By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) I don’t like when sports make me feel bad. Hard as it may be to believe, I don’t relish being able to write about racism, homophobia or things about the 2014 Cubs even if they seem to be the scandals and clickable stories du jour. I like when the bad guys get what is coming to them, but I don’t like our most awful aspects as people crossing the white lines. I wish I could only “stick to sports.” Consumption of games should be fun for me.
But issues with head trauma and profiting from cancer in the NFL compromise my love of watching football. What has become more evident of exploitation of the NCAA athlete has soured me on some of the college football and basketball viewing experience. The continued issues with PEDs and the slow realization that I’m sometimes watching products of human trafficking in Major League Baseball further kill off the childlike awe in me. A fraction of NHL fans needing to vent their built-up crappy complexes on a black player is still too many and very disheartening. The NBA probably made its uniforms out of koalas or something at some point, or at least those are the slaps in the face that life brings to sports seemingly too often.
So it’s strangely refreshing that I’m at least not a soccer fan, as it has never done much to fire me up. Nothing against the sport really, and bully for you and all my friends who enjoy it.
But I say strangely because the sports fan in me experiences no disappointment in what I’ve seen from the game of late. I look at all of the corruption, safety concerns and general dysfunction of the World Cup in Brazil that is a month away and bound to be a fiasco in the same way I did the Sochi Olympics. I pointed and laughed because I find the IOC to be an organization oozing with human misery disguised at world camaraderie, and I shook my head a bit that even in a trustworthy place like Russia so much could go wrong.
Tying that to the World Cup, which will be held in Russia in 2018, the AP reported:
“‘It is difficult. Maybe we should have involved the Brazilian government before,” said Jerome Valcke, secretary general of FIFA, who recently acknowledged that FIFA has learned lessons from all the problems in Brazil and “will act differently” in Russia in four years.
See, that Russian irony there doesn’t hurt my sports fan heart like steroids or Donald Sterling. It only bothers me as a human being, which is totally different.
Just like only the human being part of me has a problem with what is going on in Qatar in preparation for the 2022 World Cup, not the fan who was on the edge of his couch seat in his underwear watching overtime of Game 6 between the Blackhawks and Wild.
It will cost $200 billion for soccer’s biggest event to be held in Qatar, according to a report by ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap, most of that coming from oil money rather than at the expense of public services for the country’s citizens as is happening in Brazil. But Qatar hasn’t enough laborers to build what the money has promised (only 200,000 people live there), so it imports laborers from poor countries.
“I don’t think they see them as human,” says Sharan Burrow of Qataris’ general attitude toward imported laborers mostly from India, Pakistan and Nepal.
Burrow is general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, which sort of works to make sure there isn’t indentured servitude masquerading as shiny, happy fun like the NCAA in other countries.
“Qatar is a slave state in the 21st century,” she says, referring to the legally binding system that these workers unknowingly find themselves in and can’t get out of. “If you can’t find a job and you can’t feed your family, and you hear that you can make extraordinary amounts of money in comparison, as they’re told, you’ll do anything.”
Anything seems to mean dying. Already, 680 Nepalese have died in last five years working in Qatar, with 184 in just last year alone. Some are workplace accidents and suicides, but most deaths are heart attacks. For soccer enjoyment, people are literally working themselves to death.
The report says that a conservative estimate is that 4,000 workers will die before a ball is kicked off in 2022.
And the human being in me, especially the school teacher hat I wear, is seriously bothered that most children of these laborers receive little to no decent education, are often malnourished and too often find themselves in a single-parent situation after arriving in Qatar with two.
Take away the thrill and competition and jerseys and vuvuzelas and stuff, and as a person capable of feeling for my fellow man, I’m hating that people are starving, bankrupting, killing, rioting and dying for the sake of a game and its pageantry. It’s then that I can’t help but unstick to sports.
But I’m not a soccer fan, so I’m not having any Qatar and Brazil buzz harshed. No enjoyment wavers after reading about and viewing stories of humanity’s worst in favor of some fun, because there wasn’t any enjoyment to begin with on my end.
It sure is nice to not have to feel bad as a fan of a sport for once and only feel bad as a human being.
You can follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe.