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Human rights concerns are turning some fans away

Bijendra Bikran Rana loves football. He regularly hangs out with other Nepalis near Chicago’s Foster Beach, playing his country’s favorite sport, and he usually watches the World Cup with rapt attention.

But this year everything is different. Thousands of migrant workers, many of them Nepalese, have faced dangerous working conditions and died while building a stadium for the tournament’s host nation in Qatar, rights groups say. He expects to watch only a game or two.

“I want to see it, but I’m not too crazy or too excited,” Bikran Rana said on Friday.

The first game of the 2022 World Cup took place on Sunday, with Qatar losing 2-0 to Ecuador. And while there was plenty of pageantry at the opening, there was plenty of controversy in the days leading up to it.

Qatar has faced widespread scrutiny and criticism for its treatment of migrant workers, the gay community, environmental sustainability, corruption and other issues since it won the right to host the tournament more than a decade ago.

In response to these concerns, boycotts and protests against the World Cup began around the world. Chicagoans are also grappling with tough issues that plague the usually joyous event.

But Qatar has repeatedly countered the criticism, calling it racism against the first Arab country to host the tournament and claiming that building conditions have improved.

As FIFA and Qatar officials redouble their defense of the host nation, problems continue to loom over the tournament. Qatar Tournament Ambassador publicly condemned homosexuality last week. On Friday, FIFA announced this suddenly the sale of beer was prohibited in the eight stadiums where the games will be held after discussions with the Qatari authorities. Then on Saturday, FIFA president Gianni Infantino delivered an hour-long tirade to reporters. denouncing criticism of Qatar and the FIFA World Cup as hypocritical.

Many of Chicago’s Nepali residents Bikran Rana spoke with the same sentiment as he: banned from the tournament because thousands of their compatriots died during construction of stadiums in reportedly dangerous conditions, he said.

Life for Nepali workers in Chicago is also often difficult because they have little support and limited access to well-paying work, added Birkan Rana, secretary general of the Nepali Friendship Society of Chicago, a local Nepali community group.

Santiago Munoz of Portage Park learned more about what he called the “shocking human rights abuses” surrounding the tournament when he wrote a paper on the World Cup for a college class. After reading about the treatment of migrant workers, the anti-LGBTQ+ stance and corruption, he decided not to watch.

The long-time fan of the sport said he would be happy to watch the tournament if another country with a better human rights record hosted it, but he feels the “general consensus” is that fellow fans are not very excited about the World Cup .

“You have people who are paid millions of dollars to promote the World Cup, even if it seems fake and strange,” Munoz said on Friday. “It just makes you not want to watch.”

He would like FIFA to hold Qatar accountable. Countries must follow a certain set of standards, he added.

“I think Qatar’s failure to meet these standards would just be disrespectful to everyone. For the people involved in this, for the fans and especially for the migrant workers who died building the stage for this tournament,” Munoz said.

The Chicago Fire plans to host a Navy Pier viewing party for Friday’s key USA vs. England match. A club spokesman declined to comment on specific matters surrounding the tournament, but said the team “stands for human rights and equality for all”.

“The World Cup is a driving force that brings people from different nationalities together and raises awareness of key issues in society,” the club said in an emailed statement.

Fire midfielder Xherdon Shaqiri is set to play in the tournament for Switzerland, who face Cameroon on Thursday.

“As a club, we aim to celebrate this aspect of the tournament by providing a space for all of Chicago to come together and unite through their shared love of the game while supporting their respective countries,” the Fire said in a statement.

Every World Cup game will be shown at AJ Hudson’s, an English-style pub in Lakeview, where soccer team banners line the walls and large TVs.

“The 4 o’clock in the morning games we have to show on repeat, but we plan to open our doors half an hour before the 7 o’clock games,” said general manager Julio Sandoval.

Sitting in AJ Hudson’s Saturday night, Lakeview’s Ed Sasse said he plans to watch two of his favorite teams, America, and his favorite, Belgium. But the former college football player is frustrated that the host country’s government “doesn’t accept people who just want to live their lives and be happy,” he said.

“It’s a shame that its top is so ruined when it brings so much joy to everyone else,” he said. “On the other hand, I’m glad to see so many people are upset about the political aspect of this and are speaking out.”

On Sunday, brother-sister duo Michelle Carbo, 28, and Felipe Carbo, 33, who hail from Guayaquil, Ecuador, waited in line outside Globe Pub in the North Center neighborhood shortly before 8:30 a.m. and immediately went inside. when the soccer bar opened. They hung an Ecuadorian flag on one of their seats.

Soccer fans like them show their undisguised excitement for the World Cup, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t plagued by questions about the controversies surrounding the tournament.

“What about all those deaths when they build the infrastructure there?” Felipe wondered aloud as a promotional video about the construction of Qatar’s stadium was shown on the screens across the bar. “They talk about immigrants who go from other countries to work there. Why are the conditions so bad? Why did so many people have to die?”

But, Michelle said, attention to the World Cup is not unique to Qatar.

“That’s what happened to Russia, the last World Cup. The same with Brazil. This is always the case when the World Cup is held,” she said.

Ramakant Kharel, a Nepalese immigrant who lives in the Chicago area, hears about the bodies being returned to Nepal when he checks the news from his country, he said Saturday. He shared his frustration at the deaths and circumstances in Nepal that have forced migrant workers to leave the country.

“I love the World Cup,” said Harrell, who serves as vice president of the Nepali American Center in Mount Prospect, a nonprofit serving the Nepalese community. The tournament unites people from all over the world, allows them to find a common language and overcome political differences, he said.

“The purpose of sports is to unite people. But in order to achieve this goal, people sacrifice their lives,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed.


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