The World Cup is a big deal. Hosting the World Cup is therefore a very big deal indeed.
So the small Gulf state of Qatar was excited when in 2010 it was the first country in the Middle East to be awarded the World Cup, to be held in 2022.
But there are reports that migrant workers, largely from Nepal, are being worked to death to build the necessary infrastructure. According to Nepal’s embassy in Doha, there is evidence of forced labor, including confiscation of passports to prevent workers from leaving their jobs; withholding of salaries; withholding of drinking water, even though temperatures can exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
The International Trade Union Confederation says that, on average, one migrant worker dies in Qatar each day. If current trends continue, 4,000 foreign workers will die in the construction frenzy. Even if one suspects the ITUC may be exaggerating the death toll, the reports indicate that Qatar must do much more to protect the rights of foreign workers.
Unfortunately, denial abounds. Hassan al-Thawadi, Secretary General of the Qatar 2022 Organizing Committee, didn’t directly relate to the reports of abuse at all: “We’ve worked very, very hard to ensure we’re within the rules of the bidding, within the rules of the hosting agreement. At the same time we’re delivering on all the promises that we’ve made. We’re working very hard to deliver it. The commitment is there.” He said there is no reason not to hold the games in Qatar.
On the other hand, the world professional football association, Fifpro, condemned Qatar, and not in the usual murky diplomatic language:
“The 2022 Fifa World Cup was awarded to Qatar to promote football and, more importantly, football’s universal values in the Middle East. This can only be achieved if Qatar respects the rights of the key people who will deliver that World Cup: the workers who build the World Cup stadia and the players who play in them. Fifpro is deeply alarmed by reports of the brutal exploitation of migrant workers by construction companies in Qatar who are involved in building the stadia that Fifpro members will be expected to play in. . . . It is inexcusable for workers’ lives to be sacrificed, especially given modern health and safety practices in the construction industry. . . . Fifa has previously acted to ensure international labour standards are respected when it worked with the International Labour Organisation in the fight against child labour in the manufacture of footballs. A similar initiative is urgently needed in Qatar.”
This is an example of a problem throughout the Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia. Because of oil-derived wealth, many Arabs do not have to work, certainly not manual labor. Instead, these countries import workers from Asia who are often exploited. Changing this would involve changing deep-seated attitudes and economic realities.