The World Cup’s huge following allows the host nation to promote itself to a global audience. Hoping to utilise this, Qatar has spent up to $300 billion US dollars preparing for the tournament, 15 times more than Russia’s 2018 cycle.
Yet with a controversial human rights record and vocal criticism from organisations such as the European Parliament, the host nation and FIFA face immense public pressure. A joint open letter from global actors, including Amnesty International, Anti-Slavery International and the Human Rights Watch, demanded a ‘remedy for the abuses suffered’ at the hands of the Qatari Government. Calls continue for FIFA and Qatar to provide reparations for the thousands of migrant workers and their families impacted by injury or death during the establishment of the World Cup.
The absence of suitable Qatari infrastructure to host a Mega Sports Event (MSE) encouraged over a decade of transformative construction throughout the capital, Doha. Since the successful bid to host in 2010, Doha gained a new metro, expanded airports, immense stadiums and 100 new hotels. No expense was spared to implement Qatar’s ‘National Vision’, hoping to proclaim their status as a ‘developed’ country internationally.
Unfortunately, as well as this financial cost, numerous workers paid a heavy personal price. Qatar’s World Cup enabled what Amnesty International described as ‘forced labour conditions’ for migrant workers. 1.7 million migrants encompass the primary labour force in Qatar, acting as the backbone for development projects. Largely originating from Bangladesh, India and Nepal, these people were subject to devastating conditions. In the extreme heat, working 12 hour days, seven days per week has been widely reported. Shocking revelations of the dangerous, unhygienic accommodation, alongside deathly working conditions illuminated the real, human repercussions of Qatar’s overambitious plans.
To make matters worse, the large scale confiscation of passports and mobile phones trapped migrant workers within Qatar. The state’s ‘Kafala’ system allows private companies to sponsor these workers, making them responsible for their conditions. The programme resulted in migrant workers becoming intrinsically linked to private authority, allowing individual powers to hold an abusive monopoly. Many Kafala companies delayed and lowered pay, whilst simultaneously denying worker rights to leave. In such conditions, it is reported thousands of migrant workers have sustained injuries or even died under Qatar’s watch.
It is difficult to gauge figures due to contrasting claims between the Gulf state and external media. However, it is confirmed that 15,000 non-Qataris died within the country between 2010-2019. Whilst the Qatar government claims only 40 non-Qatari deaths relate to working conditions, critics argued that the larger number absorbed the hundreds, if not thousands, of World Cup construction deaths.
On a more positive note, increasing global awareness forced the Qatari government’s reaction. Amid pressure from the International Trade Union Conference (ITUC) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Qatar recently undertook legal reforms at an unprecedented speed. The Kafala system has been abandoned and a minimum wage established. The ILO applauded these actions, highlighting the host nation improved the lives of up to around 280,000 workers through these measures. Similarly, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) confirmed they are pleased with the progress made.
However, for many critics, these reforms are a starting point. On the eve of the tournament’s opening, the TUC reflected that ‘labour laws are only as good as their enforcement, and the ability of workers to seek justice and compensation for their abuse.’ In this light, the continued lack of any support for migrant workers and their families means that Qatar continues to fail to rectify its reactions.
Furthermore, Qatar’s treatment of the LGBTQ+ community remains contemptible. Same-sex relations continue to be criminalised. Under the Penal Code of 2004, death by stoning is the maximum penalty for those caught in queer relations. These laws have rightfully alienated many potential viewers, with backlash furthered by FIFA’s banning of the ‘OneLove’ armband, designed to raise awareness for queer rights.
For these multiple reasons, media platforms across the globe boycotted covering the World Cup’s 2022 opening ceremony. Similar acts of resistance, such as wearing the OneLove armband, outline international watchers remain dissatisfied with Qatar’s domestic situation.
Yet despite controversies, media scandals and public boycotts, FIFA’s World Cup revenue is set to amount to $7.5 billion US dollars, up more than $1 million from Russia’s previous 2018 cycle. Though FIFA has promised that retribution for worker suffering will be considered after the tournament, many believe that this is a move to silence allegations without meaningful action.
The current situation appears turbulent and complex, and maintains an unresolved question. Will Qatar achieve their desired legacy of a ‘developed state’? Or will attention to their human rights failings only politically alienate them? This will only become clear in the future.