The Workers Cup

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A Film about the Labour Camps of Qatar: building the 2022 FIFA World Cup

Last night we hosted another advance screening of The Workers Cup film at the Zoo Palast Cinema in Berlin. Here are my own personal thoughts on why everyone should see this movie. Think only about the plight of migrant workers in Qatar, the vast majority of the population, and then sprinkle in joy of football and then you have a compelling and very human narrative. The current blockade against Qatar by some of its Arab neighbours, catalysed in part by one Donald Trump, just adds to the poignancy. If things get tough in Qatar over the months ahead, it is unlikely to be the 300,000 Qataris that suffer first given they are the richest population, per capita, in the world, but rather the migrant workers who have come from some of the poorest countries.

The real-life film focuses on an annual tournament organised by the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy for the 2022 World Cup in which construction companies can field teams of workers (who work building the stadiums during the hot day, but train and play at night). It focuses on one team in particular, and some key protagonists from Africa and South Asia. Kenneth is a 21-year old Ghanian with dreams of becoming a professional player and is working in Qatar with the hope that one day he will play in the stadiums he is building. The lonely guy is Paul from Kenya, trying to date another Kenyan in Qatar but embarrassed to admit he is “in the camps” and finding it hard to get into Doha on his day off. Umesh is the older guy, the father figure, wanting to build a home for his wife and children back in India. Padam from Nepal has a angry wife at home also feeling very isolated by the dislocation of having an absent husband for years on end.

The film brings us into their lives, and how they train and compete in the Workers Cup, pitting their wits against other teams of workers. I will not tell you how far they get in the tournament, that would be too much of a spoiler, but their passion for the beautiful game humanises them. Unlike nearly any documentary on migrant workers you might watch, this film is not about victims, they are active agents trying to fulfil their own destinies. They have been granted one freedom, one privilege: some time off from the work in the blistering sun to train and play. But this is perhaps the film’s greatest revelation: it is because of this freedom that the workers find out that they really have no freedoms at all. I do not want to draw too many lines to other films about slavery and forced labour in other times and places – but it has this element in common: patronage and charity only highlights the absence of fundamental rights.

Fundamentally, the film is about human dignity – and asks us to reflect on our own hopes and desires. In a powerful speech near the end of the film, the workers are reminded that although life in Qatar is heavily colour-coded, in economics if not in terms of any apartheid law, it is the “barriers we create inside ourselves” that really matters. Whilst Qatar is an extreme example of this, the same factors exist in most places, not least in London as the victims of the Grenfell Tower remind us – poor largely migrant Londoners burning to death in ones of its richest boroughs.

Thank you to Ramzy Haddad, Rosie Garthwaite and Adam Sobel for bringing us the film. Go watch it as soon as you can.

The young start to reclaim their future

What “strong and stable” really means…

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Last night’s election result in the UK was a victory for the young. The final results are still coming in but it seems that young voters (you need to be at least 18 to vote in UK Parliamentary elections) were a decisive part of the vote against Theresa May’s government. 16 and 17 year-olds were able to vote in the Scottish independence reference in 2014, and it is likely that if they had also been able to vote in the UK’s 2016 referendum on leaving the European Union, then the young (and the rest of us) would not now face the prospect of losing our burgundy passports, a falling pound, 2-3% inflation and a slumping economy.

The critique of the young has always been that they are passionate advocates online, they delight in witty memes but when it comes to election day – they do not walk into the church hall, community centre or sports club (or wherever the polling centre might be) and vote. The old-fashioned act of putting a pencil cross on a piece of paper was thought to be too “old school” for the young. The talk against the young was at best patronising but often much worse. Even overnight, mainstream politicians, including some members of Jeremy Corbyn’s own party, were maligning the young for falling naively for the sweet bribes of no tuition fees, ending zero hours contracts and showing reluctance to maintain nuclear weapons. “There is no magic money tree” was a favourite remark of Prime Minister May during the campaign – as if she was reading a cautionary fairy story to young people everywhere.

To get a flavour of the arrogance – read one of many commentaries in the Murdoch-owned press or the ever spiteful Daily Mail (a paper that revels in ephebiphobia and every other type of fear and prejudice, not least its front page this week basically insinuating that Jeremy Corbyn was a friend of terrorists).

But despite, and may be because of this prejudice, 72% of 18-25 year-olds voted last night, a higher percentage than the general population and they voted for their futures. They voted against a “Hard Brexit” and virtually everything else that Theresa May represented, from the return to selective education (“Grammar Schools”) to her recent threats to undermine our nation’s commitment to internationally-recognised human rights.

Theresa May’s minority government is likely to limp on for the months ahead with the support of Unionists in Northern Ireland. Her government is in no position to negotiate on Brexit and in many ways she has lost her mandate to do so. David Cameron’s referendum on EU membership was self-serving, as was this recent unneeded and premature election. On both occasions, they have been called out by the electorate.

The young will now have a more powerful voice in British politics and they will need to be listened to more attentively by all the political parties. This is perhaps what “strong and stable” really means. The recent terrorist attacks in Manchester and London Bridge were in large part an attack against the young. Their response is not one of hatred, xenophobia and retreat, but quite the opposite. Think no further than Ariana Grande’s “OneLove” Manchester concert last weekend for the victims murdered at her show two weeks earlier, watched in by 10.9m, 49% of the total UK audience, with 22.6m watching at least three minutes of the broadcast. Her closing words were: “I think the kind of love and unity you’re displaying is the kind of medicine the world needs right now. Thank you for coming tonight, I love you so much, thank you.”