June 14, 2018 

By Lapacazo Sandoval 

Contributing Writer 


Director Adam Sobel is passionate and in his documentary, “The Workers Cup,” he puts his heart on his sleeve.  He cares.  In a turn of events that he never imagined, he took a job (2010) in Qatar and moved with his significant other, now his wife, and there, so far from home, his life changed, a lot.


He quickly landed a production job creating news stories, and documentaries for major outlets like HBO, CNN, and BBC.  One story hit him hard, and it was a story about a group of migrant workers who were building the facilities for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. It was the people that interested him and for 87 long months he went into their lives and the end result was the documentary — “The Workers Cup” now playing in a limited run in Los Angeles, and New York.


It’s the time of the film that causes strong word-of-mouth. Here’s what the director — Adam Sobel had to share about telling the truth on camera.


L.A. Watts Times (LAWT):  I’m amazed that the level of access that you seem to have obtained in this documentary.  I’m shocked. Dude, I'm shaking.  This is super sensitive stuff. How did the owners of the corporation in Qatar allow this?


Adam Sobel (AS): Well, I was living there (Qatar) so there was no travel back-and-forth.  And you’re right.  It is sensitive and because the subject is so sensitive and because media restrictions were so significant, we either had to hide people's identities or work undercover.


LAWT: These men’s lives are exposed. This is raw.


AS: No top surface stuff.  We wanted to do something that went much deeper than that and really honored the workers for their sacrifices and their hopes and their dreams rather than doing something that just saw them as victims ... I wanted to build empathy for the workers instead of sympathy.


LAWT: Empathy vs sympathy. That is a very strong distinction.  I’m leaning toward stating that you achieved the empathy.


AS:  Thank you. 


LAWT: You have a wide selection of men from India, Ghana, Kenya, and the Philippines, who —in my opinion, and based on the film — are slaves. How in the world could these people get so tricked? Rhetorical question?


AS:  We’ve had a lot of context about how the recruiting agents are selling a false bill of goods but certainly, I didn't expect that to be wrapped up in a professional soccer contract. That was a shocker, really.


LAWT: So that I am clear when you refer to FIFA we are talking about a FIFA—sponsored “workers cup” which had teams from different construction companies play against one another in a tournament, correct?


AS: Correct and when you compare to their horrible living conditions, soccer becomes more than just a sport.  We saw (the tournament) as an opportunity because we knew they were interested in promoting this and showing to the world that workers welfare standards were improving.


LAWT: So, that’s how you got the access, I’m thinking?  Am I right?


AS: (laughing)


Sure, I mean there was a definite PR spin and we took advantage and we managed to stick around and keep shooting in the camps. We were able to actually get pretty close to the story.


LAWT: How long did this take? 


AS: Three years and I kept it completely secret for two due to the sensitive nature that we captured.


It’s a story about these guys whose lives have been sacrificed in some way for our own entertainment and that in and of itself reveals that we’re all complicit in the system

LAWT: That director Adam Sobel is an understatement.

Category: Arts & Culture