LISTEN to today's conversation
with Adam Sobel
with Adam Sobel
With unprecedented access, the film follows a team of migrant workers who are laboring to build sport’s grandest stage while competing in a soccer tournament on their own known as the Workers Cup. But more than a film about a game, THE WORKER'S CUP is an examination of the poorest residents in the world’s richest country as they endure backbreaking work for low pay and agree to strict contracts under false pretenses. With the illusion they might play (real) soccer dangled in front of them, their hope and the love of the game keeps them going, despite their desperate and heartbreaking circumstances.
Directed by Adam Sobel in his feature film debut, THE WORKERS CUP is a portrait of our increasingly globalized world as it follows subjects from India, Kenya, Ghana, and Nepal who are living together in Qatar. The film was an official selection of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and will be opening in theaters on June 8th.
Inside the labor camps of Qatar, African and Asian migrant workers building the facilities of the 2022 World Cup compete in a football tournament of their own: The Workers Cup.
In 2022, Qatar will host the biggest sporting event in the world, the FIFA World Cup. But right now, far away from the bright lights, star athletes and adoring fans, the tournament is being built on the backs of 1.6 million
migrant workers. The Workers Cup is a feature-length documentary giving voice to the men who are laboring to build sport’s grandest stage.
Sixty percent of Qatar’s total population are laborers. From India, Nepal, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and, increasingly from Africa, some of the world’s poorest people are working the lowest level jobs to ensure the World Cup can be hosted in the world’s richest country. These men work exceedingly long hours for scant salaries, and they live isolated in labor camps which are by law kept outside city limits.
With unprecedented access, our film unfolds largely inside a Qatari labor camp that the migrant workers we meet say feels like a prison. Hidden between a highway and remote stretch of desert, the Umm Salal Camp is intentionally out of sight and out of mind. So are the 4000 men who live there.
We focus on a select group in the camp who have been chosen to compete in a football tournament for laborers: The Workers Cup. The tournament is being sponsored by the same committee organizing the 2022 World Cup and 24 construction companies have been invited to field a team of workers. Over the course of the tournament we follow the men as they alternate between two startling extremes: they play heroes on the football pitch, but are the lowest members of society off of it.
The film is a portrait of a handful of players on the team. It explores universal themes of ambition, aspiration and masculinity, as we see our protagonists wrangle hope, meaning, and opportunity out of dismal circumstances. The mundane is fraught with turmoil, whether it is changing jobs, talking with family back home, or going on a date. This results in a terrible toll to the psyche of our protagonists, as they are depleted of the hope that motivated
them to come to Qatar in the first place.
Ultimately, our own complicated relationship with sport is revealed, as we see its power to unite and divide society by turns.
The film was conceived to give voice to migrant workers in Qatar and allow them to tell their own stories. We followed one team playing in the football tournament, and focused on five protagonists from the team:
Kenneth, 21, Ghana
A recruiting agent in Ghana told Kenneth that he’d be coming to Qatar to join a professional football club. After Kenneth arrived in the country, he realized his agent lied. While Kenneth works construction, he still dreams of playing professional football. He hopes to catch the eye of a scout while playing in The Workers Cup so he can escape the camp.
Paul, 21, Kenya
Surrounded by 4000 men, and working a job that keeps him in the camp seven days a week, Paul is struggling with loneliness in this distant land. He dreams of meeting a girl and falling in love.
Umesh, 36, India
Umesh came to Qatar with a simple dream: to earn enough money to build his own home. Until he accomplishes this, he’ll live separated from his wife and two sons, who are named Rooney and Robin after the Manchester United stars.
Padam, 28, Nepal
After 8 years of failing to get around Qatari laws that prohibit him from bringing his wife to Qatar, Padam now has to decide if he should stay and earn, or return to Nepal to be with his wife.
Samuel, 24, Ghana
A talented goalkeeper, Samuel played in the 1st Division in Ghana but he still couldn’t make ends meet. He came to Qatar to work construction, but out of pride he lied and told his father that he was coming to play professional football.