The right to hold the Soccer World Cup was awarded to Qatar by the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) in 2010.
This desert country possessed little football infrastructure, so a $200 billion stadium construction programme commenced. Immediately reports from the country indicated that hundreds of migrant workers were dying in construction-related incidents.
David Joyce of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) spoke about the deaths of migrant workers in Qatar at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2014.
The 2022 World Cup competition is about to begin in Qatar so let’s look at what has happened to the migrant workers since?
The Guardian newspaper in February 2021 stated that some 6500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had died in Qatar since it had been awarded the World Cup in 2010. No figures for death were available for the workers from the Philippines and Kenya. The figures were supplied to the Guardian by the country’s embassies in Qatar. It remains unclear how many of these deaths were attributable directly to the World Cup infrastructural work as the Qatari authorities did not make the information available.
The Qatari government did not keep meaningful statistics but has admitted to 37 deaths of labourers between 2014 and 2020, of which 3 were “work-related”.
The United Nations Agency, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which signed an agreement with Qatar in 2017 to improve work conditions, stated in a 2021 report that “it is still not possible to present a categorical figure for the number of fatal occupational injuries in the country.” The ILO admitted that in 2021, 50 workers died, 500 were severely injured, and 37,500 suffered mild to moderate injuries. The Qatari government says workers have much-improved working conditions, and the kafala system, which binds workers to employers, has been abolished. Evidence from workers indicates otherwise.
Amnesty International stated bluntly that Qatar has failed to adequately investigate and certify thousands of migrant deaths, and to this day, those deaths remain unacknowledged by the Qatari state authorities. One-half of migrant workers’ deaths are attributed to “unknown causes”, “natural causes”, and “cardiovascular diseases”. While toiling for long hours in scorching summer heat conditions and living in poor conditions, many workers paid the ultimate price for their labour. Remember that the summer months in Qatar were deemed too hot for FIFA, the players and the fans; the World Cup was moved to November/December 2022 from its traditional June/July dates!)
In August 2022, Amnesty said that more than 15000 foreigners of all ages and occupations had died in Qatar between 2010 and 2019. Estimates put the total number of migrant workers, who have virtually no rights in Qatar, at between 1.5 million and 2 million, of which some 400,000 work on various construction projects.
Recently French journalists Sebastian Castelier and Quentin Muller, in their book “Les Esclaves de l’Homme Petrole” (“The Oil Man’s Slaves”), exposed the brutal working conditions of many migrants in Qatar supported by some 60 personal testimonies of the workers.
The failure of the Qatari government to produce clear and reliable statistics for the causes of the deaths is not acceptable, given its undoubted sophistication in other spheres. It represents a deliberate attempt to cover up the true position. It is fairly evident that Qatar’s World Cup became a graveyard for many migrant workers even as their bodies were flown back to their native countries. Issues such as the Qatari human rights record and its attitude to same-sex relations have also drawn much criticism.
“Mother Jones” magazine, in its November/December 2022 edition, contains a comprehensive and penetrating article by Tim Murphy, “Power Ball….How oligarchs, private equity, and petrostates took over soccer”, which detailed the sports-washing taking place in soccer, with particular emphasis on the scandals of the World Cup. The umbilical cord of enormous wealth passing between these entities and professional sports has now rotted the beautiful games.
The enormous level of arms purchases by Qatar from some countries whose FIFA executive members supported the original bid from the Emirate for the World Cup ($16 billion to France for fighter jets) and the corruption of this FIFA 22-man executive committee so well documented in FIFA Uncovered on Netflix is testament to scale of “one of the sleaziest, rottenest examples of corruption in the history of sport” (quoted from Malachy Clerkin in “The Irish Times” of 12th November 2022).
The sight of coffins arriving on airport trolleys in Kathmandu Airport and the funeral byres along the rivers in Nepal provide a jolting realisation of the human cost of the modern mass exploitation of migrant workers.
Not even the sponsored sports-washing and motorcycle videos of former soccer stars and influencers for Qatar can hide the reality that millions of sports followers worldwide will turn off or largely ignore this World Cup show in 2022. Thousands of migrant workers have died, and tens of thousands of these workers have been injured during the decade-long construction works to bring this World Cup to your televisions for the next few weeks.
Almost 100 years ago, Mother Jones wrote in her autobiography about the working conditions of the extractive fossil fuel industry of coal mining.
” I have been in West Virginia more or less for the past twenty-three years, taking part in the interminable conflicts that arose between the industrial slaves and their masters. The conflicts were always bitter. Mining is cruel work. Men are down in utter darkness hours on end. They have no life in the sun. They come up from the silence of the earth utterly wearied. Sleep and work, work and sleep. No time or strength for education, no money for books. No leisure for thought.” (The Autobiography of Mother Jones, C. H.Kerr 1925)
In a bitter and ironic twist of fate, at the Qatar World Cup, today’s workers are forced to endure long hours slaving under the harsh effects of the powerful sun to build football temples for their masters. The untold riches derived from to-day’s extractive polluting fossil fuel industry, an industry which may doom the entire planet are being wasted by the modern-day oil barons on sports washing vanity projects.
Pray for these migrant workers and fight like hell for the survivors of this sports scandal.