– So many stadiums are being built, and so many have died. I have seen it with my own eyes.
This is how a Nepali describes it Narayan Dhoj his experience in Qatar. Dhoj worked in Qatar for five years on the construction sites of World Cup football stadiums.
Dhoj returned home last year. He told the Solidarity Center of Finnish Trade Unions about his experiences For SASK (you switch to another service). In this story, publishes interviews that SASK conducted last spring in Nepal with migrant workers who returned home from Qatar.
The FIFA World Cup starts in Qatar in a week. Seven new stadiums, luxury hotels, roads and bridges in the capital Doha are all made by foreign workers.
Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, the Philippines and various African countries have been building the framework for the football celebration. Many of them have paid with their lives and health for the World Cup football to be played in Qatar.
Narayan Dhoj describes an accident that happened when a co-worker of his who was working on a crane forgot to fasten his harness belt. The man fell to the ground from the height of the fifth floor.
Migrant workers in Qatar can be called modern day slaves with good reason.
Construction workers work long, sometimes even 18-hour days in the heat. They often do jobs for which they have not been trained or instructed at all. The companies that hired them care very little about the workers’ safety, working conditions and coping.
– When Qatar won the Games in 2010, it was immediately clear that migrant workers in Qatar are being exploited by their employers, says the Qatar expert of the human rights organization Amnesty International May Romanos To .
Kafala is banned, but the practice lives on
The international football association Fifa awarded the World Cup to Qatar despite the fact that the country used the kafala system. In the system, the migrant worker was practically the property of his employer.
After entering the country, the employer confiscated the migrant worker’s passport. After this, changing the employer was not possible.
In addition, many Nepalese have paid a recruitment fee of up to 2,500 euros to a construction company in order to be allowed to build stadiums.
This has meant that many workers have not had much left over from their monthly salary of around 250 euros to send home.
During the World Cup project, Qatar has received so much that the country has enacted laws for better working conditions and a minimum wage.
According to the law, the kafala system has also been abandoned. Due to the reforms, migrant workers coming to the country now have the opportunity to get better working conditions.
The problem is that not all companies follow the laws, but in many workplaces the system is still in use.
“Employers who break the law still get away like a dog from a leash, and impunity is rampant,” says Amnesty’s May Romanos.
Heat and heavy work is a deadly combination
The Guardian magazine’s report published last year (you will switch to another service) more than 6,500 workers have died in construction projects related to World Cup football between 2010 and 2020.
In reality, the death toll is higher, as not all deaths are recorded and many migrant workers end up dying from injuries and illnesses they get on construction sites in their home country.
The 40-degree heat is one of the key underlying reasons for accidents and other deaths among construction workers.
Hundreds of construction workers in their 20s and 30s have died every year from heart diseases. The extraordinary number can only be explained by the deadly combination of heat and hard work.
The Qatari government has been unwilling to fully investigate fatal accidents and the safety deficiencies behind them. Qatar has not investigated too much what causes the high mortality rate of young migrant workers from heart diseases.
Because the cases have not been investigated, the families of the victims have been left without compensation.
The treatment of migrant workers is especially rude when they get sick.
Sushant Ray worked in Qatar for nine years. He says that no salary was paid for sick days.
– Almost all companies operate the same way. I had to pay the medical expenses myself, says Sushant Raya.
Many construction companies do not pay the salary that was originally agreed upon with the employees.
– We had to fight and protest so that our salaries would be paid on time, says someone who has worked in Qatar for four years Suk Bahadur Gurung.
Many have been completely left without wages. It is not possible to claim rights, because free association of employees is prohibited.
However, the ultimate purpose of becoming a migrant worker is to earn money that can be sent home.
For example, in Nepal, the income of migrant workers significantly drives the economy. A quarter of Nepal’s gross domestic product comes from remittances from those working abroad to their relatives.
Sushant Raya says he went to Qatar for work because of peer pressure. Now he wishes he had stayed in his home country.
– I have no savings or anything else. I guess it was all for nothing.
Qatar and Fifa are running away from responsibility
Human rights organizations (you will switch to another service) have accused Qatar and the International Football Association, which awarded the World Cup to Qatar, of complicity in human rights violations.
Qatar shirks its responsibility and puts the blame on the shoulders of construction companies. Fifa, on the other hand, has denied its own guilt and hid behind the Qatari government.
According to the human rights organization Amnesty’s Qatar expert, it is clear that Fifa is responsible for the problems.
– They should have known Qatar’s human rights problems when they gave the World Cup to Qatar. It cannot be the case that Fifa grants the games but does not set any conditions for the treatment of employees, says May Romanos.
An investigative journalist familiar with Fifa and its scandals says the same.
– Fifa has a great responsibility for how guest workers have been treated at stadium sites. The irregularities were known, the journalist of the newspaper The Guardian David Conn says to .
According to Conn, Fifa’s decision-makers should have properly visited Qatar before making the decision and realized how hot the games and their huge construction projects are going to get.
He reminds us that in Qatar, the only people outside in the heat are the migrant workers who do all the hard work.
– Europeans are always in air-conditioned rooms. They go from air-conditioned cars to air-conditioned hotels. They won’t even go around the corner because it’s too hot.
Fifa’s solution to the problem was to move the games from summer to the end of the year and demand fully air-conditioned stadiums from Qatar.
– Fifa was worried about the heat only because of the players and supporters. The workers built the Stadiums in the heat for ten years, but it didn’t bother them, says Amnesty’s May Romanos.
Fifa is patching up its reputation tarnished by corruption
Fifa lost the chairman of its ethical compass Sepp Blatter’s in the season. Corruption, abuses and mafia-style decision-making rotted the organization.
Fifa’s decisions in 2010 to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia and this year’s to Qatar were thoroughly corrupt. Reporter David Conn points out that even the current president of Fifa Gianni Infantino has estimated that the organization was on the verge of collapse at that time.
– The majority of those who made the decisions in 2010 have either been convicted or suspected of corruption or have been banned for life, David Conn reminds.
Since then, the people in the leadership positions of Fifa have changed, and the association has tried to make a break from the nest in the era of corruption.
However, the confidence of the world’s football fans is still being tested, as Fifa has handled the publicity poorly during the Qatar Games.
Last week, Infantino sent a pastoral letter to the football federations of the countries participating in the Games. In it, Fifa requires teams to focus on football and not comment on things outside the game.
Human rights organizations considered the exit outrageous.
Instead of Fifa, the role of the ethical pioneer has been taken by individual players and European national associations. They have highlighted Qatar’s human rights violations and expressed the need to talk about them right now.
Could Fifa pay its billions to the victims?
Amnesty, together with other international human rights organizations, has started a campaign in which Qatar and Fifa are required to pay compensation to those injured and killed in Qatar’s World Cup projects, as well as their families.
The size of the fund to be established would be 440 million dollars, i.e. the same amount as Fifa distributes prize money at the World Cup. May Romanos says that the amount can still change in the negotiations, if they are reached.
– We do not believe that the compensation fund will be agreed upon before the start of the Games, but we want Qatar and Fifa to commit to this, says Romanos.
The Qatari government has refused to contribute to the fund. Many of Fifa’s sponsors, on the other hand, support the campaign. When Amnesty conducted a survey about the fund in 15 countries, three out of four respondents hoped that Fifa would pay compensation to migrant workers.
Journalist David Conn considers the fund an excellent project.
– Fifa makes billions of dollars with the Qatar tournament. That already has grounds for Fifa to pay compensation, says Conn.
Conn estimates that there is a basis for restoring confidence in Fifa. The position of the Fifa management is stable. For example, Gianni Infantino has already been elected for a second term as chairman, and he had no opponent.
In addition, the process of awarding the World Cup in 2026 was frictionless. The choice of the USA, Canada and Mexico as the host of the competition has not caused bitter afterwords about buying votes.
Same again in Saudi Arabia 2030?
For Qatar, the World Cup is a tool in the geopolitical game.
– It has even been said that the World Cup is part of Qatar’s defense strategy. It wants recognition and a stronger position in the world, especially as a friend of the West, David Conn estimates.
The enthusiasm of Qatar and other Persian Gulf countries to raise their profile is great. Their foray into sports circles is facilitated by the cash reserves obtained from oil revenues.
Among the European football teams Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Newcastle United have passed into the ownership of the Persian Gulf countries. In every shop, the board of the home country of the soccer team is involved. At the same time, investment money has also been received in Spain, France and England.
The countries of the Persian Gulf now play a big role in international football. Saudi Arabia is knocking on Fifa’s door when choosing the hosts for 2030 and beyond.
Where Qatar’s hosting of the tournament was secured by the rampant corruption in Fifa 12 years ago, Saudi Arabia can now rely on its own economic and political weight.
The World Cup in a new Persian Gulf country would require new construction contracts.
Migrant workers would probably do the heaviest and most dangerous jobs again.
Story updated on November 13, 2022 at 9:50 a.m.: Corrected information in the story that FC Barcelona is owned by a country belonging to the Persian Gulf countries. Barcelona has had a long sponsorship deal with Qatar Airways, but none of the Gulf countries are among its owners.
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