Qatar 2022 – The human cost of a World Cup
25 February 2015 by Marketing Team
When it comes to watching World Cups, we all have memories of watching games at unconventional times due to the competitions being broadcast across time zones. Organising your life around a peculiar schedule can be part of the excitement, yet one thing which has always been certain is that World Cups happen during the off-season of European domestic competitions.
However, when Qatar was controversially awarded the 2022 FIFA World cup in 2010, the conversation quickly turned to focus on the climate. In the month of June (the month in which World Cups are held) the average day time temperature highs exceeds 50°C in Qatar, with the average daily low not dropping below a cool 30°C. The reason you may have noticed twitter exploding with mentions of Qatar is that the World Cup now looks set to be held November/December, bringing with it the potential for a million and one disruptions.
Asides from securing the World Cup, the state’s sovereign wealth already own the French football team Paris St Germain, whilst the state owned airline adorns the shirt of the iconic Barcelona Football Club. The acquisitions of these formidable household names, as well as greater influence over the art world, form strategic milestones in Qatar’s quest for greater ‘soft power’ on the international stage.
It is not just football that they are snapping up in the sporting world; The World athletics championship will be hosted there in 2019 and 40 other international sporting events will be hosted there this year alone. A bid for the biggest of them all, the Olympic Games, is surely now just around the corner.
In a country where the domestic population are the minority and with no capacity for a military presence in a potentially volatile climate, establishing Doha as a cultural hub is born of a recognition of the finite natural and human resources that Qatar has at its disposal and also from a desire to increase their global profile and add gravitas to their status.
However, the torrid conditions in which the migrant population live constitute abuses of human rights and could go a long way to undermine these efforts.
The constant rumblings in the media regarding the World Cup bid has allowed a light to be shone on Qatar and a great deal of scrutiny has been placed on the working conditions of the migrant workers. Largely hailing from Nepal, India and Bangladesh, the migrant population astoundingly represents roughly 90% of Qatar’s 2 million total population.
An influx of this proportion was necessary to meet the labour demands to fuel not only the construction of World Cup stadia but the relentless proliferation of shopping malls and luxury hotels which have become typical in many of the Gulf States. This huge recruitment drive is for a combination of projects believed to be worth up to US$220 billion and is part of Qatar’s quest to become a regional and global hub.
Seminal work from Amnesty International in 2013, titled “The Dark Side of Migration: Spotlight on Qatar’s construction sector ahead of the World Cup”, discusses the downfalls of the sponsorship system used in Qatar. Known as the ‘Kafala system’, critics say it is a system that permits abuse and traps workers. The report states;
“The system binds foreign workers to a single ‘sponsor’ who must, under the law, also be their employer – either an individual or a company established in Qatar. A migrant worker cannot change job without permission of their sponsor. Once a migrant worker leaves Qatar, he or she cannot return to Qatar under a new sponsor for two years. Sponsors therefore can have a significant influence over the lives of migrant workers”
This imbalance of power between employer and employee has allowed helpless workers to be subjected to appalling working conditions. The mismatch of statistics available presents a stark reality of the human cost of a Qatari World Cup. Last year, a report commissioned by the Qatari government into the treatment of migrant workers in 2012-13 gave what critics would describe as a conservative account of the workers plight.
The report found that almost 1000 migrant construction workers had died from a combination of unexplained illness, suicide and cardiac arrest (however this number is believed to be higher). More recent work from the Nepalese Authorities suggests migrant workers from Nepal have died at a staggering rate of one death every two days in Qatar. Taking into account the death of workers from different nationalities, this figure is believed to be over one death per day.
Whilst Qatar has pledged to bring reforms to the sponsorship system, so far changes have been nondescript and branded cosmetic, amounting to nothing more than chicken feed. Qatari sport executives have asked for greater time from human right advocates and FIFA. They now find themselves balancing international pressure on the one hand and national fears on the other that a change will bring around a loss of cultural identity due to far greater migration.
With transparency being the hot topic at FIFA (owing to an impending election for presidency of footballs governing body and the recent world cup bidding investigation), it is yet to be seen whether this will usher in a raft of sanctions on Qatar’s World Cup.
Despite growing pressure from organisations such as Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch, sadly the slow pace of employment law reform will only become a debilitating threat to the tournament if FIFA’s commercial partners begin to pull out, a scenario that currently seems a remote possibility.