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POV: The Workers Cup

Airs Monday, July 9, 2018 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

Umesh at Al Sadd stadium in Doha, Qatar attends a game of the Qatar Stars Lea...

Credit: Courtesy of The Workers Cup LLC

Above: Umesh at Al Sadd stadium in Doha, Qatar attends a game of the Qatar Stars League before his team's opening match.

Film reveals the human sacrifice for “the beautiful game”

For football fans across the globe, all roads lead to the 2018 FIFA World Cup, now taking place in Russia.

And while the thrill and excitement of the games ensue, “The Workers Cup” by Adam Sobel is set to premiere on the PBS documentary series POV on Monday, July 9, the day before the first game of the semifinals.

POV: The Workers Cup: Trailer

In 2022, Qatar will host the biggest sporting event in the world, the FIFA World Cup. But right now, far from the bright lights, star athletes and adoring fans, the tournament is being built on the backs of 1.6 million African and Asian migrant workers.

The film offers a glimpse of the massive stadiums and infrastructure projects now being built for the 2022 games in Qatar, while following the experiences of migrant workers who are recruited from Asia and Africa for the construction projects of local and multinational companies.

“This film tries to tell the story on a more intimate level and really comes close to the story... of the migrant workers themselves,” Sobel says in his filmmaker statement.

We learn of the circumstances that bring these workers to Qatar. Most come due to financial need and others in search of opportunity.

However, workers quickly find that their new reality is gravely different from what they expected.

The Workers Cup - Typical Work

We see the typical work and working conditions in Qatar, and meet Kenneth, whose hope for a pro soccer career is exploited by an employment agent.

“The life that I’m living here, I try to hide it from my friends back home because they wouldn’t understand it,” states Paul, a migrant from Kenya. “Their perception of being abroad is the high life... but the life that I’m living here, it’s a different life.”

Photo credit: Courtesy of The Workers Cup LLC

Paul, a migrant from Kenya, featured in "The Workers Cup."

For most workers, the choice to migrate brings little gain:

Most cannot change jobs, quit or return home without the permission of the company that contracted them.

Sometimes desperate measures are taken:

We learn of one worker who attacked his roommate so he would get kicked out of the camp and could go home.

The Workers Cup - Housing

We learn that foreign workers outnumber Qataris and that those who choose to live outside of company camps live in squalor. We also see life in company housing and hear the story of a man who was stabbed by his roommate because his roommate believed that the only way the company would let him leave Qatar was if they believed he was mentally unfit.

A possible silver lining is presented when workers from 24 companies that are bidding for World Cup - related contracts are invited to participate in a sponsored football tournament called the Workers Cup. It takes place in the very facilities that they are tasked to build.

Sobel documents the experience of a team of workers selected by Gulf Contracting Company (GCC), with players from Kenya, Ghana, India and Nepal. The tournament quickly becomes an outlet for GCC workers and their excitement over it builds.

After the first game, they assess each other’s strengths and weaknesses and are motivated to ask for time off work so they can train for the next game. The team bonds across cultural and language barriers through their shared love of “the beautiful game.”

The Workers Cup - Pay and Recreation

The manager of the company soccer team calculates the cost of fielding a team and weighs it against the benefits. We also learn that a white collar foreign worker with eight years of service to the company still cannot earn enough to qualify for a visa to bring his wife to Qatar, nor can he earn enough to buy a car back home.

For some of them it represents a chance to be discovered by the scouts they hope will be watching. But for all it is a rare escape from the drudgery of their everyday jobs as sweepers, cleaners and diggers on sites across the city.

After each exciting game they head back to the labor camp, where they are reminded of the harsh realities they face: living at the mercy of their company, challenges to finding companionship and the struggle to maintain relationships with their families back home.

In a moment of reflection, they address the topic of freedom in relation to life at the camp.

“You can’t go back. You just have to stay and work for the... small salary,” states Paul during a conversation among team members contemplating whether they are subject to “modern slavery.”

The Workers Cup - Modern Slavery?

During lunch in the cafeteria, workers who are also members of the company’s soccer team talk about what they miss from home and their definitions of “freedom.” Their conversation touches on issues of racism and whether the conditions of their employment are a modern form of slavery.

“The Workers Cup” also presents the stark contrast between the workers’ living conditions and the opulence that surrounds them.

The unique and modern architecture of Qatar is built on the manpower of these migrant workers, who risk injury and death, yet will never be able to experience and enjoy the luxuries they provide:

“A mall is not a place people like me can go,” states Umesh, a migrant from India. “On our site we aren’t allowed downstairs in the mall while it’s open... There’s really no reason to go anyway.”

Ultimately, after the tournament is over, team GCC will return to “normal life” at the camp.

“It was never about the worker,” says Calton, a migrant worker from Kenya. “The company’s interest is to win tenders to construct stadiums, to construct buildings, to construct roads and all these things that are needed set up for the 2022 World Cup. It was for another person to see what’s going on, another shareholder. But I thought that maybe we’d be considered not as workers but as footballers. That was my goal.”

Photo credit: Courtesy of The Workers Cup LLC

On left, Samuel from Ghana is dreading his colleague’s hair. On right, Calton from Kenya at the Um Salal camp on the outskirts of Doha, Qatar.


This film will stream online on in concurrence with its broadcast. Full episodes of POV are available to view on demand for a limited time after broadcast.


POV is on Facebook, Google +, and you can follow @povdocs on Twitter. #WorkersCupPBS

You can follow @workerscup on Twitter.


Director is Adam Sobel. Producers: Ramzy Haddad and Rosie Garthwaite. Editors: Lauren Wellbrock, Anne Jünemann and Adam Sobel. Music by Nathan Halpern. Executive Producers for POV: Justine Nagan and Chris White. Produced by American Documentary, Inc., POV is public television’s premier showcase for nonfiction films.


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