The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Doha, Qatar on Nov. 20, is just about 17 days away. And yet the host country, Qatar, and the host organization, FIFA, are still facing pressure from various quarters on a variety of labor rights issues and alleged exploitative migrant worker policies. The FIFA World Cup was called “the once every four years most-watched and most lucrative event in sports” by Minky Worden, Director Of Global Initiatives, Human Rights Watch, in an opinion piece that appeared in Newsweek. FIFA is also reportedly the most cash-rich international sports federation.
The characters and principals involved in this sporting event, especially the impoverished migrant workers, make for a drama that features what Worden calls a case of “the haves and the have nots.”
The moment FIFA awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, its huge population of migrant workers in the construction industry — from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Kenya, Ghana, and the Philippines — became the focus of concern. Qatar has a population of about three million, a big number of whom are non-Qataris.
Qatar worked hard to get the right to host the FIFA World Cup. It is part of an ongoing campaign to project Qatar as a tourism and sports tourism destination to diversify its national revenues which come mainly from petroleum and natural gas. Its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is estimated at $220 billion, 60% of which comes from petroleum and natural gas. Qatar had reputedly the world’s third largest proven natural gas reserves and is the second-largest exporter of natural gas.
The Qataris knew what they were getting into even before they won the right to host the 2022 World Cup in 2010, or 12 years before kickoff. They knew that they were to build seven stadiums, World Cup-related facilities like rail and highways systems to the eight venues, upgrade its airport and hotels, and other infrastructure projects required by FIFA for the convenience of the few Qataris, millions of football fans, national teams and other stakeholders. Unfortunately, neither Qatar nor FIFA anticipated the human cost of the Cup. As Worden pointed out, several thousand people who migrated from some of the poorest countries to work as laborers preparing for the World Cup have died.
#PayUpFIFA states that with migrant workers making up more than 90% of the country’s workforce, it was clear that the weight of delivering these projects would rest overwhelmingly on the shoulders of all those who traveled to Qatar in the hope of securing a better livelihood.
Worden says it is impossible to know exactly how many workers have died in the course of constructing Qatar’s World Cup-related facilities. Official Qatari statistics show that 15,021 non-Qataris died in the country between 2010 and 2019, per Worden’s article of August 2022. The US and France have called on FIFA “to set up as soon as possible a minimum fund of $440 million (about P25 billion), known as the Compensation and Remedy Fund, in order to be able to compensate all workers or their families who participated in the preparation of the 2022 World Cup and whose fundamental rights were violated.” FIFA, on the other hand, said “only” 37 have died. In the meantime, seven national football federations taking part in the Qatar tournament and four key sponsors have urged FIFA to set up the Fund and pay compensation.
The Qataris have gone on the offensive. The Associated Press reports that the Emir of Qatar on Oct. 25 lashed out at criticism of his country over its hosting of the 2020 FIFA World Cup, describing it as an “unprecedented campaign targeting the first Arab nation to hold the tournament.”
In a televised speech before the emirate’s legislative body (all of whom are appointed by the government), Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani said, “Qatar has seen an unprecedented campaign that no host country has ever faced.” The Emir stated, the “campaign tends to continue and expand to include fabrications and double standards that were so ferocious that it has unfortunately prompted many people to question the real reasons and motives.”
People may question reasons and motives but at the end of the day, facts have been presented and have to be answered with facts too. This microscopic scrutiny of Qatar was to be expected given its labor rights record. The fact that the country welcomed an event that is one of the most televised in the world was an invitation for the whole world to take a look at what was happening in Qatar. The Qataris really wanted the World Cup to be held in Doha, and so did FIFA — so much so that it was willing to revise the European football calendar to hold the Cup in the “winter months of November and December” so that players and fans would not have to endure 120* F temperatures during the months of July and August. Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter said in 2014 that “it was a mistake” giving the hosting rights to Qatar.
Adding fuel to the already smoldering fire, The Guardian reports that the Qatar World Cup is failing to live up to promises on reducing its carbon footprint, creating still another problem for the tournament.
The Guardian reports that organizers had claimed that the 32-team showpiece would be the first “carbon neutral” World Cup, meaning any emission would be limited and offset. However, Carbon Market Watch (CMW), a non-profit organization which works closely with the European Union, has examined the organizers’ plans and says projected emissions have likely been underreported, with the footprint created from the building of seven stadiums of particular concern. These carbon emissions come from activity generated by the importation by air of construction materials and even tons of seeds of turf for the field of play.
But probably the most disturbing latest development is a Reuters report that “thousands of workers evicted in Qatar capital ahead of World Cup.”
Andrew Mills for Reuters reported that Qatar has emptied apartment blocks housing thousands of foreign (Asian and African) workers in the same areas in the center of Doha where visiting soccer fans will stay during the World Cup. In short, workers were evicted from their homes.
Qatari government officials said the evictions are unrelated to the World Cup and were designed “in line with ongoing comprehensive long-term plans to re-organize Doha.” FIFA did not respond to a request for comment and World Cup organizers directed inquiries to government, reported Reuters.
Those of us who have dealt with different international sports federations over the years and their sub units at the continental level are just too familiar with such gobbledygook, evasion, and downright insincerity from some sectors of that otherwise honorable community. That’s probably how a sector of the international sports community behaves. And that’s probably how that sector thrives and “prospers.”
Philip Ella Juico’s areas of interest include the protection and promotion of democracy, free markets, sustainable development, social responsibility and sports as a tool for social development. He obtained his doctorate in business at De La Salle University. Dr. Juico served as secretary of Agrarian Reform during the Corazon C. Aquino administration.