Kuwait Community

13 March 2023

Qatar’s 2022 World Cup

Saihaj Rehsi

The World Cup is an international soccer tournament where senior men’s national teams of the members of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) compete against each other to win the World Cup Trophy. Consisting of 32 national teams from across the world, this year’s World Cup is being held in Qatar, a small country on the coast of the Persian Gulf in the Middle East. Qatar has been fervently preparing for this year’s World Cup by building seven stadiums, a new airport and metro system, new roads, and 100 new hotels as well as a new city surrounding the stadium. Qatar will be the first Middle Eastern country to host the World Cup, so preparations have been intense, with the country spending billions of dollars while undergoing economic and infrastructural developments. 

Qatar’s main labour force, like most countries in the Middle East, is made up of foreign workers. For the World Cup, the Qatari government has hired over 30,000 foreign labourers from countries such as Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and the Philippines on behalf of the Kafala System (see “Migrant Workers Rights” Blog). While this process may appear acceptable to an outsider, there have been many complaints, both by labourers and human rights groups, about the poor treatment of foreign labourers in Qatar and the number of deaths that have occurred during the preparation for hosting the World Cup. 

The poor treatment of labourers in Qatar is a concept not unfamiliar to other nations within the greater Gulf region. There are a number of different problems with the treatment of foreign workers in Qatar, including withheld wages, confiscated passports, poor accommodations, and working long hours in very hot weather. Since Qatar won its bid to host the 2022 World Cup back in 2010, human rights organizations and embassies have been monitoring the work done by foreign workers and their treatment in the nation. There are varying numbers on the total number of deaths that occurred during this process, with some sources saying 6500 migrant workers. However, the Qatari government claims that there were only 37 foreign labourer deaths, only 3 of which were “work-related”. On the contrary, the ILO believes that over 50 foreign labourers have died during preparations with another 500 other being seriously injured and 37,600 being moderately injured. According to the Guardian, an average of 12 workers have died each week since the announcement of the bid in 2010, with India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka claiming 5,927 deaths and Pakistan claiming 824 deaths. According to the ILO, the main reason as to why the Qatari government’s numbers are so low is because they do not count deaths from heart attacks and respiratory failure as work-related despite them being common symptoms of heatstroke, which is almost inevitable in the hot Qatari weather. Moreover, the overall death toll is believed to be much higher as they do not include other countries like the Philippines and Kenya who have also sent large numbers of workers. The Qatari government fails to explain to families how seemingly healthy young adults are dying “natural deaths” in Qatar, attributed to “heart failure”, “respiratory failure”, or other “natural causes”. Many of these deaths stem from Qatar’s intense summer heat where workers face intense heat stress, exhaustion, and heat stroke because of the weather. The Qatar government refuses to do autopsies or investigations into the deaths of migrant workers from “cardiac arrest” despite the country’s own lawyers, alongside many others, asking them to do so. 

Qatar has promised reform, but has failed to make concrete moves to prevent foreign labourers’ deaths. In 2017, Qatar signed an agreement with the ILO to reform the sponsorship system, provide access to justice, gives workers a voice, provide health and safety, and to ensure pay and recruitment. Since 2017, Qatar has set up several legislations benefiting migrant workers including workers’ support and insurance but will not allow some parts of the treaties such as allowing workers to form trade unions. They have included legislation that allows workers to leave the country or change jobs without their employer’s permission and introduced a new minimum wage, but these rules were not implemented or enforced. 

Because of the ongoing conditions in Qatar, many humans right organizations, foreign workers, and countries have taken to the streets to protest and hold the country responsible for its negligence. Labourers continue to demonstrate in the capital of Qatar, Doha, outside the headquarters of the Al Bandary International Group who are responsible for contracting part of the work for the World Cup and other major partners involved. Protests have been going on since 2020, with labourers protesting working conditions and unpaid wages, which is against Qatar’s legislation on freedom of association. Countries such as France and Denmark have expressed their problems with Qatar with the former having protests and boycotting broadcasting the World Cup and the latter ditching sponsored uniforms. More countries are beginning to express their opinions on Qatar and are boycotting parts of the World Cup. Unfortunately, these outward opinions have been causing issues for migrant workers with many losing their jobs or facing deportation because of protests. Despite this, advocacy is important as it brings awareness to issues like these and encourages other human rights groups and stakeholders to take action. 

Similar to Qatar, Kuwait’s labour force is made up of migrant and foreign workers who are worked to exhaustion. Since the weather of the two countries are very similar, labourers are forced to undergo the same conditions of working in extreme heat in poor sanitary conditions with little regard to their safety or livelihoods. Kuwait Aid Network works to help migrant labourers who are working in unsafe conditions to improve their safety and livelihoods through informational programs and food supply deliveries. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic in 2020, KAN has helped over 10,000 migrant workers by providing them food and sanitary supplies, and continues to make deliveries to vulnerable communities. 

As preparations for the 2022 World Cup are underway, research on your own how you can support foreign workers and boycott the World Cup. Moreover, through your help, Kuwait Aid Network can support migrant workers in Kuwait to assure that mistreatment is minimized and care is prioritized. Monetary donations go a long way in supporting those in need in Kuwait. Aside from this, KAN accepts item donations and welcomes volunteers to teach skills to those our organization supports. Get in touch with us at [email protected]!

 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Canada Kuwait Aid Network.”

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