Human Rights Violations at the World Cup: An Ugly Side to the Beautiful Game

I am a big fan of soccer/football, also known by some who love the sport as “the beautiful game.” It’s to the point that my own Twitter feed notes my support of a long-suffering team in the second tier of the English footballing system.

Given my fandom of soccer/football, what I am about to say breaks my heart: the World Cup, on every occasion in recent memory, is not just a soccer/footballing spectacle, but also a spectacle in human rights violations.

For example, various forms of slavery often have a presence at the World Cup. The 2022 World Cup in Qatar is already gaining notoriety for using forced labor, even though that World Cup is four years away (if it even still happens in Qatar, which is no guarantee). Sadly, the problem is not limited to Qatar—in each of the three World Cups previous to 2018, issues with sex trafficking were widespread. World Cup hosts such as Germany (2006) and South Africa (2010) had major issues with this,[1] and a World Cup child trafficking bid was foiled just yesterday.

Furthermore, labor abuses are commonplace while these nations prepare for the World Cup. Much of the attention is on Russia right now since they’re hosting, and rightfully. As of the middle of 2017, it was reported that as many as 17 people have died in preparations for the World Cup as a result of labor abuses.[2] However, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar also deserves attention for all the people who died as a result of labor abuses while preparing for their World Cup.[3] Lamentably, labor abuses are frequently an issue while nations prepare for the World Cup.

And then there’s the mass displacement of people as a result of preparing for the World Cup. Jacob Zuma, who was the President of South Africa when his country hosted the World Cup in 2010, drew criticism because of the mass evictions of people in the run-up to the tournament. Brazil’s mass displacement of people while preparing for their World Cup in 2014 gained international press attention. Sadly, the World Cup often seems to displace people.

For all that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has drawn criticism for its human rights violations (and rightfully so), human rights violations sadly seem to exist at every World Cup, no matter where it is held. Qatar is bad with its human rights violations, but this doesn’t mean that we should hold the current World Cup hosts or the previous ones as beacons for justice in the midst of their preparing for their World Cups.

All of the injustice that is tied to these World Cups begs the following question: How do we respond? Some of us have responded or will respond by not watching the World Cup at all, in protest of these human rights abuses. Others of us will turn a blind eye and watch the World Cup, for one reason or another. But then there are people like me, people who are torn between a game they love and human rights violations they hate.

I personally haven’t been able to reconcile these two tensions, the tension between the soccer/football I love and the hatred of human rights violations that play out at every World Cup. However, I think a good start is to at least inform ourselves of the various human rights violations that happen at every World Cup. That’s the least we can do.


[1] A group of nuns who were backed by Pope Francis noted that “sexual exploitation rose 30 percent in connection with the World Cup in Germany in 2006 and 40 percent at the World Cup in South Africa in 2010.” Source: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-soccer-world-trafficking/nuns-backed-by-pope-warn-of-human-trafficking-at-world-cup-idUSBREA4J0IS20140520

[2] https://www.cbssports.com/soccer/news/world-cup-2018-fifa-blamed-for-deaths-and-widespread-abuse-of-stadium-workers/

[3] http://fortune.com/2016/03/31/qatar-world-cup-workers/

Soccer Ball for World Cup Post
This is an image of “Telstar 18,” the official match ball of the 2018 World Cup. Source: Wikimedia Commons Contributors, “File:Rus-Arg 2017 (11).jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the Free Media Repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Rus-Arg_2017_(11).jpg&oldid=272527602 (accessed June 10, 2018).

On Starbucks, Other Employers, and Racial Bias

While I took my break from the blogging world on the week of Memorial Day, Starbucks had racial bias training for its employees.

The reviews of the racial bias training from the general public were about as mixed as the reviews are for their lattes and cappuccinos. Some thought of this as a necessary step, while others were skeptical as to whether one afternoon of racial bias training would have any impact on individuals.

I will not use this post to review their racial bias training or racial bias training in general, because there are probably hundreds of other sites doing the same. Instead, I’m here to suggest that Starbucks and other employers should not just look at the racial biases of their rank-and-file employees but also at their own leadership’s racial biases. Likewise, we as consumers should look at the biases of not just rank-and-file employees but also at the leadership of companies.

Without looking both outward at employees and inward at the employer’s leadership, one ends up with a company like Starbucks, a company that outwardly gives the façade of attempting to be just but inwardly has its own biases. Those biases are demonstrated through the company’s stunning refusal to open up stores in neighborhoods dominated by people of color (even neighborhoods dominated by people of color that are middle class, such as my neighborhood in Queens). If you doubt me, look at how many Starbucks are in Harlem (in New York City), Chicago’s South Side, Baltimore excluding the parts around the Inner Harbor or Johns Hopkins University, or Philadelphia outside of Center City and the area near the 30th Street Station. Indeed, Starbucks’ bias training feels like a façade for its own biases.

However, I am not here just to pick on Starbucks, because the fact is that Starbucks is not the only large organization guilty of having bias training while having its own biases. For example, Google’s bias training has existed much longer than Starbucks’, yet their demographics demonstrate that there is bias somewhere along the way: their workforce is severely lacking in black and Latino employees, for example. The New York City Public Schools will spend millions in racial bias training for its educators while allowing a school system that is severely segregated. They are just two of numerous employers that have training to try preventing racial bias while continuing to have their own unconscious biases as an organization.

This is not to suggest that the racial bias training should end at these organizations—I am not enough of an expert (yet) on them to give an answer on that. What I am suggesting, however, is that we can’t just look at the racial biases of a barista at Starbucks or a public school teacher in New York City, but also the racial biases of those who decide where to open up Starbucks or those who decide on policies that segregate schools further in New York City. After all, if we fail to look at organizations’ racial biases, from top to bottom, we will find ourselves blind to a significant amount of racial injustice.

IMAG1017
Southeast DC is predominantly black. It is also almost completely lacking in Starbucks, just like many other American neighborhoods where people of color are in the majority. This picture taken by me.

America’s Failure to Support Troops…Economically

“Support our troops.” People in the United States frequently hear and see this phrase in a variety of settings: on cars, from politicians, and from friends posting on social media, to name a few.

And I agree. We should support our troops. While my personal opinion is that we should avoid war except in the most extreme of circumstances (example: if our own nation is attacked, like with Pearl Harbor), people who risk their own lives on behalf of the entire country should be supported. Since people in the military serve our country, our country should in return serve our military veterans. It’s the least we can do in the United States.

And yet, economically, we don’t support our troops.

There are numerous damning statistics on this fact. As of 2014, 25% of military families sought some sort of assistance with food.[1] There are about 40,000 homeless veterans, and that number actually rose between 2016 and 2017.[2] There were nearly 1.5 million veterans in the United States living below the poverty line as of 2012.[3]

And we haven’t even gotten to wages, which are abysmal. For example, a starting salary for someone starting in the U.S. Army as an enlisted soldier, according to the Houston Chronicle, is $1,491 a month ($17,892 a year). While that number goes up after several years of experience, an enlisted soldier with several years of experience can still earn under $30,000 a year.[4] Some of these salaries are below the minimum wage of some states, and they are certainly not living wages.

These are just a few statistics that show how this nation literally does not put its money where its mouth is. This nation talks a big game about supporting troops, yet fails to do so by paying living wages to troops and making sure that veterans aren’t homeless or in poverty. Shame on the United States for not giving back to people who have given so much to this country. Many of our troops have risked their lives to protect this country, and yet the government is risking the livelihoods of troops and their families through providing many of them with inadequate pay. This country does not truly support its troops.

However, we, as individuals, could raise our voices on this issue. We, as individuals, could contact our representatives in the House and Senate and ask them to make sure that all members of the military earn a living wage. Oh, and it would help if this problem gained national attention.


[1] https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/in-plain-sight/hungry-heroes-25-percent-military-families-seek-food-aid-n180236

[2] https://www.npr.org/2017/12/06/568755985/the-number-of-homeless-veterans-rises

[3] https://www.va.gov/vetdata/docs/specialreports/veteran_poverty_trends.pdf

[4] http://work.chron.com/salaries-us-army-soldiers-6496.html

Institutional Racism Series: How it Affected How I, and Others, Were Policed

From a young age, I was taught that as long as I didn’t look for trouble, I wouldn’t get in trouble with the police.

Thankfully, for me, that has been the case. I’ve never looked to cause any trouble, even with something relatively harmless like marijuana, and I haven’t gotten into trouble.

But because of institutional racism, which I defined in my introductory post in the institutional racism series as “racism that is practiced and sometimes even normalized by social, economic, governmental, and other institutions,” the story is often different for those who don’t look Caucasian.

For example, some of my brother’s elementary school friends who were people of color got into troubling situations with the police, even though they weren’t looking to cause trouble (yes, you read that correctly: elementary school). For example, these friends were often searched thoroughly by police under a practice in New York known as “stop-and-frisk,” even though there was zero evidence of their carrying weapons. On the other hand, you never heard similar tales from my brother’s and my white friends or from my Caucasian family. It was therefore no coincidence that the bias against people of color in stop-and-frisk was so severe that some people called it “walking while brown.”

These stories seemed to fit with the actual statistics on stop-and-frisk. For example, a May 2012 New York Times article cited by Forbes said that “85% of those stopped were black or Hispanic even though those groups make up about half of NYC’s population.” With a statistic like this, there is validity to the claim that someone is stopped for “walking while brown.”

Readers might be looking at these statistics and thinking, “Fine…you have stories and statistics, but where does the institutional racism come in?” To find the answer, it’s important to look at how stop-and-frisk was justified—it was justified by saying that people who are deemed a threat need to be stopped. Hence, by using stop-and-frisk disproportionately on people of color, an institution (the police) was sending the racist message that a disproportionate number of people of color were a threat.


While stop-and-frisk in New York City is much less common than it once was, the idea among many law enforcement institutions that people of color are still a threat still exists. From two people of color getting arrested at a Starbucks in spite of doing nothing wrong to a graduate student at Yale having her ID taken away after she slept in a common room and was getting called in as a potential threat by a white student, there are still widespread stories of people of color—many of whom are doing nothing wrong—being treated like threats and criminals.

In contrast, similar stories are never heard of from light-skinned people like me. You see a white person sleeping in the common room at college? The thought is that, “Oh…the person has studied a ton. No big deal.” You see two white people at a Starbucks waiting to meet with someone? You don’t think anything of it, probably. But people of color doing these things are viewed as a threat by many people, law enforcement or not.


As I said in the beginning of this piece, I was taught from a young age that I would not get into trouble if I didn’t seek trouble. As it turns out, though, I might not have gotten into trouble even if I had sought some trouble.

At the same time, I recognize that it is a different story for friends of mine who are people of color. It is a different story because of the startling disparities between the way whites are policed and the way people of color are policed. Indeed, institutional racism exists in the way that I, and others, are policed.

Silent_march_to_end_stop_and_frisk_and_racial_profiling
This image is from a march against racially disproportionate policing. The racial disparities in the way practices like New York City’s stop-and-frisk was implemented raised concerns about racially disproportionate policing. By longislandwins [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.

Celebrating One Year of the Blog!

One year ago as of last Wednesday, I made my first blog post. It was also the post I was probably the most nervous about making, as I have a major fear of failure and that fear crept in once I made my first post.

One year later, that fear is gone!

Of course, I’m helped by the fact that my blog is not a failure. Quite the opposite—after over 50 posts, over 225 followers between the three networks I’m connected to (WordPress followers, Facebook likes, and Twitter followers), and my first blog award, I’d say that I’ve had a successful first year!

What’s more important than the basic statistics, though, is that people have told me, on many occasions, that these posts have helped expose them to injustices they didn’t even know about before. The purpose of my blog was, is, and will be to do exactly that: expose us to injustices that we’ve been blind to or have blindly committed.

So, with one year down, happy birthday to my blog!

P.S. Please note that there are a few times this spring/summer when I will not make my scheduled Tuesday post: May 29 (day after Memorial Day), July 3 (day before Independence Day), and September 4 (day after Labor Day).