Argentine social activist and head of the Foundation for International Democracy gives an interview to Atalayar to discuss his fight for human and workers' rights

Guillermo Whpei: "Qatar is the World Cup of shame, where nobody wins"


Guillermo Pablo Whpei is an Argentinean social entrepreneur and pioneer in his country in the fight against contemporary slavery and in the promotion of a culture of peace. These two challenges are basic pillars of his social action and the basis of the activities of the Foundation for International Democracy and the International Federation of Museums and Human Rights, which he represents. Atalayar talks to him about his activist struggle and the defence of human and workers' rights, which now has an important black spot, such as the World Cup in Qatar and the existing complaints about the poor working conditions of immigrant workers in Qatari territory.  

What is the Foundation for International Democracy? 

It is a non-profit NGO where we try every day to build a better democracy, a participatory democracy where the community is involved. Democracy is built collectively, we try to make a plural proposal, it is free together with the community. The aggregates know that democracy is a utopia, always walking for a new right, for a new objective of struggle and hope. The truth is that we are very happy with the International Museum for Democracy because we try to deal with the most complex and sensitive issues in a very respectful way and in conjunction with the community.  

What actions does the Foundation implement in this regard? 

Our objective is to make visible the problems of high impact issues such as forced migrations, war, ethnic, political and environmental issues, the issue of contemporary slavery, which is our core, and the truth is that we have been pioneers in many of the denunciations of this scourge that affects more than 50 million people in the world, and to talk about diversity, the environment, the right to water, to food; the issue of hunger, which is one of the biggest scourges and pandemics in the world. We talk about uncomfortable subjects.  

Subjects that are difficult to tackle. 

Very complex. But as we always say: from knowledge you don't go back. When we know that there are 120 million children in child labour or that a million children die in Latin America as a result of child malnutrition or its derivatives, if we remain silent we become accomplices, as in the case of contemporary slavery. In this sense, the alert comes in the face of the World Cup in Qatar, which is the last great denunciation made more than five years ago. 

One of the key points of the Foundation for International Democracy is the fight against contemporary slavery and to fight for the fundamental rights of workers. How is the general situation of these rights on a global level and in particular in Qatar, which is in the spotlight because of the World Cup and the conditions of migrant workers there? The Foundation presented a report denouncing the poor working conditions in the Qatari country. 

The pandemic did not help. It threw in 10 million more slaves, according to the latest report. Qatar is the World Cup of shame, where nobody wins. The World Cup is born corrupt, from its foundations and designation. Let's not forget that Joseph Blatter had to resign, that Michel Platini had to resign, the president of CONMEBOL ended up in jail and it was all absolute corruption. Not content with that, Blatter says today that Qatar was a mistake and that he feels responsible. That's how this World Cup host city designation came about and that was the beginning. My mother used to tell me that "when something is born bad, it ends badly", there is very little chance of it ending well. We never imagined the social impact that Qatar would have on the lives of immigrants. We have been denouncing this for many years, before the World Cup in Russia; together with Rigoberta Menchú, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and Lech Walesa, I went to Madrid, to Casa de América, to make the denouncement public and I published a report entitled "Behind the Passion". There are going to be more than 100 dead workers per match. I took this report to the Holy See and Pope Francis sent a letter to Gianni Infantino to convene a meeting between the FIFA president, the Holy Father and myself to understand the situation in Qatar in depth and try to find a way forward and we never got a response. FIFA is as responsible as Qatar and they have taken advantage of the migrants, who have worked in unhealthy conditions. Over 6,500 dead and I wonder how many more dead there must be for the ball to stop. 


The ball is not going to stop, at least not for this World Cup. 

But already for example Dua Lipa has said she is not going to the opening party, Rod Stewart has said he is not going either and neither is Shakira. FIFA banned Denmark from wearing a black shirt without advertising because of human rights issues, France will not broadcast Qatar on public channels, etc.... The world is waking up little by little, is this what we wanted? No. Did we dream of something different? Yes. Was it not what we expected? Yes, it is true. But revolutions and big dreams are also achieved in small steps. Something has been achieved that is much more than what can be achieved in the system, it is difficult.  

There are problems with the workers in Qatar, who have suffered unhealthy conditions, deaths, problems with their documents as the Foundation's report reported. Qatar wanted to take some steps towards change, but those problems are there.  

Structurally everything is still there, like the sponsorship system and labour regulation. There is more, we know that Qatar has problems with gender, with women, with free speech... It was not a place to have a World Cup, it was not a place for the world to celebrate. The World Cup is a meeting between brothers, this is not going to happen, it is not going to be like that. The question we have to ask ourselves is: why? Football cannot die. FIFA is trying to make football die in the sense that it was; football was a festive meeting, a meeting of dreams, and it is being changed into a scenario of prohibition, death and farce, that is the truth.  

So it has not been a consensual destination to hold a World Cup. 

We must not forget how this is born. One takes it for granted that it is born well, but it is not born well, it is born as a network of absolute corruption. This is designed for money and this reminds me of the 78 World Cup in Argentina, where we knew that there was perhaps the hardest and darkest repression that we had to live through, which resulted in 30,000 disappeared, exiles, political prohibitions; and in that framework FIFA decided to hold a World Cup. This is not the first time this has happened, but now information is globalised. We can't say we don't know. It is very paradoxical, because two years after the World Cup in Argentina, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for denouncing torture and forced disappearances of people. It is necessary to have a memory.  

Qatar will surely continue to drag the controversy after the World Cup has taken place. 

Imagine that a week after the World Cup is over, a country that is not a footballing country has gigantic stadiums that are all empty, they are going to be real cemeteries. It's not like our countries that have football matches the next day.  

What does Qatar gain from organising the World Cup? 

Qatar has been trying to get into football for a long time. Just look at the cases of the Barcelona shirt or the acquisition of Paris Saint Germain. But I think it's a strategic question, even if it's mainly a whim of a rich man, who wanted to do it at all costs. They alone invested more than 200 million dollars in spying on FIFA officials. The whole of FIFA was spied on by Qatar. For me it's a whim, let's not look for a strategic logic. It's a whim, they wanted to have a World Cup.  

It could be a demonstration of power or ostentation. 

Indeed, ostentation, even with their neighbours. Until recently, Qatar's airspace was banned. Qatar was under a blockade by its neighbours because of allegations of support for terrorism.  

We will surely continue to hear voices against the World Cup.  

The struggle continues after the World Cup because the system will not be overturned. We are human rights activists, our role is to go all the way. 

Going back to your work, can you tell us more about the International Museum for Democracy initiative? 

I am president of the International Federation of Museums and Human Rights worldwide. We bring together many museums around the world. Our museum has been open for years, it is a museum that has a very important citizen participation. It shows the most uncomfortable subjects with a lot of respect and we are building citizenship. This concept of the culture of peace that people need so much, especially in Latin America, which suffers from problems such as poverty and drug trafficking. Very violent cities need a space for reflection and to build a culture of peace. The museum plays a very important social role and I believe that museums, together with universities, are the ultimate reservoirs of knowledge and respect. Even the most fascist of fascists speaks quietly in a museum. That respect has been earned over many years.  


How does the Foundation for International Democracy and the International Federation of Museums and Human Rights work with public administrations and politicians to fight for the rights you defend? 

Our foundations, especially the Foundation for Democracy, are crossed by this. But let's not forget that it is a private foundation, that it does not depend on the state and that by statute it is forbidden to receive money from municipal, provincial or national bodies. This is the first point that gives us absolute independence from power, so that we can address the most uncomfortable issues freely. Not all museums have this possibility. This Museum of Democracy is the first private museum in the world because most museums of democracy depend on organisations or governments and that makes them more subjective because they depend on official budgets, especially in Latin America where there is a habit of interfering in places of culture to insert ideology. We have this freedom, which is not minor, which is relevant and which allows us to make visible certain problems that are very difficult today. With regard to the Federation, this is the great struggle, the struggle for the freedom of museums to be able to say what they think, freely and without pressure from state bodies. This is the great challenge we face.  

One last message? 

Simply to tell the fans to enjoy the World Cup, that football is not to blame for this, football is a beautiful, magical sport. It's for fun and celebration, it brings joy, knowledge of other cultures. Let them enjoy it. The guilty parties are those responsible for organising sporting events where it is not possible.  

To borrow a phrase that Diego Armando Maradona once said on his retirement: "The ball cannot be stained". 

Indeed, the ball cannot be stained.