The World Should Not Tolerate Modern-Day Slavery in Qatar

Qatar, host of the 2022 World Cup, is constructing event infrastructure with what basically amounts to modern-day slave labor. Where is the outrage?

We've still got seven years to go until the 2022 World Cup and it's already an unmitigated disaster. Allegations of corruption and bribery haven't stopped FIFA chief Sepp Blatter (who is something of a James Bond villain masquerading as a sports executive) from doubling-down on the organization's questionable (and probably corrupt) decision to award the sporting event to the tiny, oil-rich Arab nation.


[EDIT - 6/1/2015: Blatter and his cronies have since been given their comeuppance, though World Cup 2022 plans remain solid.]

The tournament has since been moved to winter due to insane outdoor temperatures during the Qatari summer, a move that places the World Cup smack in the middle of most club league seasons.

Soccer fans who might travel to Qatar are, as of now, offered no guarantee that the human rights they enjoy elsewhere will be protected in a country where, for example, homosexuality is illegal.

FIFA has covered up a report that likely points to ethical lapses that allowed Qatar to win the 2022 bid and for Russia to secure the 2018 event.

You can click any of the above links and spend hours poring over the tangled web of corruption that FIFA has spun. It's hard to make NFL commissioner Roger Goodell look like a saint in comparison, but that's exactly what Blatter and company have done.

Still, in this day and age, corruption is to be expected from powerful sports executives, writes the foul-mouthed yet wisdom-spitting Drew Magary of Deadspin. That said, all the corruption mentioned above doesn't begin to touch the surface of FIFA's greatest affront to basic human dignity:

"Qatar's World Cup infrastructure is being built using Moses-era slavery practices. ... Thanks to FIFA's open fondness for bribery, 4,000 migrant workers are expected to die in service of a shortened World Cup that has been moved right into the heart of the professional soccer universe's regular season schedule. It will be terrible in every conceivable way."

Magary writes that, as a sports fan, he's open to suspending certain ethical apprehensions for personal enjoyment. After all, this is the mindset of all those who follow sports like boxing, where the aim is for each athlete is to give the other a traumatic brain injury. And it's not like the 2014 World Cup in Brazil wasn't itself a mess of ethical violations. But when it comes to slavery, Magary has to put his foot down. He wants the U.S. Men's National Team to boycott the tournament:

"That has to end. I am a sports fan, which means that I am willing to put up with a lot of corrupt jackassery from my owners and commissioners and college presidents. It's baked right into the system. But come the [naughty word] on. This is insane. ... We shouldn't tolerate what's going on over in Qatar. We should pull out, and we should do it now."

It's not like this hasn't been a well-reported story. No one is hiding the fact that migrant workers from Nepal and various Southeast Asian nations are being labored to death while building infrastructure for a World Cup no one is excited for outside of high-class Qataris and fat-cat FIFA execs. But for whatever reason, international outcry has been tepid at best. You hear more about people angry that the event is happening in the winter than outrage over slavery.

Magary is right. If appeals to logic and human dignity won't convince FIFA to step in and/or move the tournament, appeals to their wallet will. Several well-known brands such as Sony have already ended FIFA sponsorship, primarily because they understandably don't want to be associated with slavery. Perhaps if greater awareness were to be spread and organizations such as the U.S. Men's National Team pulled out, FIFA's major partners like Coca-Cola would follow suit.

If world leaders are really as dedicated to eradicating modern-day slavery as they like to think they are, the 2022 World Cup needs to become a more major battlefield in that effort.

Read more at Deadspin.

Photo credit: Philip Lange / Shutterstock

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New fossils suggest human ancestors evolved in Europe, not Africa

Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.

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  • The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
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Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.