisco Franco, the Argentine military junta and Benito Mussolini realised its value in cleaning up their soiled images, yet football managed, somehow, to provide an alternative set of morality that was in opposition to authoritarianism.
Not anymore. Fifa, that transnational conglomerate, descends on a country, suspends its Constitution, makes billions of tax-free revenue and then jets off to abuse another willing host. And you want to talk about morality and football? Please.
Percy Zvumoya writes on arts and culture for the Mail & Guardian