Cup and Labour

International Football means big business. And big business means super exploitation of labour. In the case of Qatar World Cup 2022 they are migrant workers. FIFA awarded Qatar the rights to host the World Cup on December 2, 2010. But at that time there was not a single suitable stadium. Also, it was a difficult decision from the point of extreme climatic condition. In summer temperatures reach 110 degrees Celsius. But football or what they call soccer opened huge business opportunities for global contractors and their innumerable sub-contractors. In the following 12 years the World Cup catalysed a breath-taking construction boom in Qatar which relied overwhelmingly on migrant workers from South Asia and North Africa. And it is also a story of tragic death of unknown number of poor South Asians who went there to earn a decent living.

Nobody really knows how many people died building the World Cup 2022. Last year the Guardian reported that sixty-seven hundred and fifty South Asian migrants died in Qatar since the construction began. Maybe, this is an underestimate as the figures were provided by foreign embassies. To counter the allegation Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the state body in charge of preparing the tournament, said that the true number was thirty-six and only three had died in workplace accidents. There was hardly any taker of this official statement. However, later the Committee revised the estimate of the dead to about five hundred. Causes of death were haphazardly reported. And it is next to impossible to get the exact scenario. ‘Autopsies of poor workers were rarely performed’—again no official statistics. United Freedom, a human rights body, repeatedly focused on the plight of the Nepali migrant workers without getting any response from the concerned authorities and employers. To disentangle World-Cup related atrocities against the migrant labour of South Asia and North Africa seems to be a hopeless task as the so-called international community didn’t like to offend Qatar which is the world’s largest exporter of natural gas-LNG. They are now reaping enormous profit due to the on-going war in Ukraine. In truth both America and Qatar are happy that the war is prolonging because they are the major LNG exporters to the energy-starved Europe in view of the stoppage of Russian gas and oil.

The Investment Authority of Qatar that manages an estimated four hundred and fifty billion dollars didn’t build a stage for football festival; it actually built a city to encompass the stage. The Metro system, airport extension, bridges, man-made islands, fighter jets—all these under the heading of World Cup. The work was done by migrants. As per the report of the Vital Signs Partnership, a coalition of migrant advocacy groups, more than half of the ten thousand annual deaths of South Asians in the Gulf region are “effectively unexplained”. In 2019, researchers concluded that around a third of almost six hundred deaths among young, otherwise healthy Nepali migrants in Qatar could have been prevented if there was timely medical intervention. Many Nepali migrant labourers were suffering from mental illness.

For all practical purposes migrant workers are treated as slaves though slavery in Qatar was officially abolished in 1952. 32 world class teams participated in the event but they were totally unconcerned about the World Cup tragedy called migrant labour. Only the Iranian players showed their western counterparts what actual courage looked like by refusing to sing their national anthem, in solidarity with protests against the clerical regime in Tehran. Iranians in the field were highly applauded in social media across the world for their bold attitudes towards women’s movement. Meanwhile, Iran is said to have abolished the moral police, following months of protests set off by the death of a young Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini who was held by the security forces for supposedly violating the country’s Islamic dress codes. If it is true then it is a great victory for ordinary people who have been under iron heels since the Islamic revolution in 1979. The announcement of abolition came from the attorney general, albeit it was not confirmed by the interior ministry which is in charge of morality police.

South Asia apart, North Africa too is a potential supplier of labour. Those are the best places to get large number of workers very easily and cheaply. In the months leading up to the World Cup, migrants were evicted from their lodgings to make room for tourists and to comply with the city’s zoning laws. Many were moved to the industrial area with a population density similar to New Delhi’s. In other words the migrants were going to face more hardships, if they are allowed to stay in Qatar in the coming months after the World Cup.


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Vol 55, No. 25, Dec 18 - 24, 2022