Amnesty International report yet another reminder that Qatar can be horrible, horrible place

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Spoiler alert: Qatar is a horrible place. For soccer fans who’ve caught up after FIFA awarded the 2022 World Cup to the Middle Eastern nation three years ago, that may not be news. For others, Amnesty International latest report will hopefully open eyes.

The organization released a 153-page report on what amounts to human rights violations in Qatar; or, as they put it, “complex contractual chains and reveals widespread and routine abuse of migrant workers – in some cases amounting to forced labour.”

It’s an investigation that verifies everything we knew about Qatar before the nation was awarded the 2022 World Cup. The country, with an estimated per-capita gross domestic product of just over $100,000, will depend on an imported and underprivileged worker class to make real the array of revolutionary stadia and venues which convinced the FIFA assembly to take the World Cup to the Arabian Peninsula.

Amnesty’s bullet point description of that class:

  • There are some 1.35 million foreign nationals working in Qatar.
  • Migrant workers now make up some 94 per cent of the total workforce in the country.
  • 90% had their passports held by their employers
  • 56% did not have a government health card, essential to access public hospitals
  • 21% “sometimes, rarely or never” received their salary on time
  • 20% got a different salary than had been promised
  • 15% worked in a different job to the one promised
source:
This image, as produced by Amnesty International, highlights the most frequently utilized migration streams to Qatar.

The big one is number three. No passport, no running home, which would be the logical response when you show up for a job that turns out to be a technicality short of old school slavery. But as so many people turn to Qatar for money to send back to India, Pakistan, and points throughout Southeast Asia, they become indentured servants, forced to see out their time amid the violations.

Amnesty’s Secretary General Salil Shetty:

“It is simply inexcusable in one of the richest countries in the world, that so many migrant workers are being ruthlessly exploited, deprived of their pay and left struggling to survive …”

“Employers in Qatar have displayed an appalling disregard for the basic human rights of migrant workers. Many are taking advantage of a permissive environment and lax enforcement of labour protections to exploit construction workers.”

“[Companies] should be proactive and not just take action when abuses are drawn to their attention. Turning a blind eye to any form of exploitation is unforgivable, particularly when it is destroying people’s lives and livelihoods.”

Unfortunately, this is not exactly news. All of these conditions existed before the soccer world decided to care about Qatar. Yet with FIFA having willingly stepped into this mess, Amnesty has an opportunity to highlight abuse previously ignored. Hundred of millions (perhaps billions) or soccer fans can be made aware of not only the exploitive practices but how the abuses are set to help promote the game.

One example:

The findings give rise to fears that during the construction of high-profile projects in Qatar, including those which may be of integral importance to the staging of the 2022 World Cup, workers may be subjected to exploitation.

In one case, the employees of a company delivering critical supplies to a construction project associated with the planned FIFA headquarters during the 2022 World Cup, were subjected to serious labour abuses.

Nepalese workers employed by the supplier said they were “treated like cattle”. Employees were working up to 12 hour days and seven day weeks, including during Qatar’s searingly hot summer months …

“Please tell me – is there any way to get out of here? … We are going totally mad,” one Nepalese construction worker, unpaid for seven months and prevented from leaving Qatar for three months, told Amnesty International.

For groups like Amnesty, FIFA’s choice of Qatar is both unfortunate and an opportunity. It presents an avenue through which they can increase awareness. It also presents the organization with another pressure point. If Qatar won’t listen, perhaps FIFA (or maybe, their sponsors) will.

Amnesty International is calling on FIFA to work with the Qatari authorities and World Cup organizers as a matter of priority to prevent abuses.

“Our findings indicate an alarming level of exploitation in the construction sector in Qatar. FIFA has a duty to send a strong public message that it will not tolerate human rights abuses on construction projects related to the World Cup,” said Salil Shetty.

“Qatar is recruiting migrant workers at a remarkable rate to support its construction boom, with the population increasing at 20 people an hour. Many migrants arrive in Qatar full of hopes, only to have these crushed soon after they arrive. There’s no time to delay – the government must act now to end this abuse.”

As Amnesty’s report shows, there isn’t much time to effect a solution, even through we’re still eight-plus years away from the World Cup. Construction’s beginning soon, and with the economics of the world’s poorer nations making it unlikely people will stop seeking solutions in Qatar, this problem isn’t going to solve itself.

While it would be nice if people started to recognize global poverty foments these exploitive practices, a more realistic course of action would target Qatar, FIFA, and sponsors. Reports like Amnesty International’s would hopefully raise a broader awareness of these issues, so travelers, supporters, or businesses looking to get behind the 2022 event might think twice before implicitly condoning Qatar’s human rights abuses.

If attitudes change enough, a serious discussion of boycotting the 2022 event could be possible. Right now, any such suggestion is considered extreme, but in the face of what Amnesty International has detailed, anytime of blind eye participation in 2022 seems too much.

Amnesty’s news bulletin can be found here. Their entire report on Qatar, based on a three-year investigation and 210 worker interviews, can be found here.

Gold Cup Final preview: USMNT needs a trophy vs. Jamaica

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The major selling point of Bruce Arena’s hire, aside from his being the anti-Jurgen Klinsmann, was that the United States men’s national team would not be out-foxed tactically (or at least not be caught without a game plan).

Thirteen games into the tenure, the jury is out on whether the American boss’ second stint is on the path to World Cup success — those assumed goal posts will likely be moved depending on the group draw in Russia — but he has brought stability to the team and engineered a positive change in mentality.

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up? ] 

I have a great deal of respect for Joe Prince-Wright’s view of the national team, and ProSoccerTalk’s editor wrote today that U.S. Soccer would be proven right in its hiring of Arena if the Yanks won the Gold Cup with a Wednesday win over Jamaica.

But it doesn’t take a devil’s advocate to ask if it is quite that simple?

As much as I’m sure the removal of Klinsmann became necessary due to the morale of the USMNT and its players’ opinions of the German manager, I’m far from certain we’ve learned much about the hiring of Arena. Frankly, I can’t imagine any of the results being much worse under Peter Vermes, or Caleb Porter, or Ben Olsen.

The best win of Arena’s second tenure so far was probably the semifinal defeat of Costa Rica this weekend, and the best moment was the 1-1 draw at Azteca against Mexico. There’s no denying he’s righted the World Cup ship —  and that’s paramount — but it’s hard to imagine just qualifying for Russia should give Arena some sort of status, 0-2 hole or not. Any coach needs to be judged by his tournament, and Arena knows this. He’s helped author the best World Cup performance in modern U.S. men’s history, and he’s also presided over a train wreck (Imagine pulling that performance with that roster into the 2018 supporters’ climate. I’m shuddering on behalf of social media).

Which brings us to the import of Wednesday in Santa Clara. The United States lineup is experienced in big games and superior to Jamaica, which is coming off one day less rest. Yes, Jamaica’s squad features an incredible goalkeeper in Andre Blake and a half-dozen MLS players, but the rest are largely players who ply their trade in the U.S. second tier or Jamaica’s top flight.

Again, against Michael Bradley, Tim Howard, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, et cetera, et cetera.

The bookmakers say a Jamaica win would pay off 8:1. Just getting to penalty kicks would pay 3:1.

(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

The U.S. should win the 9:30 p.m. ET start, and put one foot in the 2021 Confederations Cup in Qatar. If it doesn’t, it’ll be because the side couldn’t sort out its wobbly back line or find its way past Blake. The latter would be more forgivable than the former, but really only in a “Tim Howard vs. Belgium but unblemished” fashion.

And it could be wrong to call Arena’s tournament a failure if the Yanks lose, depending on how it happens, but this is a man who helped a much lesser U.S. side to a 1-0 home friendly win over Jamaica just a few months ago (a Jamaica side who’s only missing player of consequence was Darren Mattocks). Arena trotted out Luis Robles, Graham Zusi, Steve Birnbaum, Walker Zimmerman, Jorge Villafana, Dax McCarty, Chris Pontius, Benny Feilhaber, Sebastian Lletget, Jordan Morris, and Juan Agudelo. The team he’ll start on Wednesday will be miles better.

Mattocks and his Reggae Boyz are true to their country’s national reputation of electrifying speed, and it’s imperative that Arena sets his backs to handle that. That means true outside backs — sorry, Graham Zusi — and center backs who won’t be forced to foul too often. That is, after all, the only way Jamaica found its way past Mexico via a free kick from a dangerous spot.

Mexico attempted 200 more passes, converting 150 more than Jamaica in the semifinal. It’ll be on Arena’s enterprising attackers to find a way past a stacked defense without opening up the midfield too much to counter attacks. Jamaica also played a borderline perfect game when it did have the ball, missing on just 16 of 143 passes and, again, scoring on a free kick.

Frankly, if the U.S. loses to Jamaica in the same way as Mexico did, it probably wouldn’t be proper to lay it on Arena. It would mean another batch of American players had failed to find a way to goal. But what we’re counting on is a better organized team than the baffled bunch that fell 2-1 to Jamaica under Klinsmann in the 2015 Gold Cup.

In that way, yeah, we can count on Arena being a relative success. But winning this tournament, especially given who Mexico called up, needs to be treated the same way you’d view it under any other manager: expectation. Anything less wouldn’t make Arena a failure, but would certainly qualify as a failure for the U.S. program.

PSG, Barca quizzed on Neymar rumors; Pique blasts Ligue 1

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We don’t have a ton of sympathy for them, but credit to Barcelona stars Javier Mascherano and Gerard Pique for giving actual answers when put in the awkward position of hearing the media’s Neymar-to-PSG questions on Tuesday night.

PSG boss Unai Emery was far less interested in doing that.

Emery has refused to comment on speculation linking Neymar to big move to the Parc des Princes.

[ MORE: Van Dijk to Liverpool after all? ]

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s International Champions Cup match against Juventus, Emery had nothing of substance to say to the idea of Brazil’s captain heading to his stable.

“Our focus is to talk about the game tomorrow and a season to get ready for. I prefer to focus on the present moment and the preparation with the team.”

As for Edinson Cavani?

On the Barca side of things, Mascherano said he thinks Neymar will stay because he’s very important to the team, while Pique backed off a little after causing a stir by posting a photo of the defender with Neymar captioned, “He stays.”

“The post was nothing official, it was a gut thing, it doesn’t depend on me. Only (Neymar) can say what will happen, but I hope he stays. I tried to explain to Neymar, as a team-mate and a friend, the situation he’s in. I would say don’t go to a league which, with all due respect, is not as good.”

Boom, roasted (Though there’s some pot-kettle-black here, as there’s a fairly precipitous drop-off further down La Liga’s table, too).

Spanish report claims Coutinho (not Liverpool) agrees deal with Barca

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According to Sky Sports’ transfer centre, Spanish radio station RAC1 reports that Barcelona has agreed a deal with Liverpool midfielder Philippe Coutinho.

The report comes on the heels of the half-hour delay of Barca’s nightly press conference, though that could be coincidental.

It also states that the agreement is between Barcelona and Coutinho, and that no fee has been agreed between Liverpool and the La Liga giants. That’s a huge obstacle, with Liverpool maintaining that no offer will work this summer, so the idea of a transfer being imminent could be beyond the pale.

[ MORE: Van Dijk to Liverpool after all? ]

A sale like this risks overturning Jurgen Klopp‘s apple cart, as the Reds boss was quoted this week as saying, “The very important message is that we are not a selling club and that’s how it is.”

Mohamed Salah is good, but he’s no Coutinho. Meanwhile, Coutinho has the potential to be as close to a like-for-like replacement for Neymar — one of the Top Five players in the world — as there is on the market.

The two clubs have done business before, and in more trying circumstances; Barcelona bought Luis Suarez from Liverpool within a month of the Uruguayan striker being banned for a biting incident at the 2014 World Cup.

A spectacular deal, Liverpool would have to make such a move this early in the summer when it can invest what would have to be a wild amount of money given the fees splashed about this transfer window.

Source close to Van Dijk expects Liverpool move within window

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It wasn’t too long ago that Liverpool apologized for its pursuit of Southampton center back Virgil Van Dijk, ending its quest for the big Dutchman.

Is it apology accepted and then some at St. Mary’s? Sky Sports reporter Kaveh Solhekol says not much has changed since the big sorry toward Anfield, but that a source close to Van Dijk expects Van Dijk will be a Red “by the end of the window.”

[ MORE: JPW’s take on the Van Dijk saga ]

That said, Sky’s report makes it unclear what’s changed to lead to such a proclamation.

There is no suggestion that Liverpool have done anything wrong since they apologised and ended their interest. Southampton’s position remains that Van Dijk is not for sale but Chelsea and Manchester City are also interested.

So… it’s happening then? Money does talk, and a massive fee from Liverpool could make Southampton’s life easier in explaining the sale to its fans. It would also mean Saints sold Van Dijk and Jose Fonte within a year. For more on the possible transfer, here’s JPW’s take.

Van Dijk averaged 1.9 tackles, 2.6 interceptions, 6.8 clearances, and 4.7 aerials won per Premier League matches last season, his second since a Summer 2015 move from Celtic.

[ MORE: Milan talk to Costa, Falcao agent ]