The Workers Cup (2017) ☆☆☆(3/4): The League of Their Own

Although I do not have much interest in soccer or World Cup, I observed documentary film “The Workers Cup” with considerable curiosity and empathy. Here are a group of foreign low-wage laborers trying to do their best in their soccer tournament which is more or less than a banal promotional event for their corporation employers, and the documentary often gives us touching moments while never overlooking their hardships in a foreign land.

At first, the documentary gives us some basic background information on the ongoing preparation process of the 2022 World Cup. After International Federation of Association Football, which is also known as FIFA, decided to hold the World Cup in Qatar, the construction projects for many facilities including a big stadium were commenced, and these construction projects naturally have drawn thousands of various foreign laborers from Arab, Asian, and African regions. They all come here for earning enough money for themselves and their families, but, as sharply pointed out in the documentary, they often do not earn much while mostly being stuck in their labor camps for years, and many of them are even not allowed to leave the country until their contract is expired.

Anyway, there was the need for positive public images on these laborers, so the Qatari government and a number of corporations handling these construction projects decided to hold a special football tournament for laborers, and the documentary closely observes the preparation process among a bunch of laborers working for a corporation named GCC. Although most of them are amateurs, they are all eager to play soccer because, well, it is certainly more exciting than their monotonous daily life which does not give them much free time as they are frequently demanded to work seven days a week.

As watching the members of GCC soccer team preparing step by step for their upcoming first match, we get to know a bit about some of notable members including Kenneth, a Kenyan guy who becomes the captain of the team because he played soccer a lot before coming Qatar. In front of the camera, he talks about how he came to Qatar after losing his job in Kenya, and he also reminisces about how much he was disappointed at first to see that he could not play soccer in Qatar. Now he is glad to play soccer as before, and he is certainly willing to do his best for himself and his team members.

In case of a Nepalian guy named Padam, he works in an office unlike many of his team members, and his work environment looks better compared to those construction sites outside, but he has felt frustrated with being stuck in Qatar while also missing his wife in Nepal a lot. His wife cannot come because he does not earn enough money to be allowed to get the visa for his wife, and their relationship becomes quite strained when they happen to argue over the phone for some money problem at one point.

In case of the manager of GCC soccer team, he is ready to do as much as he can for his team although he knows well that the Workers Cup will not matter much in the end. Later in the documentary, he shows us a shabby area full of immigrant laborers, and that makes a striking contrast with the slick modern appearance of the downtown area of Doha, the capital city of Qatar.

The first match of GCC soccer team, which is incidentally the opening match for the Workers Cup, is held at an indoor place while watched by many audiences, and Kenneth and other team members are surely excited about that, but, unfortunately, they subsequently become quite disappointed as facing a humiliating defeat. While trying to process this painful moment with his colleagues, Kenneth requests more support and training, and he and his colleagues soon start to prepare for the next match.

In case of the next match, which is held at a smaller spot with less audiences, GCC soccer team gets its first victory, and then it advances further to everyone’s excitement – especially after Daniel, a Ghanaian guy who has considerable experience in playing soccer just like Kenneth, is later recruited as the goalkeeper of the team. It looks like they will able to go up to the final if they try more, and they are all hopeful about that possibility.

I do not dare to reveal what will eventually happen, but I can tell you instead that the documentary did an admirable job of presenting its human subjects with care and respect while never taking any condescending attitude. While soberly recognizing their harsh reality, the documentary vividly captures the spirited mood among them during their soccer match scenes, and we come to understand and empathize a lot with their simple hope and dream. We are amused as watching a small funny scene where two team members casually talk about a woman one of them came to befriend via Facebook, we are excited as watching GCC soccer team making more advance, and we are saddened as the Workers Cup eventually ends and everyone goes back to work.

Directed by Adam Sobel, “The Workers Cup” is a competent documentary which draws our interest to the lives of overlooked people who deserve more attention in my trivial opinion, and I appreciate numerous human moments in this modest but engaging documentary. After watching it, you will probably reflect a lot on its indirect social messages, and you may find yourself thinking of it again when you watch the 2020 World Cup two years later.

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