Daniel Nelson

 

The Workers Cup is not really about the Workers Cup, though it is about workers and a cup (or two).

It’s not even about football, though there are scenes from several matches.

It’s a documentary about a small group of labourers and office workers employed by a construction company in Qatar, a country that is temporary home to 1.6 million foreign workers.

Home is not the word that best describes their domicile. They are contract workers who hand over their passports when they arrive and are essentially prisoners. (“Seriously, t

The Workers Cup

The Workers Cup

Image by The Workers Cup

his is no life, man. You feel you are trapped.”)

They came willingly but what they found when they arrived is not what they expected. “They are coming with too much hope,” says one worker of new arrivals.

They live in all-male “lines’ (“It’s been seven months, I haven’t sat down with a lady”), they get up, go to work, go to bed. Life is tightly constrained. Some work seven days a week. One man says, “You just do your work. You don’t even talk sometimes. So at the moment I am quite lonely, I can say.” For some, the salary, though not great, is regular: “It’s for the good of the children that my own life is thrown away”. Many hanker for their homeland, even though they were once happy to escape poverty in Ghana or Nepal.

Into this dreary regime of labour and boredom comes a little fun and excitement: an inter-company football competition. The film makes a mini- drama of it by following one team, and some of the players really care – none more so than captain Kenneth from Ghana. He was told by the man who recruited him to work in Qatar that once in the country he would get a chance to interest a club. In reality, that’s never going to happen. Now he’s hoping scouts will attend the cup matches and spot him.

The team starts badly, presses management for training facilities and turns defeat into victories.

But it’s quickly evident that this a PR exercise for the companies. The Big Boss glad-hands his team and blandly dampens rivalry: “Don’t worry about it. It’s only a game.” To him, anyway.

Amidst the post-competition deflation, disunity and racist stereotyping emerge, leading to some forceful truth-telling: “It’s not about the workers. It was never about the workers.” It’s about companies’ interest in getting contracts for stadia, buildings and roads for the 2022 World Cup, about contacts, about displaying “corporate social responsibility”.

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