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Qatar: World Cup VS Human Rights

Qatar: World Cup VS Human Rights

Published Nov 20, 2022 Updated Nov 20, 2022
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Qatar: World Cup VS Human Rights

With just days to go before the highly anticipated 2022 FIFA World Cup commences, all eyes are on oil-rich Qatar, the World Cup hosts. In fact, since FIFA announced in 2010 that Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup, controversy has stirred over its legitimacy as a host nation, in light of myriad allegations of human rights violations. The German tabloid Bild responded to the move by printing the headline “Qatarstrophe,” claiming that only petro-wealth and corruption could have influenced the Persian Gulf kingdom’s selection. “The only explanation for this decision is that FIFA sold the World Cup to the sheiks of the mini-state in the desert,” noted Bild. “There is no other explanation.” 

Twelve years later, much of that sentiment endures. Pop star Dua Lipa denied she was performing at the opening ceremony, saying she looks forward to visiting Qatar when it fulfills its human rights pledges. Philipp Lahm, who lifted the World Cup trophy as Germany’s triumphant captain in 2014, cited human rights concerns as the reason he would not be in attendance in Doha. Even as the World Cup is days away from starting, talk of boycotts is only getting louder. 

Not only has Qatar come under intense scrutiny, but so too has FIFA, which has been accused of bribery in the selection of Qatar in the first place, as well as being complicit in human rights violations itself. FIFA has, in turn, acknowledged that human rights concerns do arise, but has urged all concerned to focus on the World Cup, as football ought to be a politically neutral activity. 

A laundry list of complaints about the host nation’s autocratic monarchy, including its alleged human rights abuses, suppression of dissent, persecution of LGBTQ people and mistreatment of migrant workers. 

Even the executive who presided over Qatar winning the bid now says it was a “mistake.” Qatar “is too small of a country,” Sepp Blatter, former FIFA president, recently told Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger. “Football and the World Cup are too big for it.” 

Critics dub the ownership of PSG as an exercise in “sportswashing” to burnish the image of a problematic regime. They would extend that argument to the World Cup itself, which has seen Qatar plow some $220 billion to build from scratch the vast infrastructure needed to host a tournament of this scale. That includes new roads, a metro system, dozens of hotels and seven new stadiums. 

This mammoth project of construction invariably brought attention to country’s labor rights record. Eighty-five percent of Qatar’s 3 million population are foreign workers, and a considerable chunk of that cohort are migrant laborers from poor communities in East Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia. Well before Qatar won the World Cup bid, rights groups documented the abuses and harsh conditions visited upon these migrants, who comprise a permanent underclass in gulf monarchies like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. 

Since putting plans in motion to host the World Cup, Qatar has opened its borders to nearly 800,000 migrant workers, many of whom were recruited through unscrupulous recruitment agencies, and required to pay exorbitant recruitment fees. More problematic still are the many allegations of the ill-treatment of these migrant workers while in Qatar; many have been reportedly overworked, underpaid, and even worked to death in the unimaginably hot climate that characterises Qatar in the months leading up to the 2022 World Cup. 

Last year, the Guardian revealed that about 6,500 workers from South Asia had died since Qatar was awarded the World Cup. But these deaths marked a blanket figure for all laborers and were not tied to World Cup projects. Qatari authorities have suggested that the worker deaths figure specific to the construction sites was about 38 people — though Amnesty International has called out Qatar’s failure to investigate most workers’ underlying cause of death. 

Outside scrutiny has exposed a raft of problems in the labor sector, from issues in housing conditions to heat-related illness, to missed pay and other abuses by employers. Since it was awarded the World Cup, Qatar has overhauled its labor laws, introduced a minimum wage that’s higher than much of the region and claimed to abolish the notorious “kafala” system, a policy of de facto indentured servitude that governs the rights of migrant workers in some Arab countries. 

A recent report from Eqidem, a human rights organization, documented numerous abuses of workers involved in FIFA-related projects in the past two years. The prevalence of these alleged abuses “on worksites so heavily regulated by Qatar, Fifa and their partners,” the group noted, “suggests that the reforms undertaken over the last five years have acted as cover for powerful businesses that seek to exploit migrant workers with impunity.” 

Has the World Cup really improved workers’ rights in Qatar? 

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