IT has been a week of ups and downs for Scotland fans. On the one hand, the chances of our national team qualifying for a major tournament, a feat that was increasingly becoming as likely as sighting a mythical creature like Nessie or Marvin Compper, seemed to be greatly boosted by the appointment of Steve Clarke as manager. On the other, FIFA’s plans to expand the World Cup to 48 teams from the now traditional 32 next time around in Qatar hit the skids.

As football fans though, both pieces of news should be greeted warmly.

There is little more that can be said about the appointment of Clarke, other than to reiterate that it feels like an exciting era has begun, and that it is the best decision the SFA have made in a long, long time. Credit to chief executive Ian Maxwell and the association on that front. For once, the supporters are almost fully in agreement with their choice.

As for the World Cup, it should be seen as a blessed relief for anyone who grew up loving the tournament, regardless of our involvement or not, that FIFA’s insatiable appetite for expansion fell flat when neighbouring countries to Qatar – some of whom they are hardly on the warmest of terms with at the minute - were decreed unprepared to share the hosting duties that would be required in the event of a 48-team tournament. And mercifully, the Qataris insisted they had neither the manpower nor the time available to take that burden on themselves. Because while Scotland would have had a greater chance of qualification, at what cost?

While it may have been a relief for football supporters and World Cup purists that last year’s tournament in Russia would not be the last with 32 teams (the 2026 World Cup in the USA and Mexico, lamentably, will press ahead with the plan to include 48 countries), their joy will have been as nothing compared to that of the migrant workers who are already being exploited, and sometimes worked to death, to have Qatar ready for the tournament as it stands in three years’ time.

According to Amnesty International, there are over 1.7million migrant workers in Qatar, making up around 95 percent of the workforce. Most of these people have fled poverty and unemployment in countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and India, often taking out loans of up to $4000 to pay exorbitant recruitment fees to unscrupulous middle men just to get there. Once they have taken on that debt, they are locked in.

They do so on the promise of a better life, but those promises have mostly been unfounded or greatly exaggerated. Salaries are almost always lower than was pledged once the workers arrive in Qatar, and payment is often delayed for months, causing untold misery as people are unable to buy food, send money home to their families or keep up the payments on the loans they took out to get there in the first place.

The living conditions for workers are appalling. Men have been discovered sleeping in bunkbeds in rooms for eight or more people, cramped together in dirty and unsafe accommodation. This is despite Qatari law stating that workers cannot share a room with more than three other people and prohibiting the use of bunk beds or bed sharing.

Even if the workers decide that they have had enough and want to go home, they cannot. Upon arrival, passports are confiscated by employers, and then when requests are made for the necessary ‘exit’ visas, these are either ignored or the worker is threatened that they will never be allowed to leave, not even upon expiry of their contract, if they don’t keep Schtum and stay with the program.

At the heart of this is the country’s ‘Kafala’ system of sponsorship-based employment, which legally binds foreign workers to their employers, meaning that not only can they not leave the country when they want to, they can’t even change jobs within Qatar of their own volition.

Reforms brought in in 2017 have eased the Kafala system a little, particularly in regards to exit visas, but the realities of life for the workers remain harsh across the board. Those specifically working on World Cup projects have additionally benefitted from improvements to their terms made through the ‘Worker’s Welfare Reform’ Report, made annually by the Supreme Committee of Delivery and Legacy, that have made their existence at least a little more bearable after extreme pressure from the international community.

And yet, even with everything that these people have had to to contend with, and all for an average wage somewhere around $200 a month, these workers could be deemed the lucky ones. At least they are still breathing.

According to a report published by the International Trades Union Confederation (ITUC) there could be as many as 4000 worker fatalities by the time the World Cup begins in 2022. For perspective, the next highest number of deaths in the lead up to a major sporting event was the 60 people killed prior to the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, followed by the 40 killed before the Olympics in Athens in 2004.

So, while we will all enjoy the Qatar World Cup when it rolls around (despite the ludicrous November start) and marvel at the hyper-futuristic stadia, be warned that we may have to hold our noses in doing so. It has all come at an almost indescribable cost in misery, suffering, and even blood.

And the next time you hear FIFA President Gianni Infantino espousing how his organisation are the custodians of the beautiful game, remember the ugly side of their mission for global domination.


A great night was had by all at the Scottish Football Writers' Association Awards dinner on Sunday night where the achievements of Steve Clarke, James Forrest and David Turnbull were recognised, worthy winners of the manager, player and young player of the year awards respectively.

Like Forrest, Turnbull is a young man who seems to be completely unaffected by the praise and adulation that is now coming his way.

Reluctant star he may be, but he is destined for the top of the game. Motherwell CEO Alan Burrows hopes to break the record fee of £1.75million the club received for Phil O'Donnell from Celtic 25 years ago if he leaves this summer. My feeling is he will smash it.