“The deadliest sporting event in history”
By Muhammed Bamne
Tens of millions of football fans all over the world were rejoicing as the 2022 FIFA World Cup began. Since 2010, when Qatar won the contract to host the 2022 World Cup, it has spent upwards of $220 billion on unprecedented construction to prepare for this World Cup (Worden, 2022). Qatar has evidently spared no expense to transform its desert into a beaming hub of decadence, complete with new stadiums, buildings, hotels, and highways—that is, until one considers the migrant workers who built this infrastructure. Investigative journalism and reports from Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have found disturbing human rights abuses including the death of over 6,500 migrant workers during Qatar’s construction, making it one of the deadliest sporting events in history (Pattisson & McIntyre, 2021). The list of human rights abuses also includes expensive recruitment fees, appalling living conditions, threats from their employers, modern-slavery tactics, and lying about and delaying worker salaries (Goodman & Worden, 2022) all against a backdrop of LGBTQ+ discrimination, disregard for women’s rights and a lack of press freedom to investigate aforementioned migrant abuses (Goodman & Worden, 2022, Human Rights Watch, 2022).
Gianni Infantino, FIFA’s president, opened a news conference in Doha, Qatar, with a surprising one-hour monologue, stating: “Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel a migrant worker.” (Goodman & Worden, 2022). Doubtful to say the least, as Qatar has some of the most repressive migrant labour policies in the world, beginning with their abusive “Kafala” labor sponsorship system which uses “modern-day slavery” tactics to provide as much cheap and dispensable labour as possible (Goodman & Worden, 2022). The “Kafala” is a debt-bondage system, in which migrant workers looking to work in Qatar must take out loans to be recruited for work. These loans can range from seven hundred to fourteen thousand USD, in some cases a financially crushing responsibility which can take years to pay off (Goodman & Worden, 2022). Migrant workers in Qatar are then tied to their employers, or “sponsors,” and cannot request or renew their residence permits without the sponsor’s permission. However, if the sponsor fails to renew the permit, it is the worker who faces punishment (Amnesty International, 2021).
Additionally, these workers face deadly working environments, some of which possess exorbitant heat levels. There is also the systemic use of stealing and delaying wages of migrant workers. Thousands of migrant workers suffer from late or non-payment of wages (Amnesty International, 2021), thus taking out costly loans to pay the illegal recruitment fees. These have devastating impacts on workers who are providing not only for themselves but for families back home–many of these workers have had to return home with no money as a result (Amnesty International, 2022).
Additionally, the living conditions within dorms are just as horrid as working conditions outside. Workers tend to live in dirty, cramped, unsafe accommodations (Amnesty International, 2021). Indeed, Amnesty found men sleeping in bunk beds in rooms of eight or more people, although Qatari law and the Workers’ Welfare Standards allow for a maximum of four beds per room and prohibit bed sharing and the use of bunk beds (Amnesty International, 2021).
When workers are bold enough to complain about their conditions and human rights transgressions they are met with strong threats from their employers. One migrant worker working at the Khalifa Stadium said that they “went to the company office, telling the manager I wanted to go home [back to my country] because always my pay is late. The manager screamed at me saying ‘keep working or you will never leave!’” (Amnesty International, 2021). Mohammad, who maintains green spaces in the Aspire Zone, said, “The company has my passport. If my sponsorship status changes they will send me back and I have a lot of debt to pay…, I want my passport back… [and] the camp is no good, there are eight of us in one room – it is too many. But I cannot complain [because] they will end my job.” (Amnesty International, 2021). Couple this with the fact that migrant-worker trade unions are illegal and therefore one cannot organize, protest, nor strike against their employers’ hopeless system of control, exploitation, and abuse—migrant workers in Qatar cannot strike for their basic human rights. Workers who refuse to work because of their conditions are threatened with pay deductions, or get handed to the police for deportation without receiving the pay they are owed (Amnesty International, 2022).
These Migrant workers overwhelmingly arrive from poorer countries such as India, Nepal, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Ghana, and Kenya (Worden, 2022), leave their country behind for years in hopes of providing a better future for their children. As Gianni Infantino once said, “Qatar is offering migrants the opportunity to provide for their families, whereas Europe has closed its borders,” adding elsewhere in the press conference that he would compensate workers and their families who faced abuse and death while building the World Cup stadiums (Goodman & Worden, 2022). However, there is no indication that the legacy fund will go to any of the thousands of families who lost their fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons to Qatar’s brutal working regime. Furthermore, Qatar forbids the press freedom necessary to investigate migrant labour abuses, making it nearly impossible to document and track death and abuse as a result of the World Cup construction (Goodman & Worden, 2022). Qatar has also refused to do autopsies on workers who have died; if officials claim the deaths were “natural causes” then they are not obligated under Qatar’s labour law to compensate the families (Worden, 2022).
Importantly, all of these violations occur against a larger backdrop of intense LGBTQ+ discrimination. Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and as recently as this past September, Qatari security forces arrested and abused LGBTQ+ people in detention (Goodman & Worden, 2022). The teams of England, Wales, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland announced that their captains will no longer be wearing armbands in support of LGBTQ rights during the World Cup, since tournament organizer FIFA promised to sanction any players who wear the bands (Goodman & Worden, 2022). Qatar also has a male-guardianship system which shows discrimination and a lack of rights for the women of Qatar as well.
Some of the saddest cases that Human Rights Watch have seen regard families wherein the main breadwinner, a young man, goes to Qatar, takes out a loan to work there, works in debt bondage, gets cheated of wages, does not receive the wages he was promised, and then has his body returned home to his family in a coffin (Goodman & Worden, 2022).
The following is a statement from former Qatar migrant worker, Hari, featured in a “report” by Human Rights Watch: “When I went to Lusail in Qatar, there was nothing. There wasn’t even a single building. Now there are towers everywhere. We built those towers. In the heat, we worked out of compulsion with face covers. We were drenched in sweat. We poured water, sweat, from our shoes. Even in that heat, we worked hard. My son did not recognize me when I first came from Qatar to Nepal…I met my son only five times in the 14 years I was away. I used to cry and feel bad that I had to stay away from children for work” (HRW, 2022).
A following statement from Nanda Kali Nepali, whose husband was one of those deaths: “My husband used to work as a driver. He used to come for two months every two years. This time, only his dead body came, four years after he had last visited Nepal. What would he say? He used to say, “I will work here ’til I can. We have loans we need to repay.” My husband was my source of support. Without him, who do I rely on? I sit and I cry on my own. Whom can I show my tears to?” (HRW, 2022)
Although FIFA regards themselves as “not the police of the world” (Worden, 2022), they were entirely aware of the Kafala system in Qatar along with Qatar’s position on social issues, but none the less granted them the contract while turning a blind eye to the severe human rights abuses, presenting them as a strong ally and friend to the international governing body of FIFA.
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