Will FIFA blow the whistle on Qatar?


As the world football governing body meets in Zurich to discuss whether the 2022 World Cup in Qatar should be moved to the winter, the real question on everyone’s lips is “will FIFA finally take a stand against the abuse of migrant workers in the Gulf state?”

The 25 members of FIFA’s executive committee (Exco) are unlikely to announce their decision on whether the summer games will be moved to the winter to avoid temperatures of up to 50°c when the meeting ends on 4 October.

But massive international pressure has been building around the issue of the exploitation of migrant workers in the tiny desert nation.

There are more than 1.2 million migrant workers in Qatar, compared to only 225,000 Qataris, and an additional 500,000 people are expected to work on the various massive infrastructure projects in the run-up to 2022.

But hundreds of construction workers, mainly from neighbouring south Asian countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and India, have already died due to poor working conditions in Qatar where they toil for up to 15 hours a day, six days a week for an average of US $8 a day.

For the last two years, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has been campaigning for FIFA to “Re-run the Vote” and remove the World Cup from Qatar until workers’ rights are guaranteed.

ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow is calling on FIFA’s Exco to do more than just talk about changing labour and working conditions in Qatar – “they need action to stop workers dying.”

“FIFA needs to send a very strong and clear message to Qatar that it will not allow the World Cup to be delivered on the back of a system of modern slavery that is the reality for hundreds of thousands of migrant workers there today,” said Burrow.

“Without the necessary changes, more workers will die building the World Cup facilities than players will take to the field in the 2022 World Cup.

“People should not have to pay with their lives for the World Cup to be a sporting and commercial success.”


4,000 dead before kick-off

It is estimated that Qatar will spend more than US$150 billion building stadia, hotels and transport links from scratch –the host city for the 2022 World Cup final, Lusail City, doesn’t even exist yet.

Nonetheless, as many as 4,000 workers are expected to die before the first game even kicks off, with many more expected to suffer serious injury.

On Wednesday, the ITUC wrote to the FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, to propose a series of joint ITUC/FIFA inspections of workplaces and labour camps in Qatar to monitor the treatment and rights of workers.

“Labour inspection in Qatar has failed miserably, and the government’s announcement that it would put new staff into a system that doesn’t work is futile,” said Burrow.

And next week, Building Wood Workers International (BWI) – the global union federation representing construction workers – is sending a team of experts to Qatar to call on authorities, construction companies and sub-contractors to respect workers’ rights.

Despite being the richest country in the world per capita, migrant workers in Qatar are trapped by the kafala system, which stipulates that all foreign workers must be sponsored.

Passports are retained by employers and migrant workers are not allowed to change jobs or leave the country without their employer’s permission, making workers vulnerable to conditions which have been likened to ‘modern-day slavery’.


World Cup of shame and slavery

Back in April, Equal Times reported on the story of Zahir Belounis, a French footballer who has been trapped in Qatar for over two years because his club refuses to sign his exit visa unless he drops a court case against them for wage arrears.

Another footballer, Moroccan international Abdeslam Ouaddou, also spoke out against his situation, telling Equal Times: ““If Qatar does not change its way, in 2022 we will have the World Cup of shame and the World Cup of slavery.”

Ever since winning the World Cup bid in 2010, the Qatar win has been beset with controversy, particularly relating to allegations of bribery during the bidding process.

As a recent Equal Times special report outlined, Qatar has been using its massive wealth to expand its realm of influence, investing in everything from world famous football teams to overseas real estate and industrial construction.

But mounting evidence of human rights violations surrounding the 2022 World Cup has tarnished the Qatar brand.