By Saba Brittain
Undoubtedly the most viewed, and high on the list of the world’s most unifying sporting events, the FIFA World Cup captures the attention of billions around the globe, and last year 32 nations participated, competing for the cup in Qatar. The announcement of Qatar as host of the 2022 World Cup put the country in the international spotlight, drawing criticisms against FIFA and the Qatari government concerning the unjust treatment of migrant workers, who were indispensable to carrying out the numerous construction projects.
Qatar, a country of a smaller size than the state of Connecticut, won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup in December of 2010. The scale of the event required Qatar to launch major construction projects— including new roads, stadiums, hotels, and transportation— in preparation for welcoming 1.5 million football fans. While the exact amount spent by the Qatari government on infrastructure since 2010 remains unclear, the estimates range from 200-300 billion dollars. (Foxman, Nair, 2022).
Let’s consider the fact that Qatar depends on a 2 million strong migrant workforce, which makes up 90% of the country’s overall workforce, and a significant portion of the country’s overall population (Dart, 2022). At the source of the systemic abuse against the millions of migrant workers in Qatar is the kafala (or sponsorship) system, an exploitative labour law system used mostly in the region of the Arab Gulf. The kafala system subjects the migrant worker to the strict control of their employer, who commands the workers’ entry or exit of the country, their ability to change jobs, the renewal of work permits, and their legal status in the country (Dumoulin, 2021). This system facilitates the exploitation of migrant workers and violation of migrant worker rights. Being subject to the will and interest of their employers, migrant workers can be trapped in working conditions that are extremely abusive without any opportunity to leave or oppose.
While Qatar has implemented some labour law reforms— notably, allowing migrant workers to change jobs without the approval of a former employer and slightly wage increases— these reforms have not been sufficient to abolish the kafala system in Qatar as a whole. Indeed, migrant workers in Qatar have no protection against labour exploitation and are still closely tied to their employer, relying on them for their legal status and permission of entry/exit of the country (Human Rights Watch, 2018). The kafala system is one of many other abuses against migrant workers in Qatar: there have been numerous reports of mysterious injuries, migrant worker deaths due to “natural causes”— a seemingly interchangeable term to describe extreme heat exhaustion— and unpaid wages.
Despite these reports, FIFA’s silence towards the migrant worker abuse in Qatar has been deafening. They hold responsibility in their decision of granting the right of hosting the World Cup to Qatar without imposing any conditions protecting the human rights of migrant workers employed to build their stadiums. (Human Rights Watch, 2018).
FIFA was aware of the infrastructure deficit in Qatar with regards to accommodating a World Cup and chose to benefit from the exploitation of migrant workers instead of change it.
Dumoulin, Caroline. “The Kafala System: Incremental Reform Is Not Enough to Stop Abuse against Migrant Domestic Workers.” International Law and Policy Brief, https://www.theguardian.com/football/2022/nov/27/qatar-deaths-how-many-migrant-workers-died-world-cup-number-toll
Lewis, Aimee, et al. “’Our Dreams Never Came True.’ These Men Helped Build Qatar’s World Cup, Now They Are Struggling to Survive.” CNN, Cable News Network, 21 Nov. 2022, www.cnn.com/2022/11/17/football/qatar-2022-world-cup-migrant-workers-human-rights-spt-intl/index.html.
“Q&A: Migrant Worker Abuses in Qatar and FIFA World Cup 2022.” Human Rights Watch, 18 Nov. 2022, www.hrw.org/news/2021/12/18/qa-migrant-worker-abuses-qatar-and-fifa-world-cup-2022#Q11.
“Qatar: End All Migrant Worker Exit Visas.” Human Rights Watch, 28 Oct. 2020, www.hrw.org/news/2018/09/06/qatar-end-all-migrant-worker-exit-visas.