Forced Labor is Building the 2022 Qatar World Cup

Workers at a construction site for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar

As I have mentioned in a previous article, Fútbol is Culture and Global Studies, I’m interested in the aspects of fútbol beyond what happens on the field. I’ve discussed my interest in the fashion, culture, and migration surrounding fútbol, but it’s also important to cover the negative aspects of the game as well. Two parts of fútbol that need to be corrected are:

  1. Forced labor in the construction of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar
  2. Human trafficking of youth, often to Europe

In this article I will cover the corruption in selecting Qatar to host the World Cup, the unjust living and labor conditions for the migrant workers, and what we can do to call attention to it. I’ll discuss fútbol human trafficking in a separate piece.

Organizing the 2022 World Cup

Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) is notoriously corrupt — as an organization and in its processes. These processes include its World Cup selection. For years, suspicion has surrounded FIFA’s selection of South Africa and Russia as hosts of the 2010 and 2018 World Cups. More than half of the people involved in selecting the 2018 and 2022 World Cups have been accused of wrong doing. So, it should come as no surprise to hear that multiple FIFA officials accepted bribes in the 2022 World Cup selection process, in exchange for voting in favor of Qatar.

The selection process began with 5 official bids: Australia, Japan, Qatar, South Korea, and the United States. It eventually came down to either Qatar or the U.S. to host the 2022 World Cup. The final vote was 14–8 in favor of Qatar. Federal investigations were launched in the U.S., Switzerland, and France. Investigations have led to indictments and bans for numerous FIFA officials.

Not only was the vote influenced by corruption, it went against common sense. The World Cup has been played every 4 years since 1930 (with the exception of a break due to World War II) in May, June, or July. However, this will change for the 2022 World Cup. Qatar’s extreme heat, often well over 100°F (37°C), pose a risk to players’ health. To avoid the heat, the tournament has been moved from June-July to November-December.

Forced Labor in Qatar

To build the infrastructure of the 2022 World Cup, Qatar has turned to migrant laborers. Roughly 2 million migrant workers (approximately 95% of the total labor force), are responsible for constructing stadiums, transportation, and hotel infrastructure to host the tournament. The vast majority are from South Asia, East Africa, and West Africa. In the recruitment phase, they’re promised relatively high wages and consistent pay. However, upon arrival in Qatar, their humanity is stripped away.

Once their flight has landed in Qatar their recruitment fees are substantially increased, their passports taken away, and they encounter structural racism. This is the kafala system. The kafala (sponsorship) system gives employers total control over migrant workers’ immigration status. Additionally, migrant workers must obtain permission from their employers to change jobs. This system originated from Qatar’s desire for cheap labor. As previously referenced, 2 million of the roughly 2.6 million people living in Qatar are migrant workers. Since the local population is severely outnumbered, the Qatari government is terrified of organized labor groups. This has led to oppressive policies. To make matters worse, Qatar has designated certain public spaces as “family zones” which are effectively for locals and Westerners. These “family zones” are policed and prevent those appearing to be of South Asian, East African, or West African origin from enjoying them. The UN has identified this as a “de facto caste system based on national origin”.

This exploitative system not only prevents migrant workers from enjoying public spaces, it leads to abhorrent living and labor conditions. Worker deaths from heat exhaustion or construction accidents is commonplace in Qatar. Wages are often delayed and sometimes never paid. Some workers have stated to investigative journalists and human rights watch groups that they could not even afford to buy food. Workers live in fear that if complaints are raised to their employers, they will suffer retaliation — termination of employment. Underneath the kafala system, if workers are fired (no more sponsorship), authorities are then able to incarcerate them… even while on their way to the airport. Workers are essentially trapped in Qatar.

When you have time, watch the video below.

The Guardian- Qatar’s World Cup 2022 Workers: ‘We may as well just die here’
Migrant worker conditions in an industrial compound in Qatar

Thousands of migrant workers have died in building the infrastructure for the World Cup. Unfortunately, the Qatari government has suppressed official records and a specific number of deaths is difficult to determine.

So, what can we do? Well, at this time, I think the most important thing is to raise awareness on social media and to family and friends. About 5 years ago there was a slight push to move the location of the 2022 World Cup, but unsurprisingly it didn’t lead to any changes. Moving forward, bring it to the attention of your classmates and any fútbol fans you may know. Gather some friends, attend a local professional soccer match (FC Dallas, Austin FC, or Houston Dynamo) and tell those in attendance about the issue. As we get closer to the 2022 World Cup, discuss boycotting the event with those close to you. At the end of the day, FIFA cares about money. And up to this point, FIFA hasn’t done anything because they would rather protect profits than people’s lives.

Interested in entrepreneurship, Latin America, and Sub Saharan Africa. Aerospace engineering student at The University of Texas at Austin.

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