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Qatar’s World Cup CEO Scolds Reporters For Noticing That Another Worker Died

3:35 PM EST on December 8, 2022

Qatar World Cup CEO Nasser Al Khater
Giuseppe Cacace/AFP via Getty Images

At some point during the World Cup group stage, a Filipino migrant worker died on the job at a Qatari resort being used as a World Cup training site. As of this writing not much else has been made public about the incident: The Athletic reported on Wednesday, crediting anonymous sources, that the dead worker's name was Alex, that he was "estimated to be in his early forties," and that he fell and hit his head on concrete as the result of an unspecified "forklift accident."

FIFA and the Fox network's efforts at distraction notwithstanding, the dire plight of migrant workers in Qatar has been a focus of critical media coverage pretty much since the emirate successfully bought the rights to host this World Cup back in 2010. By now much of the world knows that the tournament's infrastructure was built with, in effect, slave labor, and that some 6,500 migrant workers—sit with that number for a second—are believed to have died in the effort. Qatar is ruled by an absolute monarchy with effectively limitless riches; FIFA is a bottomlessly corrupt cesspool of graft and self-dealing; neither organization has shown or ever voluntarily would show the slightest inclination toward meaningful accountability for, or even recognition of, this more than decade-long atrocity.

And now here is another dead worker, close to this World Cup's moment of maximum worldwide attention. Had he, like countless others, had his passport confiscated when he entered Qatar, to prevent him from being able to leave? Had he been denied wages, threatened with going totally unpaid for months or years of punishing around-the-clock hard labor, to keep him desperate and servile? Had he been housed in hellish conditions unfit for farm animals? Would he have left Qatar months ago if he'd been able to? For that matter, will the world ever even know his name, or precisely how he died, or whether systemic negligence of workplace safety contributed to his death?

When a Reuters journalist got access to Nasser Al Khater, this deeply accursed World Cup's chief executive, the subject came up. Here you might expect an even minimally accountable boss type, one encumbered by, if nothing else, a cynical sense of responsibility to good public relations, to affect the appropriate face and recite the obligatory lines about being deeply saddened by this tragic loss of life and about the Qatar World Cup's absolute commitment to the safety and fair treatment of all the workers who make this possible and so on. None of it would mean all that much, of course, except as a rearguard action to reassure skittish advertisers and brand partners. Still, there's something chilling implied by an executive apparently unbothered even by those gross mercenary concerns.

"We're in the middle of a World Cup. And we have a successful World Cup. And this is something that you want to talk about right now? I mean, death is a natural part of life, whether it's at work, whether it's uh, in your sleep. Of course, a worker died, um, our condolences go to his family, however, you know, I mean it's strange that this is something that you want to focus on as your first question."

Wait, there's more!

"Workers' death has been a big subject, uh, during the World Cup. Everything that has been said, and everything that has been reflected about workers' death here has been absolutely false. This, uh, this theme, this negativity around the World Cup has been something that we've been faced with, unfortunately. Um, you know, we're a bit disappointed that the journalists have been exacerbating this false narrative, and honestly you know, I think a lot of the journalists have to question themselves and reflect on why they've been trying to bang on about this subject for so long."

The ... hell, not even the subtext here, but just the straight-up text, is: The death of a worker simply does not matter. Not to the project on which that worker died laboring, not to the head guy in charge of that project, not to the project's audience, not to anybody. For a worker at Qatar's World Cup, death on the job is simply a natural thing that happens, of no greater consequence or implication to the people and institutions overseeing the worker's labor than a random embolism in the night. What's offensive, what's beyond the bounds of decency, is asking anybody to give a damn. Or even asking whether they give a damn.

These are the remarks of a man who needs nothing from the world or the other people in it that he cannot buy a million times over, and whom the world in turn can do no more than annoy. He's trying to walk from here to there, man, he shouldn't have to deal with noise about some guy who died, one of several thousand who died. In his aggrieved petulance, the grudging parentheses he practically pantomimes around his hollow expression of worthless condolences to the family of a guy his very own decisions might have killed, is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come for every working person in a society suicidally dedicated to empowering a tiny number of its worst inhabitants. A guy fell and died, thousands of miles from home and under Nasser Al Khater's authority, and the sum total meaning of the former's life and work and death to the guy under whose boot he served is that it gave the latter an opportunity to chastise some reporters for bothering to count the corpses.

Look at the fire we built! You expect us to mourn the kindling?

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