FIFA would like you to know that it is not full of bad people. On Wednesday, the world soccer governing body put out a statement in support of Hakeem al-Araibi, an Australia-based soccer player who was detained in Thailand in November.
Al-Araibi is officially a refugee from the kingdom of Bahrain, having been granted permanent residency by the Australian government. However, due to not appearing in a Bahraini court in response to a vandalism charge that he rejects as state propaganda, al-Araibi was sentenced to 10 years in Bahrain prison and, more importantly, he was placed on Interpol’s Red Notice list, which is the agency’s equivalent to a global arrest warrant.
It was under the red notice that Thai authorities arrested the 25-year-old al-Araibi in November, while he was in the country for his honeymoon. According to The Guardian, al-Araibi believes he was targeted by the Bahrain government “amid a crackdown on athletes taking part in pro-democracy rallies during the Arab Spring.” He left the country in 2011, seeking—and eventually receiving—asylum in Australia.
On the surface, FIFA joining the international calls for the release of al-Araibi is a strong show of solidarity for one of its own, particularly because al-Araibi’s case has not gotten the attention that fellow detainee Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun has, as The Guardian noted. Getting more attention, particularly from arguably the biggest sporting entity in the world, can only help al-Araibi’s case.
As the statement says, the organization wants to see the situation resolved so that al-Araibi can return to Australia under his status as a refugee:
FIFA is therefore calling on all the relevant authorities (in Bahrain, Thailand and Australia) to take the necessary steps to ensure that Mr Hakeem Al-Araibi is allowed to return safely to Australia where he can resume his career as a professional footballer.
Of course, FIFA is full of shit. Or, more accurately, FIFA is a corrupt PR machine trying to paper over its own rotting carcass.
The 2018 World Cup might be remembered for Croatia’s bold run to the finals or for France’s fireworks on the way to the trophy, but it should also be remembered for supporting Russia at a time when they are occupying parts of the Ukraine, and amidst discrimination and crackdowns on the LGBTQ community in the country. Calls to move to Cup from Russia to other countries fell on FIFA’s very rich, very deaf ears.
And then there is Qatar. Every decision that FIFA makes, every statement it releases, every glad-handing public relations event it partakes in occurs within the shadow of the horrific death machine that is the 2022 World Cup, which continues to run on slave labor.
Though the 2014 study that estimated that up to 4,000 migrant workers would die in the lead-up to the Cup has since been deemed overly pessimistic, a 2018 report by a consultant group dubbed an “External Compliance Monitor” found that construction workers still work up to 90 hours over the legal limit per month, and that they can sometimes go up to 148 days without a day of rest.
As for the death toll, there is not an exact count for how many have died so far, though a 2015 report stated that 1,200-plus migrant workers had died in Qatar since the start of World Cup preparation. Those numbers are not just for workers specifically working on the World Cup, but they do illustrate the working conditions in Qatar as it gears up to host the first-ever World Cup in the Middle East.
So, though it’s commendable that FIFA has issued a statement on such a high-profile incarceration, and that it ostensibly seems to support al-Araibi’s refugee status, this is still the same organization that is going to profit handsomely from the work of migrant workers with limited human rights and increasingly dangerous working conditions.
In the statement asking for al-Araibi’s release, FIFA requests a “humane and speedy resolution” to his case so that he may return to Australia and play soccer again. Unfortunately, there will be no “humane and speedy resolution” to the horrors that are being perpetrated in Qatar not just under FIFA’s nose, but with the organization’s full and boisterous support.