Qatar World Cup 2022 & Human Rights: A Serious Discussion 

Qatar will host the FIFA Men’s World Cup 2022 – an historic moment as it will be the first time the tournament has ever been held in the Middle East. A vast majority of football stadiums and other facilities are being built for this event by migrant workers. Their working conditions are brutal, rife with coercion and exploitation, and sometimes even amount to bonded labour. Additionally, women are restricted by persistent male guardianship laws and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT+) individuals continue to face discrimination and censorship.

Image Credit: Reuters 

Human rights organisations have indeed raised the issue of migrant worker rights in Qatar in the past. However, the Qatari authorities have gone to great lengths to address this issue. In the last few years, the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) has praised Qatar’s reforms, including removing the exit visa for domestic workers and establishing a non-discriminatory permanent minimum wage and easing job change procedures. 

These measures are miles ahead compared to what the migrant workforce faces in other Gulf nations and across the region. International trade unions and experts have validated such progress and indicated that these measures effectively ensured compliance with signed international labour agreements and fundamental rights at work.

Situation of Migrant Workers 

Over 6,500 migrant workers, employed on the immense construction sites for the facilities that will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, have died. This troubling figure was revealed by UK newspaper The Guardian following an investigation into data from government sources in five nations from which the workers emigrated: India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. 

Workers often live in cramped, dirty and unsafe accommodation. Men sleep on bunk beds in rooms for eight or more people. But Qatari law and the Workers’ Welfare Standards allow for a maximum of four beds per room and prohibit bed sharing and the use of bunk beds.

Recruitment agents also make false promises about the salary workers will receive, and the type of job on offer. One worker was promised a salary of US$300 a month in Nepal, but this turned out to be US$190 once he started work in Qatar. When workers tell Companies that they were promised higher salaries, they are simply ignored. 

Due to the spotlight of the World Cup and international pressure, Qatar has undertaken significant reforms to its labour laws since it reached agreement at the International Labour Organization in November 2017. These include:

  • Allowing migrant workers to leave the country or change jobs without their employer’s permission, effectively ending the “kafala” system.
  • Establishing a non-discriminatory minimum wage, the first in any Gulf country.
  • Establishing a labour dispute resolution system.
  • Providing for the establishment of joint workplace committees with workers electing their own representatives.
  • Establishment of a proper system for employment contracts.

Much still needs to be done to embed these legal reforms and ensure that all migrant workers in Qatar benefit from them. Workers are still experiencing problems with payment of wages, difficulties accessing dispute resolution, poor living conditions and other forms of exploitation.

Anti-LGBT+ Expression 

LGBT+ individuals in Qatar are thus forced to live in secret. Many live in fear – covering their true identities, desires, and opinions for the sake of their physical and emotional safety and wellbeing. 

Qatar’s anti-LGBT+ laws and the dangerous conditions they create do not align with the human rights that FIFA claims to uphold at the Men’s World Cup. Though Qatar has committed to ensuring a safe environment for World Cup visitors who identify as LGBT+ and allowing rainbow flags in the stadiums, the reality in Qatar makes the possibility of a rights-respecting World Cup unlikely. Even more uncertain is whether these commitments will lead to any lasting change after the competition ends.

Teams Protesting Against Qatar 

Norway, the Netherlands and Germany were the ones to make their voices heard during the recent World Cup Qualifiers.

Norwegian coach Stale Solbakken said “we’re working on something concrete” in a pre-match press conference as his side went on to wear the T-shirts that read “Human Rights- on and off the pitch”.

The entire Norwegian team wore the T-shirts for their warmups before their games against Gibraltar and Turkey.

Germany donned the t-shirts spelling out “HUMAN RIGHTS” word by word before their game against Iceland. German midfielder Joshua Kimmich feels that the boycott calls for the world cup has come 10 years too late.

The Netherlands also made their concerns known as they turned up to practice in t-shirts that read “Football supports change”. The Oranges’ boss Frank de Boer was also contemplating boycotting the tournament should they qualify. He said they were in touch with Amnesty International over their next course of action.

The Denmark national team joined the protests by wearing the same T-shirts as the Dutch for their game against Moldova.

England and Belgium national teams are also discussing their moves regarding this issue. 

What are your thoughts on this issue? Let us know in the comments.

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