FIFA’s Opportunity to Act Virtuously


A young Nepalese man, unsatisfied with his life in Nepal, packed his bags and traveled to Qatar full of hope, promise, and the prospect of a bright future. His story is common, and it reflects the growing trend of individuals emigrating from countries such as India, Bangladesh, and Nepal into Qatar, hopeful for better work and better pay. The 2010 announcement that the 2022 FIFA World Cup would be held in Qatar triggered “[…] a multibillion-dollar construction boom in Qatar […].”[1] Local construction companies as well as multination firms quickly established operations within the small oil-rich nation and began work on roads, hotels, skyscrapers, stadiums, and parking structures. [2] Although the Federation Internationale de Football Association, better known as FIFA, is not directly sponsoring the inundation of migrant workers into Qatar, it has presented thousands of impoverished persons the opportunity to escape their hopeless lives and make money that can be sent back to their families.

FIFA has been subjected to criticism since Qatar was announced the host of the 2022 World Cup. Allegations that Qatari royalty paid off FIFA’s executives in a bribery incident have been the subject of many news outlets and tabloids. But still, more criticism of FIFA exists. Migrant workers in Qatar are placed in labor camps upon arrival, and are often stripped of their passports by their employers, providing the workers no possible escape from Qatar. “According to Amnesty International,” a BBC News article writes, “the majority of migrant workers have their passports held by employers.”[3] Without possession of a passport, an individual cannot freely leave Qatar. Furthermore, the conditions of these labor camps are squalid and unsanitary. In some camps, it is common for up to 12 men to share a bedroom, and safety standards are not upheld in most worksites for these migrant workers.

The conditions and wild mistreatment of migrant workers in Qatar present an opportunity for FIFA to shed a virtuous light in a world which often critiques this football organization. I contend that FIFA is in a unique position to battle the ubiquitous labor violations in Qatar, and I will examine this opportunity through the lens of virtue ethics. Football is the most popular and viewed sport in the world, and FIFA is the governing body of international football. FIFA’s actions, therefore, can reflect the perception of football worldwide. If FIFA takes a stand against Qatari labor camps and embraces virtue ethics in doing so, FIFA can change its own negative perception.

There are three ethical theories that could apply to FIFA and its opportunity to improve the living and working conditions of migrant workers in Qatar. FIFA could implement a consequentialist, deontologist, or virtue ethics approach in this scenario. Due to the corruption allegations facing FIFA, and in particular its president Joseph S. Blatter, I argue that virtue ethics would be the logical approach for FIFA to take because Blatter could demonstrate that FIFA and he can exemplify just and moral character. According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Virtue ethics is a broad term for theories that emphasize the role of character and virtue in moral philosophy rather than either doing one’s duty or acting in order to bring about good consequences.”[4] Doing one’s duty supports deontology, and acting to bring about positive outcomes supports consequentialism.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains that virtue ethics is comprised of three notions: virtue, practical wisdom, and eudaimonia.[5] The first notion, virtue, deals with an individual’s character, and what personal traits that individual inherently possesses, like honesty, confidence, and accountability. A person who possesses virtues such as honesty likely has good intentions. To act on these intentions exemplifies a person’s practical wisdom, which gives him the knowledge and reason to act on his good intentions. At its fundamental root, practical wisdom is the understanding of why an action is good, and it emphasizes the ability to act on these intentions. An individual that practices virtue ethics also has the concept of eudaimonia, according to this Aristotelian principle. Eudaimonia translates from Greek to “happiness” or “flourishing,” and “[…] living a life in accordance with virtue is necessary for eudaimonia.”[6] The doctrine thus explains that to experience happiness, an individual must live a virtuous life. Understanding the specific conditions and concepts of virtue ethics is critical if integration between this philosophical theory and FIFS is to be formed.

Virtue ethics asks the question, what would the best x do? In this essay, variable x is a sports organization. Acknowledging that the construction boom in Qatar is related to FIFA, what would the best sports organization do to remedy this situation? What would FIFA do? The aspects of virtue ethics have been listed, and the next step is to investigate whether FIFA aligns with each concept of virtue ethics. Does FIFA have virtues? Is FIFA a virtuous organization? FIFA thinks so. Its official website reveals a webpage where it poses public concerns and answers them. One issue listed on the webpage reads, “FIFA only wants to make a profit; it doesn’t care about anything else.”[7] This inquiry addressed by FIFA alludes to two primary questions: Is FIFA a company or a non-profit? Does FIFA sacrifice its stakeholders for profits?

FIFA makes money and much of it. A non-profit organization has to profit enough to sustain operations, but is often not interested in making excessive profits to pay executives bonuses. FIFA labels and organizes itself as a non-profit in its home country of Switzerland and does not pay tax on World Cup revenues. The 2010 South African World Cup paid FIFA a grand total of $3.48 billion in revenues between marketing rights and television rights. This revenue figure is greater than the revenue FIFA earns during a non-World Cup year, which was $1.386 billion in 2013.[8] Tax exemption is a large part of FIFA’s business strategy, and having its headquarters in Switzerland assists with this piece of its business model. Further, “FIFA pursues tax exemption from every country agreeing to host the Cup.”[9] This indicates that FIFA is given tax exemption in whatever country is chosen to host the World Cup. In 2022, Qatar will have to sacrifice tax dollars from FIFA’s earnings in order to host the World Cup. I would argue that FIFA disguises itself as a non-profit to avoid paying taxes, but operates as a for-profit business. To hide within this guise does not demonstrate virtuous behavior.

If FIFA is now considered a quasi-non-profit organization, it is clear that it acts against natural virtues. This behavior is evident in the corruption and bribery charges that FIFA is currently facing, and is further supplemented by the negligible behavior in dealing with labor camps in Qatar. As these allegations build, one may wonder if FIFA possesses practical wisdom, or as previously discussed the possession of knowledge and understanding to make informed and good intentioned decisions. Although an industrial revolution has been occurring in the Middle East for years, the pace at which it occurred in Qatar quickened, beginning in 2010 when Qatar was announced the host of the 2022 World Cup. FIFA’s direct involvement in Qatar will likely not begin until a year or two before the actual tournament through advertising and marketing campaigns. Indirectly, however, FIFA is increasingly involved in what is happening in Qatar right now, and currently appears uninterested in involving itself to better the lives of migrant workers who are erecting the structures that will soon house FIFA-related fans and athletes.

To act ethically in Qatar would ignite the perception change of FIFA, but more importantly it would improve the current impoverished conditions of thousands of migrant laborers. FIFA must examine its own moral principles and then act on them. In an article entitled “What is Virtue Ethics all About?” philosopher Gregory Trianosky declares:

Ethics of virtue advocates could agree that some ‘practical’ element of responsiveness                                                 to basic moral principles must enter into the makeup of any truly virtuous agent. Of                                        course they will tend to conceive this element as involving a responsiveness to                                                          considerations about (say) what a person of practical wisdom would do, rather than                                              strictly to considerations about duty.[10]

Trianosky writes that the concept of practical wisdom is critical in an individual’s ability to make moral and virtuous decisions. In a way, he juxtaposes the considerations made by an individual adhering to virtue ethics compared to deontology. A person should consider practical wisdom to supplement acting in a manner consistent with his necessary duty. This idea examines a question posed earlier in this essay: what would the best x do? FIFA, in this case, may not have a contractual duty to impose its power in Qatar and demand better conditions for migrant workers, but x or the best sports organization might do that. Therefore, FIFA should demand better quality of life for workers, and acting virtuous would improve FIFA’s international standing. FIFA wants to make football the best sport in the world, which is understandable. But what if FIFA took its mission just a bit further? If FIFA stood for football and human rights, it could transform itself into a truly global and virtuous organization.

Every four years, FIFA enters a nation to put on the greatest tournament in the world watched by millions of passionate fans. These fans admire their home teams; they overwhelming rejoice when their country wins and they regretfully mourn when subjected to a defeat. These fans live and die by their team, and their loyalty is unquestioned. The passion for football shared by fans worldwide would certainly support a decision by FIFA to demand the fair treatment of labor in countries that will host a World Cup. The passion should extend beyond the goal posts of the football pitch and should penetrate local villages, towns, and cities. FIFA is the governing body of the most popular sport in the world, and as such, should act as the best sports organization in the world.

Virtue ethics revolve around moral character, and demand an individual with virtuous traits to act with good intentions. Adhering to the philosophy of virtue ethics leads to one’s experience with happiness, perhaps better known in the philosophy world as eudaimonia. If FIFA embraces virtue ethics and imposes its global influence in Qatar, it will experience eudaimonia, even if not immediately. No longer should an impoverished man from Nepal regret leaving his home and family for the promise of a better life only to fall back into an unsustainable life filled with barren hope. FIFA should redesign if not sponsor labor camps where migrant workers would be proud to live in, and would perhaps compete to work in. At a basic level, FIFA should conduct regular quality of life tests in labor camps in Qatar to ensure that no migrant camps that do not meet regulations are transporting workers to FIFA-specific worksites. After all, FIFA boasts impressive profits because it pays no taxes.

The public perception of FIFA is that it is a corrupt organization. But there is hope for FIFA. To act in Qatar would initiate this hope and it could set a major precedent in the future. Ensuring safe living conditions for workers and helping economic growth in host countries would soften FIFA’s perceptions, and it would indicate that FIFA is more about making money. FIFA does care about its stakeholders. What would the best x do? Underneath the disguise that FIFA has enveloped itself in is an organization that fundamentally loves football. FIFA finds itself in a unique position, but this position is an opportunity. The World Cup in Qatar does not kickoff for another seven to eight years, but the construction is happening now. Now is when FIFA must outline and initiate a strategy following virtue ethics to better migrant workers in Qatar, the global football community, and its own organization.

 Works Cited

Erb, Kelly P. “World Cup Mania: Figuring Out FIFA, Soccer & Tax.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 16 June        2014. Web. 25 Nov. 2014.

“FAQ: Setting the Record Straight.” FIFA Congress 2014. N.p., 10 June 2014. Web. 26 Nov. 2014.

Hosea, Leana. “Inside Qatar’s Squalid Labour Camps.” BBC News. N.p., 7 Mar. 2014. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.

Hursthouse, Rosalind. “Virtue Ethics.” Stanford University. Stanford University, 8 Mar. 2012. Web. 25     Nov. 2014.

“Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2014.

Trianosky, Gregory. “What Is Virtue Ethics All About?” American Philosophical Quarterly 27.4 (1990):       335-44. JSTOR. Web. 26 Nov. 2014. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/20014344?ref=no-x-                route:a7eb282af65486d0f301517dfec6f0b8>.

Footnotes

[1] Hosea, Leana. “Inside Qatar’s Squalid Labour Camps.” BBC News. N.p., 7 Mar. 2014. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.

[2] Hosea, Leana. “Inside Qatar’s Squalid Labour Camps.” BBC News. N.p., 7 Mar. 2014. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.

[3] Hosea, Leana. “Inside Qatar’s Squalid Labour Camps.” BBC News. N.p., 7 Mar. 2014. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.

[4] “Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Nov. 2014.

[5] Hursthouse, Rosalind. “Virtue Ethics.” Stanford University. Stanford University, 8 Mar. 2012. Web. 25 Nov. 2014.

[6] Hursthouse, Rosalind. “Virtue Ethics.” Stanford University. Stanford University, 8 Mar. 2012. Web. 25 Nov. 2014.

[7] “FAQ: Setting the Record Straight.” FIFA Congress 2014. N.p., 10 June 2014. Web. 26 Nov. 2014.

[8] Erb, Kelly P. “World Cup Mania: Figuring Out FIFA, Soccer & Tax.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 16 June 2014. Web. 25 Nov. 2014.

[9] Erb, Kelly P. “World Cup Mania: Figuring Out FIFA, Soccer & Tax.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 16 June 2014. Web. 25 Nov. 2014.

[10] Trianosky, Gregory. “What Is Virtue Ethics All About?” American Philosophical Quarterly 27.4 (1990): 335-44. JSTOR. Web. 26 Nov. 2014. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/20014344?ref=no-x-route:a7eb282af65486d0f301517dfec6f0b8&gt;.

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5 responses to “FIFA’s Opportunity to Act Virtuously

    • One of the primary reasons is because Qatar does not currently have many soccer venues. Furthermore, due to the hot climate in Qatar during the summer (when the World Cup is held), the stadiums will likely have retractable roofs to provide air-conditioning to the venues. There has also been talk recently of the World Cup being held in the winter because temperatures will be cooler in Qatar. However, hosting the World Cup during the winter would interfere with many European soccer leagues.

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  1. What is particularly galling is that FIFA has huge leverage here. They seem to use that to be less virtuous. They are not like a cash-strapped company gutting it out for thin margins.

    Add to that the practical wisdom of non-profits, that they exist to serve higher needs and can therefore afford to not maximize revenue, and the ethical gaping maw of emptiness that is FIFA is horrifying.

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