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The human toll of the most expensive World Cup in History: Qatar’s human rights violations

With the FIFA World Cup just a few months away, Qatar is set to spend a record amount of $220billion on hosting this year’s games. Much of the money has been spent on building seven new stadiums, including one built in Qatar’s new city, Lusail, which will host the final. In addition, a new airport and metro system have been built, allowing easier access to the games for fans worldwide. And for the many who will not be used to the Middle Eastern heat, Qatar has outdone all previous World Cup hosts by installing giant air conditioners in all seven of its newly built stadiums to keep fans and players cool. It is no wonder then that many have branded this as the most expensive World Cup in history.

But behind this public façade, is a country engaging in grave human rights violations. Specifically, towards migrant workers who are constructing its stadiums, roads, airports and train lines. A report by Amnesty International has shown that migrant workers are living in terrible conditions having been lured to Qatar with the promise of a good salary. But many have not been paid salaries for months and are not allowed to leave the country or change their jobs bounding them to work in the heat for months without any pay or access to appropriate accommodation or healthcare.

In 2021, the Guardian reported that 6,500 migrant workers from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Bangladesh had died in Qatar since the country started its preparations for the FIFA World Cup. This number is likely to have risen since then, especially with the game drawing near. Many families of migrant workers who have lost their lives due to unsafe working conditions have received no compensation from employers, including unpaid wages.

International human rights organisations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have called on FIFA and Qatar to acknowledge the harm caused to migrant workers and provide a financial remedy for those who have experienced workplace harm and death, including their families.

The reaction of EU officials has also been similar to that of international human rights organisations, in December of last year, the EU commissioner for jobs and social rights expressed concerns about the working conditions for migrant workers in Qatar. But Qatar’s response has been one of defensiveness accusing the media of demonising Qatar and arguing that migrant workers’ deaths are not at all related to construction and workplace injury but rather that migrant workers’ death is all from ‘natural’ causes. But human rights organisations have hit back at this arguing that the two are related with many migrant workers dying from heat stroke due to long hours spent working outside with no adequate protection.

In June, the UEFA working group on worker’s rights held a meeting alongside other institutions including FIFA, the ministry of labour, the national human rights committee, as well as centre for sports and human rights. The working group acknowledged that progress had been made in workers’ rights and working conditions achieved through new labour laws introduced in Qatar in 2020. Since then, around 280,000 workers received a pay rise in line with the minimum wage.

However, the Working Group concluded that progress must be made in legal support given to workers, as well as providing shelter for workers who have experienced abuse and harm in the workplace or at the hands of their employers. Lastly, the Working Group made a crucial point in that efforts must be made to make workers aware of their rights, including providing more easily accessible information on labour rights. This includes translation services for migrant workers where they can access information on labour laws and their human rights. This would be an important step in encouraging workers to recognise when their rights are being violated and also ensure that Qatar remains committed to upholding safe working standards and a living wage.

But for many human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, this hasn’t been enough. They have branded this year’s game’s the ‘World Cup of shame.’ They make a very valid criticism in that Qatar, FIFA and its sponsors are set to make astronomical financial gains from this year’s games. But this will be at the expense of migrant workers who have experienced years of human rights violations and are likely to face further mistreatment as the game draws near.


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