Why is Qatar still getting to a host a World Cup?
Don’t we know enough? What more is there to know before something is done?
Because we know the human toll of all that construction. We know that hundreds of migrant workers have died building the stadiums and infrastructure for the World Cup. We know that they were sacrificed at the altar of good PR, the only good reason to host a World Cup. And since Qatar has no sporting culture to speak of but needed to look modern and shiny, that has meant the furious construction of modern and shiny stadiums, airports and hotels.
Qatar was awarded the World Cup in 2010. By 2013, more than 1,200 migrant laborers had already died due to the deplorable working conditions, according to the International Trade Union Confederation. It estimated that by the time the tournament would kick off, that number would reach 4,000 if nothing changed.
Those casualties were for all construction across Qatar in just over two years, but it’s been argued that all construction is ultimately in service to the World Cup. The Qatari government denies that a single worker died working on World Cup venues. It’s also been suggested that the toll is actually higher still.
To compare: The 2014 World Cup in Brazil claimed just 10 lives in construction accidents. The 2010 World Cup in South Africa took only one life. Those were also developing countries that needed to build lots of things.
We know about Qatar’s woeful human rights record. We know that overwhelming evidence exists of the way Qatar gamed the bid, beating out the United States in the final round through a coordinated bribery scheme. More than half of the 22 members of FIFA’s since-disbanded executive committee who voted then have been accused or indicted for taking bribes related to the 2022 World Cup vote.
We also know that there’s still no solution to the weather issue, to the problem that should have ruled out Qatar as the host for a summer soccer tournament from the start. Namely, that temperatures tend to be in the triple digits that time of year. Even in November and December, for which the tournament was rescheduled, the temperature isn’t ideal, hovering somewhere around the 80s. And that’s to say nothing of the enormous disruption to the fall-through-spring club calendars.
We knew all of those things already.
Now, we also know that worker abuse continues unabated in Qatar. There were promises to reform the system by which Qatar imports a labor force many times larger than its own population from destitute nations, including the announced abolishing of the abusive kafala system — a kind of indentured servitude for migrant workers. But Human Rights Watch once again published a blistering report on worker abuse.
Qatar’s 2 million migrant workers, serving just 313,000 Qatari citizens, are at work mostly in its construction and service industries, building and preparing a nation for its month in the global spotlight cast by the World Cup.
In exchange for this labor, they are only guaranteed a minimum wage of 750 Qatari riyals ($206) per month, which, when paid on time and in full, is barely enough for many workers to pay back recruitment debts, support families back home, and afford basic needs while in Qatar. On top of this, employers’ wage abuses leave many in perilous circumstances.
Human Rights Watch spoke to 93 migrant workers working for 60 different employers and companies between January 2019 and May 2020, all of whom reported some form of wage abuse by their employer such as unpaid overtime, arbitrary deductions, delayed wages, withholding of wages, unpaid wages, or inaccurate wages.
The findings in this report show that across Qatar, independent employers, as well as those operating labor supply companies, frequently delay, withhold, or arbitrarily deduct workers’ wages. Employers often withhold contractually guaranteed overtime payments and end-of-service benefits, and they regularly violate their contracts with migrant workers with impunity. In the worst cases, workers told Human Rights Watch that employers simply stopped paying their wages, and they often struggled to feed themselves.
The workers have almost no recourse against the labor abuses, since the labor department and a dispute resolution committee seldom rule in their favor, after a long and expensive process that might incur the wrath of their employers. The pandemic has only made the working conditions more fraught, per HRW.
It’s easy to gloss over the words “all of whom” in the above excerpt. But it is, in a statistical sense, remarkable that among the 93 workers interviewed, HRW didn’t find a single one whose vulnerable position hadn’t been abused. This totality speaks not to a few bad actors but a culture of flagrant disregard for migrant workers, of an economy that runs on the labor extorted from duped economic immigrants.
We’ve known all of these things for a long time. They keep being confirmed.
And yet FIFA has done nothing. Nothing meaningful, at any rate.
There are plenty of countries that can host a lovely World Cup with two years’ notice, countries that have the infrastructure already built. There is still time. But for FIFA to strip Qatar of the World Cup would be to set a precedent it has no interest in — a precedent it avoided in 1978 as well, when Argentina’s murderous new military regime was allowed to hang onto the World Cup in spite of global knowledge of its abuses, of the disappearance of political enemies.
Because FIFA would impose a set of standards on itself that the game’s global governing body doesn’t want to live up to.
The slow-moving human rights crisis that is the Qatari World Cup lurches on. Because FIFA can’t bring itself to stop it.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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