The Real FIFA Scandal is Not About Bribes, Kickbacks and Money Laundered: It's 1,200 Dead Workers in Qatar

06/01/2015 03:58 pm ET | Updated Jun 01, 2016

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Will the deaths of 1,200 workers in Qatar building the 2022 World Cup facilities be a simple footnote in the ugly face of football?

Will our insatiable appetite for an electrifying sport make us oblivious to a crime of Gulag proportions?

According to an investigation by The Guardian published in December 2014, guest workers imported to Qatar to build the pharaonic World Cup Soccer infrastructure are dying at alarming rates: "A report by the International Trade Union Confederation has estimated 1,200 deaths so far, with up to 4,000 additional worker deaths by 2022".

And those who survive live under modern-slavery conditions, charges the International Trade Union Confederation, in a document that describes Qatar as hell on earth. It's a place where:

Fundamental rights and freedoms do not exist for workers in Qatar whether for poor migrant workers or highly paid professional expatriates. Foreign workers are enslaved --owned by employers who hold the power of recruitment, total control over wages and conditions of employment, the authority to issue ID cards (not having an ID card can lead to prison) and the ability to refuse a change of employment or an exit visa to leave the country. This is known as the kafala system.

Although in the news for over a year, the issue gained renewed urgency in light of the indictments and extraditions of 14 FIFA big shots in a raid that, while making headlines, was the result of two parallel investigations that had more to do with tax evasion and money laundering than with the deaths of those workers.

But the charges have been around since last year.

And some blame lies on the corporations who fight for the billions of dollars in World Cup Soccer sponsorships and marketing schemes.

Time's Sean Gregory wrote that:

After Wednesday's news that the U.S. government indicted top soccer officials on charges of racketeering, wire fraud, and money laundering, FIFA's corporate sponsors expressed concern, saying they were monitoring the situation. They did their predictable finger-waving. ...

But companies like Visa should have reassessed their FIFA sponsorship long before the arrests. Because while the scale of the alleged corruption -- over $150 million in bribes and kickbacks, according to the Justice Department -- is shocking, another scandal has been brewing for years now. And this one involves the loss of many lives.

The deafening silence around the 1,200 fatalities thus far reminds me of the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese, a young woman repeatedly stabbed one cold winter night in Queens, New York, while neighbors around chose to ignore her cries for help.

Frightening.

But other things did happen during the 60s which are a source of optimism: People heard cries for help and against injustice and joined in for change.

Americans heard blacks in the South shouting for civil rights and marched by the tens of thousands.

And when they heard about the injustices of farm workers in California, they supported Cesar Chavez in the boycotts of grape, wine and lettuce.

And later on, as students heard about apartheid in South Africa, their solidarity came in the form of boycotts and the divestment movements.

Today they are hearing about the dangerous working conditions for people, including underage children, in sweatshops in Bangladesh, Cambodia and other countries, and many are becoming the Love Fashion Hate Sweatshops, so they can look good without feeling back.

That's the spirit that should rise up now that the FIFA indictments have opened up a pandora box where the Qatar horrors are exposed to the public.

Horrors that go way past bribes and kickbacks, suitcases full of cash and the peddling of votes. Because they include the senseless sacrifices of human lives in the altar of greed.

And we simply cannot act as if those 1,200 lives had not been lost.