Qatar’s World Cup is marred by death and devastation

By Clara Hickman

THIS YEAR’S World Cup is being hosted by a Middle Eastern country for the first time in its history.

But the decision to hold it in Qatar has raised serious concerns and prompted calls from countries such as Norway for it to be boycotted on the grounds of the atrocious treatment of migrant workers and controversial human rights laws.

Since FIFA’s ill-fated announcement in 2010, Qatar got migrants from countries including Nepal, Pakistan and India to build seven new stadiums and refurbish the infamous Khalifa stadium in preparation for the World Cup.

In the early 2010s, human rights concerns started to be raised.

But according to the Human Rights Watch, Qatar established major positive changes to labour reforms in 2021. A higher minimum wage was set for migrant workers and they no longer had to have permission from their employers if they wanted to change jobs. It looked to be a huge step forward in Qatars human rights laws.

Just six months after, Qatars’ legislative body the Shura Council backtrackted on these new rights which would have seen migrant workers protected from abuse and being exploited.

A report conducted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 2020 found there had been 50 fatal injuries to migrant workers and 506 acute injuries.

An investigation by the Guardian found that there have been 6,750 deaths of South Asian migrants since they started work on the buildings of stadiums.

Analysing data from the Embassy of India in Qatar, statistics showed 2,711 migrants from India had died. The Embassy of Nepal and the Foreign Employment Board in Nepal provided reports that revealed 1,641 Nepali migrants had died while working in Qatar while the Wage Earners’ Welfare Board in Bangladesh revealed 1,018 Bangladeshi’s had died.

Statistics from government reports recorded 824 migrants from Pakistan and 557 workers from Sri Lanka had died from poor working and living conditions.

The death toll is thought to be significantly higher as the deaths reported were only from 2011-2020 and did not include migrants from countries like the Phillipines and Kenya who are well known to send lots of workers to Qatar.

A report by Amnesty International found migrant workers often had their passports taken from them by employers so had no way to return home or change jobs. Their passports were often confiscated as soon as they arrive.

Aarush Kumar, the son of an Indian migrant worker who died from appalling living conditions in 2013, said: “My father told me how horrible his accommodation was.

“He was one of many sharing bunk beds in tiny rooms. He said how everyone was practically shoulder to shoulder in there and how he was often starving but food was limited.”

If migrants complained to their employees about how they were treated, they were often threatened.

Fatima Begum, a Bangladeshi mother of a now deceased son, said: “Khalid went to his boss the first day he was there. He told them his living conditions were disgraceful.

“He described them as a ‘labour camp’. But they responded saying they would deport him at once without any wages so he stayed quiet after that. He wanted to support me and his sisters.”

The World Cup 2022 has also promoted serious concerns about the Gulf Nation’s human rights records. There is particular concern that people of the LGBTQIA+ community will face severe discrimination.

Male homosexuality is illegal and can be punished with up to three years in prison and even the death penalty.

FIFA recently released a statement and said “FIFA has been exchanging regularly with a number of fan groups as part of a stakeholders engagement process on inclusion and anti-discrimination.”

Several communities including Football Supporters Europe and Englands’ LGBTQIA+ fan group, Three Lions Pride have expressed worry that FIFA are not doing enough to ensure protection of these fans despite reassuring them they will be able to book hotel rooms.

A Scandinavian investigation was conducted by journalists in May this year from TV stations NRK in Norway, Denmarks’ DR and Swedens’ SVT.

According to the survey, a number of journalists from each station contacted 69 hotels in Qatar and posed as a newly-wed gay couple looking for a room.

Despite already being approved by FIFA for being non-discriminate, responses showed three hotels refused the request completely while 20 said they would accommodate the couple if they did not make it obvious they were gay and showed no public displays of affection. Just 33 hotels accepted their request without issue.

The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC) have encouraged further information from the survey so they can investigate and “ensure any partner associated with the FIFA World Cup does not fall short of the standard we expect.”

It is not just the LGBTQIA+ community who suffer from shocking human rights in Qatar. Concerns have been raised about having a World Cup in a nation whose womens’ rights are severely diminished.

A recent report by the Human Rights Watch which included 73 interviews with women from Qatar analyse the treatment of women and their restricted freedoms.

The report ‘Everything I Have to do is Tied to a Man: Women and Qatars’ Male Guardianship Rules’ concluded that women have to obtain permission from a male guardian if they wish to work, travel outside the country and even to purchase some forms of reproductive health care.

Interviewees also said they are not allowed to be their child’s primary guardian even when they are divorced from their husband and have legal custody.

Allowing the World Cup to be held in a country with such discriminative laws and where the preparation of it was built on death and devastation is extremely questionable.

Clara Hickman is a freelance journalist. You can follow her on Instagram @claranmhickman

Featured Image: Palacio do Planalto @ Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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