- Tom Brady has been very careful with what he chooses to promote. Which is why, after his trip to Qatar, one SI writer asks, “Tom, what the hell are you doing?”
Glad to see you’re still doing so well and have bounced back from that whole Super Bowl thing. I have to admit that, back in 2005, when you graciously allowed me to rummage around in your life for a spell, even I didn’t think it would turn out as well as it has for you. For all practical purposes, you are recognized almost universally as the greatest quarterback ever to play in the NFL—and, frankly, but for two circus catches by a pair of New York Giants, you might have put that designation so far out of reach that nobody ever could take it away.
Back when I was scuffling around among your friends and family, I devoted an entire chapter to how discerning you were about endorsements, which were just then beginning to come your way in earnest. It was one of the things that I liked best about you, truth be told. You didn’t grab for every soft drink and pizza account that came blowing past you. You didn’t go shilling for reverse mortgages or auto insurance. You went for a few high-end products and you were very careful about the ones you picked. If I recall correctly, you made a decision early on to be careful about products to which you attached your name. You guarded your brand before most people knew what a brand was.
Times change. People change. I barely noticed recently when you missed some sort of quasi-voluntary team-building workouts, yet another event that set tongues wagging all over the airwaves. I figured you’d given enough to this franchise that it owed you a few perks. What caught my eye was what you were doing with the time. You and your family were being wined and dined by the Emirate of Qatar.
Tom, what in the hell are you doing?
See, I got there before you did, almost 25 years before you did, as a matter of fact. In the fall of 1993, as the United States was gearing up to host the World Cup in ’94, I spent 13 days in Qatar covering the Asian Zone qualifying. (Participants: Saudi Arabia, North and South Korea, Iran and Iraq, and Japan. Throw out the record books when these traditional rivals tee it up.) This was still when Qatar was pretty much merely a gas station with a flag and a seat at the UN; it would be another decade before the U.S. turned the place into an aircraft carrier. Anyway, I learned a valuable lesson on that trip—my tolerance for parasitic plutocratic regimes is approximately four days.
I wasn’t there long before I concluded that the main job of every successful Qatari was hiring enough foreigners to do all the real work; the bartender in my hotel was a Filipino teenager who hadn’t seen his passport in a year. I spent a lot of time with expatriate Americans, rotated in-country by the various oil companies for which they worked. That was one reason why, in an Islamic state, there were so many loopholes through which foreigners could drink. (There was one liquor store in the whole country, way out in the desert. The Americans called it, “The Little House On The Prairie.”) I came to be revolted by the ostentatious wealth earned on the backs of people who were trapped there and paid poorly, when they were paid at all, and by the distance between all the sleek sheikhs and that teenager behind the bar. By the end of two weeks, I was ready to swim home.
So, imagine my surprise to see on your Instagram account what a swell time you and your family had being entertained by the pros from Doha. There you are, riding camels by the sea and hitting the marketplaces. And here you and your son are, visiting Khalifa Stadium, the host venue for the 2022 World Cup in Doha, and you are thanking your hosts for a wonderful time.
Good god, Tom.
Khalifa Stadium was built by the closest thing the 21st century has for slave labor. The kefala system, the reason why my Filipino bartender had not seen his passport, locked the foreign laborers into their jobs, and their treatment was like something out of Harriet Beecher Stowe. In 2013—five damn years ago, Tom!—the Guardian blew the whistle on the situation in Doha.
This summer, Nepalese workers died at a rate of almost one a day in Qatar, many of them young men who had sudden heart attacks. The investigation found evidence to suggest that thousands of Nepalese, who make up the single largest group of labourers in Qatar, face exploitation and abuses that amount to modern-day slavery, as defined by the International Labour Organisation, during a building binge paving the way for 2022. According to documents obtained from the Nepalese embassy in Doha, at least 44 workers died between 4 June and 8 August. More than half died of heart attacks, heart failure or workplace accidents.The investigation also reveals:
• Evidence of forced labour on a huge World Cup infrastructure project.
• Some Nepalese men have alleged that they have not been paid for months and have had their salaries retained to stop them running away.
• Some workers on other sites say employers routinely confiscate passports and refuse to issue ID cards, in effect reducing them to the status of illegal aliens.
• Some labourers say they have been denied access to free drinking water in the desert heat.
• About 30 Nepalese sought refuge at their embassy in Doha to escape the brutal conditions of their employment.
The allegations suggest a chain of exploitation leading from poor Nepalese villages to Qatari leaders. The overall picture is of one of the richest nations exploiting one of the poorest to get ready for the world's most popular sporting tournament.
Tom, 90% of the workforce in Qatar is made up of foreign laborers—most of them treated abominably, and most of them from the poorest nations in the world, like Nepal. They get peddled overseas by vultures in their home countries and end up in debt before they ever get to Qatar, whereupon it is arranged that they never make enough to get even. (OK, so that part’s not technically slavery. It’s more like enforced sharecropping.) In March 2014, the International Trade Union Confederation issued a report on the conditions migrant workers faced in Qatar. The stories the workers told would curl your hair.
There was a night shift, and the night shift were sleeping on site so that they didn’t have to go to camps. The site stank of urine constantly; the work was being done from unsafe scaffolding. I went on site one morning at 5 a.m. and there was blood everywhere. I don’t know what happened, but it was covered up with no report. When I reported this, I was told that if I didn’t stop complaining, I would be dismissed.
In 2016, when the world began to realize what a hellhole this country was for so many of the people working there, the Qatari government initiated some cosmetic reforms to the kefala system, most of which were not implemented in any serious way. And, according to Human Rights Watch, the Qatari regime isn’t a bowl of buttercups to its own citizens, either.
Qatar’s penal code punishes “sodomy” with one to three years in prison. Muslims convicted of zina (sex outside of marriage) can be sentenced to flogging (non-married persons) or the death penalty (married persons). Non-Muslims can be sentenced to imprisonment. According to media reports, authorities have flogged dozens of people since 2004, including at least 45 between 2009 and ’11. In 2016, according to media reports, a Dutch woman was arrested after she reported that she was raped. A court handed down a suspended one-year imprisonment sentence for engaging in extramarital sex, and deported her. It also sentenced the man accused of raping her with 100 lashes for having extramarital sex and 40 lashes for drinking alcohol.
A sport with any conscience would have pulled its marquee event out of this medieval satrapy years ago. But this is international soccer and this is FIFA, its organizing body. Neither institution has a scrap of conscience. We talk about our sports occasionally being tinged by organized crime. International soccer actually is organized crime. So, I guess, it’s up to individuals of conscience to continue to raise hell about a major sporting event literally being constructed on the corpses of poor people. Which is where you come in.
Be careful, Tom. You have everything you wanted and, because of that, what you do matters. Fair is the last thing it is, but it’s true. I know from talking to practically everyone who knew you that you are a man of conscience. You want to proselytize for your personal trainer and his methods? Go with god. (Try not to irritate the coach too much, though.) I know the Qataris gave a big check for Best Buddies, but then the people who cut that check went home and they worked their Nepalese housekeeper half to death. Don’t loan your name and your celebrity to a nation of profiteers and panderers and modern slave-drivers. You have to be better than that, and so do we all.
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