November 20th has marked the beginning of the globally renowned FIFA World Cup championship and football fans seem to be more ecstatic than ever. With thousands flooding the new Qatari stadiums, competing over the leftover hotel rooms, and crowding the Doha Metro it seems that the country’s capital is more alive than ever. But behind the walls of newly built hotels and the obscenely large stadiums stand the migrant workers who do not associate the championship with feelings of joy and excitement. For the tens of thousands of employees, this year’s football championship represents months spent stuck in an exploitative system, facing consistent government neglect and abuse without a glimpse of a brighter future.
The small country of Qatar has more than 2 million migrant workers – this number represents 95% of the state’s total workforce.1 Majority of these individuals come from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and the Philippines.2 Back in 2010, when Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup, these individuals flooded the small Persian Gulf state in the hope of a better life. For most of them, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to earn and send money back to their families, as well as improve the conditions of their own lives. For Qatar, this was the ideal chance to take in and employ the cheap labor force it needed so badly. But despite the staggering number of migrants present, Qatar doesn’t seem to care about the working conditions it forces these people into.
Thirty-thousand of these workers alone were employed solely for the purpose of building the new stadiums.3 The rest spent years constructing the new metro system, building new roads, and dozens of shiny hotels. Many of these people working exhausting jobs have been forced to work 12 and more hours a day, 6 days a week.4 In a city characterized by harsh weather conditions, where the summer heat can reach 43°C, these individuals engage in dangerous pure physical labor. Throughout these 12 years, at least 6,500 people have died as a result of exploitation and unlivable conditions, but the Qatari government has labeled these casualties as “deaths catalyzed by natural causes.”5
Living in small, overcrowded spaces without proper food, these individuals slave away while facing appalling conditions and ignoring the risks in the hope for a brighter future, but even that is not a guarantee. Many of these migrant workers have become victims of wage theft or are forced to wait months for the delayed salaries to reach them. For those who are “lucky” and receive the payments on time, there still isn’t much to be happy about – the wages paid to these employees are ridiculously low, and this only further traps them into a vicious cycle of exploitation.6
To many of us who see this from afar, an easy solution would seem to leave the country. But Qatar’s “kafala” system legally binds the workers to their employer, meaning that the latter gains full control over the employee’s working and living conditions.78 Simultaneously, this system provides the means for the employer to confiscate the workers’ passports, meaning that their mobility is restricted, and leaving the country becomes literally impossible. Opposing the ones in control and publicly voicing concerns is also not an option, as the “problematic” individuals are then forced out of the country. Stuck in a vicious cycle of abuse, these migrant workers are not allowed to join trade unions, fight for their rights, or tell anyone about their experiences – losing their job has become the greatest fear of these impoverished workers. In appalling and degrading conditions, these people have been scrapped of everything down to their own voices.
In recent years, many international organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have been pressuring the Qatari government to implement changes. In 2017, Qatar signed an agreement with the United Nations International Labor Organization and passed several laws meant to help migrant workers. Recently, it also implemented changes that prohibit employers from restricting workers’ mobility and allow workers to change jobs. However, most of these changes have remained technical and haven’t been enforced properly, meaning that migrant abuse is still very prominent within the country.910
With such grave abuses visible to the public eye, it seems rather odd that FIFA is not intervening since these human rights violations smear its reputation as well. Some national football associations have issued a collaborative public statement condemning the situation happening in Qatar.11 However, without direct action this announcement becomes the equivalent of empty words written with ink on paper. The “Boycott Qatar 2022” campaign has recently gained major prominence given its attempt to push fans, players, and clubs to oppose the World Cup.12 In fact, some footballers, such as Leon Goretzka and Tim Sparv have indeed spoken out against and publicly opposed Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers.13 While actions like these inspire people to learn more about the issue at hand and fuel public discourse, the World Cup is still happening, meaning that the workers’ abuses will most likely continue.
The lack of FIFA’s response to the situation and the seeming carelessness are abhorrent and alarming to say the least. The organization hasn’t announced whether it will respond to the #PayUpFIFA campaign meant to financially compensate the migrant workers for the abuse experienced.14 FIFA has only issued vague statements claiming that it will continue supporting the migrant workers, but its words lack action. Ever since 2010, many conspiracy theories have surrounded the story of Qatar winning the bid to host the World Cup with most claiming that FIFA was bribed into giving the Gulf state hosting rights.15 Regardless, it seems rather interesting that the international face of football hasn’t made a single move to ensure that human rights are protected in the process of preparing the country for the championship. This is alarming when we consider the fact that giving abusive countries World Cup hosting rights might also happen in the future. And if that ever does occur again, the chances of FIFA becoming proactive and protecting people are rather slim.
This and the upcoming weeks are full of excitement for football fans across the globe. As some are watching the matches live and cheering in huge crowds, other supporters are rushing to local pubs dressed in their beloved players’ jerseys, rooting for their favorite teams. In the world of football that’s filled with adrenaline and excitement, it’s easy to forget about scandals that come and go. But Qatar’s situation is one that’s been around for 12 years and only in recent months has the pain of thousands of migrant workers managed to gather public attention. While you may call football your second religion, do not forget the institution behind it. FIFA’s hands might be covered in blood, but it doesn’t seem to matter when you’re a multi-millionaire organization – in the world of football, money triumphs over morality and ethics.
- Amnesty International. “Reality Check: Migrant Workers’ Rights in Qatar.” Amnesty International, 5 Feb. 2019, www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2019/02/reality-check-migrant-workers-rights-with-two-years-to-qatar-2022-world-cup/.
- BBC. “World Cup 2022: How Has Qatar Treated Stadium Workers?” BBC News, 1 Apr. 2022, www.bbc.com/news/world-60867042.
- Dougall, David Mac. “FIFA and Qatar “Rattled” as European World Cup Boycott Gathers Pace.” Euronews, 10 Nov. 2022, www.euronews.com/2022/11/10/fifa-and-qatar-rattled-as-european-world-cup-boycott-gathers-pace.
- Human Rights Watch. “FIFA yet to Back Workers’ Remedy Fund despite Growing Support.” Human Rights Watch, 18 Oct. 2022, http://www.hrw.org/news/2022/10/18/fifa-yet-back-workers-remedy-fund-despite-growing-support.
- Human Rights Watch. “World Report 2020: Rights Trends in Qatar.” Human Rights Watch, 12 Dec. 2019, www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/qatar.
- Nguyen, Ngoc. “Kafala Labor System Reform and the 2022 World Cup.” CIRS, 20 Dec. 2021, cirs.qatar.georgetown.edu/kafala-labor-system-reform-and-the-2022-world-cup/.
- Panja, Tariq, and Kevin Draper. “U.S. Prosecutors Say Qatar and Russia Bribed FIFA Officials to Win World Cup Bids.” The New York Times, 6 Apr. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/sports/soccer/qatar-and-russia-bribery-world-cup-fifa.html.
- Pattisson, Pete, and Niamh McIntyre. “Revealed: 6,500 Migrant Workers Have Died in Qatar as It Gears up for World Cup.” The Guardian, 23 Feb. 2021, http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/feb/23/revealed-migrant-worker-deaths-qatar-fifa-world-cup-2022.
- Pattinson, Pete. “What Do Qatar’s World Cup Workers Now Fear Most? Being Sent Home | Pete Pattisson.” The Guardian, 23 Sept. 2022, www.theguardian.com/global-development/commentisfree/2022/sep/23/qatar-world-cup-migrant-workers-fear-being-sent-home-most.
- The Football Association. “Statement: FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.” Www.thefa.com, 6 Nov. 2022, www.thefa.com/news/2022/nov/06/joint-statement-uefa-working-group-on-human-rights-labour-20220611.
- Zaidi, Waseem. “Five Players to Have Spoken against Holding FIFA World Cup in Qatar.” Khel Now, 19 Nov. 2021, khelnow.com/football/top-five-footballers-spoken-against-fifa-world-cup-qatar.