The twenty-minute journey between the Doha International Airport and the famous Qatar Sports football stadium passes by two luxury malls, three car showrooms, and a slum with a population of a couple of thousands.

For the migrant workers in Qatar, home is  a bit different than other Southeast Asian countries. They are either hidden away in the basements and attics of their wealthy “owners”. Often, they live in cramped, dirty and unsafe accommodation sleeping on bunk beds in rooms for eight or more people.

They include parents who were unable to see their children for years to earn money to support their education, workers who endured physical labor for long hours, and families of workers who died from negligence

When FIFA, the global football governing body, awarded its 2022 World Cup tournament to Qatar, it knew or should have known that the migrant workers building the massive infrastructure would face grave risks. Yet FIFA neither imposed labor rights conditions nor undertook effective human rights due diligence.

It has been decades since the United Nations and hundreds of Human Rights watch NGOs have advised UN and NATO countries to lobby in Qatar for better working conditions.

Source:FIFA Int.

How FIFA lies

In 2017, FIFA adopted a Human Rights Policy stating that human rights commitments are binding on all FIFA bodies and officials, and announced that human rights requirements would be part of the consultation and bid process. Requiring bidding countries to submit a human rights strategy in preparing for and hosting the tournament.

This was the reaction of the committee after reports of vast corruption and mistreatment were uncovered after the 2016 Brazil FIFA World Cup. Although their claims were heavy handed, the reality was quite far from them.

According to a reporter’s guide 2022, ignored long standing abuses of migrant workers detailed above, including an appalling number of unexplained deaths building US$220 billion in stadiums and infrastructure, serious physical injuries, and widespread wage theft.

How many Migrant workers have worked on World cup project

Qatar built seven stadiums for the World Cup finals and a new airport, metro system, series of roads with several hundred hotels.

An entire city was constructed around the stadium which hosted the final match.

Qatar’s government said that 30,000 foreign laborers were hired just to build the stadiums. Most come from Bangladesh, India, Nepal and the Philippines.

How labor laws fail the workers

At the heart of all abuses against migrant workers lies the kafala (sponsorship) system, a British colonial era-legacy kept and entrenched by Gulf states following independence, which ties migrant workers’ visas to their employers. Leaving workers dependent on their employers for their legal residency and status in the country, placing them in a position of vulnerability that employers can, and often do, take advantage of. The system granted employers unchecked powers over migrant workers, allowing them to evade accountability for labor and human rights abuses, and left workers beholden to debt and in constant fear of retaliation.

Under Qatar’s labor law, deaths attributed to “natural causes” without being adequately investigated are not considered work-related 

In February 2021, the Guardian said 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had died in Qatar since it won its World Cup bid.

The number is based on figures provided by the countries’ embassies in Qatar.

Keeping up appearances

 Before the start of the season FIFA  wrote to the 32 teams competing telling them to “now focus on football“. It said the sport should not be “dragged” into ideological or political “battles”, or “hand out moral lessons”. An obvious attempt to pivot from the gross oversights by the organization.

However many teams, silently protested by ten European football associations – including those of England and Wales – said that “human rights are universal and apply everywhere”.

Denmark  wore “toned-down” shirts to protest against Qatar, with kit provider Hummel saying it “does not wish to be visible” in a tournament it claims “has cost thousands of lives”.

As the FIFA cup came to an exciting end, with the world rooting for Lionel Messi to finally get his trophy at the tail end of his distinguished career, most people have forgotten that it came with the cost of thousands of lives. As much as we try ,the long shadow of repression and abuse -against workers, women, the LGBTQ community and other marginalized populations- cannot and should not be ignored. They demand immediate and continued attention long after the winning penalty goal.

-Manya Pandey


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