The Workers Cup

PBS Premiere: July 9, 2018Check the broadcast schedule »

Film Update

In July 2018, POV asked The Workers Cup filmmaker Adam Sobel what's happened since the cameras stopped rolling.

The World Cup brings countries together, but on different teams. How do you think the Workers Cup relates, with men from different countries, but on the same team?

The team we followed in the Workers Cup tournament had members from Ghana, India, Kenya, Nepal and the coach was Egyptian - one of the team managers called it "unity in diversity." Communication between team members was a constant challenge, but the passion they shared for soccer got them past many obstacles.

In the camp, however, workers from different countries live very segregated lives. There is an element of self-segregation as people who speak a common language naturally gravitate towards each other, but the segregation is also institutionalized by the companies. Workers are generally grouped together by nationality, so an Indian will share a room with other Indians, a Ghanaian with Ghanaians, and so on. There are even separate mess halls for each nationality. This often results in apprehension and a lack of understanding among the workers from various nationalities. This might explain why the "unity" of the team came under a lot of stress when things didn't go as planned on the soccer pitch.
A similar question exists around the World Cup. Does the global event bring people together through their shared appreciation for soccer, or does it create greater division through a heightened sense of nationalism and competition? The debate rages on.

Any updates from the film subjects?

We're still in regular touch with the characters and we've even set up a page on our website where people can check in on the characters. Hopefully they'll send them a note to share thoughts or feelings. You can check that page here.

How long did you stay in Qatar? What was it like?

I didn't move to Qatar to make this film, but rather because of life circumstances. During the height of the Great Recession in 2010, my girlfriend took a job teaching at a U.S. university that had a campus in Qatar. One year later I followed her to Doha in search of love, adventure and opportunity.

When you set foot in Qatar you immediately recognize it is a wildly diverse place. Nine out of ten people in the country are foreigners. By some measures Qatar is the wealthiest country in the world, and it attracts expats who hope to find a greater opportunity than their home country offers them. But after living in Qatar for a short while, many people find the reality is quite different from their expectation.

I ended up living in Qatar for 5 years. During that time I made amazing friends and had incredible experiences for which I'll always be grateful. But it was always trying to live among extreme inequality and sense that I was complicit in this unjust system. I care about the society and want to see it change for the better, which is why I was ultimately drawn to make this film.

How did you fit into the GCC team dynamic? Were you one of the brothers?

When we first started filming with the team, they were understandably skeptical of a film team in their labor camp. Some of the workers even thought we could be in cahoots with the company! So it took a while for us to win their trust and convince them that we were independent filmmakers looking to tell their story.

Throughout the tournament we rode the same rollercoaster of emotions as the team. We soared high when they won, and sank low when they lost. Sometimes we felt like superfans, following them to their practices and all their games. So the soccer tournament really helped us relate to each other on a one-to-one level.

At the camp, the mundane routine of work, rest, work (rinse and repeat) can be quite oppressive, so our characters generally considered us as a welcome distraction to the daily grind. We developed a strong bond over the year we filmed with them and are in still in touch with them today.

Did you play soccer growing up? Root for any team?

Soccer was a huge part of my life growing up. I played from the time I was 5 until I went to college, and played in the U.S. Olympic Development Program. I loved the camaraderie even more than the game itself. My family moved a few times while I was growing up, and soccer provided a natural access point to make new friends and find my place. My closest friends were people I played soccer with, and to this day I feel a special bond with my former teammates.

My fandom shifted with the whims of being a kid. I pulled for Glasgow Rangers for three years because I had a Scottish coach who indoctrinated me. Then a Welsh coach converted me into a Swansea City supporter, maybe as an early life lesson in martyrdom. Later I fell in love with Juventus because my soccer team wore the same black and white striped kit and I grew long sideburns to look more like Alessandro Del Piero.

I'm writing this as the 2018 World Cup is unfolding, and I've been pulling for Mexico. They've been fearless underdogs, but I don't know if they can sustain it!

Did you stay on the camp as well?

Labor camps in Qatar are kept, by law, outside residential areas. They are intentionally "out of sight and out of mind" so most Qataris and white-collar expats have never set foot in a camp.

The camp where we did most of our filming was a 30-minute drive from the luxurious malls and seafront hotels you see in Doha. Entering the camps always felt like we were traveling to a part of the country that was foreign, a 'parallel universe' so to say.

We visited labor camps before for various current affairs and news projects, but we were only there for a short period of time in case the authorities might stop and question us. For The Workers Cup we had gained access that allowed us to spend enough time there to achieve fly-on-the-wall status. Security guards were initially assigned to be our minders, to follow us around and report back about what we shot. But we showed up so often and so regularly, that the guards eventually got bored with us. That's when we were able to carry on with our work.

We were fortunate that we lived in Qatar because we could spend the time needed to really embed in the camp, but at night we would go back to our homes in the nicer areas of Doha. This made us - and our characters - aware of how unjust and disconnected our lives were.

What are you working on now?

Trying to get as many people as possible to watch The Workers Cup! Beyond this, Rosie, Ramzy and Adam are all working on various current affairs documentaries as we develop more feature-length concepts.