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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.