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Killer sport

The FIFA corruption scandal has brought the issue of Qatar's hosting of the Football World Cup to the top of the agenda again and – along with the allegations of bribery – has highlighted the death toll which has occurred to date during the building of the country's World Cup stadia

by Liz Terry, Leisure Media | Published in Sports Management 2015 issue 2
Liz Terry
Liz Terry

In the last issue of Sports Management, we looked at the role sport is playing in emerging nations around the world, by driving economic growth, encouraging healthy lifestyle change and raising the visibility and status of nations on the world stage.

Sport is one of the most powerful drivers of these effects and can be a catalyst for hugely positive change which empowers minorities, strengthens communities and raises living standards.

But when sport is misused, and its power is deployed in a cynical and self serving way, or those in power disregard the rights of the wider community, the outcomes can be deeply shocking.

Qatar has every right to bid to host the Football World Cup. It has every right to win its bid and to deliver the tournament in a way which meets the needs of players and officials. It's exciting, and great for sport, to see more nations stepping forward and bidding for major sporting events. But when the core value of sport – fair competition – is undermined by the actions of those in charge, it's hugely destructive. And when those actions lead to the deaths of many people who are working for the good of sport, it becomes unforgivable.

In the midst of the FIFA bribery scandal, The Washington Post produced a table charting the deaths which have occurred during the building of Qatar's Football World Cup stadia and compared it with those in other major games. It makes shocking reading, with the death toll for Qatar standing at 1,200. With more time left to go before completion, the likelihood is that this will increase.

The numbers for other major sporting events show – a still horrific – 60 for Sochi, nine for Russia 2018, eight for Brazil 2014, six for Beijing 2008, two for South Africa 2010, one for the London 2012 Olympics and one for Vancouver 2010. The contrast highlights how much less governed construction is in certain places.

There's another dimension too. While deaths are being recorded, life changing injuries are less clearly documented, meaning a further group of people are being seriously affected who are outside the focus of the international spotlight.

Qatar has made steps to improve matters by bringing in experts to review its processes in a bid to improve its safety record and it's to be hoped the problem will come under control, but it's vital that changes are made to ensure this never happens again.

We can't bring back the dead, but we can move as a global community, to ensure that when major sporting events are awarded to inexperienced nations, the selection process takes these matters into account in a robust way.

No nation should be awarded a major sporting event which requires the construction of new infrastructure and facilities unless it can demonstrate beyond doubt that it has the expertise to be able to carry out the work without injury or loss of life.

And it must also be able to prove that robust systems are in place to guarantee transparency, so that if anything does go wrong in spite of the most stringent systems being in place, they're reviewed and changed immediately – sand that the people involved are taken care of. Nothing less will do.

We mustn't let what's happening with FIFA stand in the way of this change – it's an issue that's bigger than just one sport. People are dying while we argue about things like legacy. Construction safety is a challenge of another magnitude and has been left ungoverned for far too long – with devastating consequences.

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