Oct 24th, 2019, 11:14 AM

World Cup’s Grandeur Built on Woes of Migrant Workers

By Prizma Ghimire
Image Credit: Paul Keller
Qatar’s construction speed rolls to its peak ahead of the 2022 World Cup, alongside the death of its migrant workers toiling under fatal temperatures

The shimmering metropolis roaring from the dusty desert over the past few decades is a perfect mirage in the making, as it lures millions of impoverished workers from Asia and Africa. Its booming construction industry has been fueled by its controversial bid to host the FIFA World Cup 2022.

While the World Cup dates have been scheduled for winter considering the risks footballers might face during summer because of its searing temperatures, migrant workers continue to work in harsh conditions, and their safety hasn't been prioritized. As a major fallout, migrant workers from Nepal, India, Bangladesh, and the Philippines continue to die on the job in record numbers each year, as revealed by the Guardian.

Flashback to summer 2013, world media was taken by storm when news broke on an article published by the Guardian, “Qatar’s World Cup slaves.” The report revealed several extreme human rights violations.

Some of these include evidence of forced labor on the World Cup infrastructure project, low pay, confiscation of workers passports, denied access to free drinking water in the desert heat, and a harrowing rate of 12 deaths per week caused by heat stress. The International Trade Union Confederation estimated that this rate of death risked the lives of at least 4000 migrant workers before a ball is kicked.

Fast forward to 2019, has anything changed? Nothing!

Various humanitarian organizations such as the UN, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch called out on Qatar to properly investigate, reform, and regulate a fair share of labor rights. Despite assurances from World Cup organizers to respect worker rights, the exploitations and abuse are on the rife. A recent report by the UN reveals that thousands of workers are exposed to fatal levels of heat stress, slaving in raging temperatures up to 45C for up to 10 hours a day.

An article by the Guardian covered a story on Rupchandra Rumba, a 24-year-old laborer from Nepal who worked as a scaffolder at one of the World Cup stadiums. He died in early hours of June as “he made strange noises as if someone was choking him. And then he fell unconscious,” according to a co-worker. The story of Rumba is not at all astounding, as many young men die in their bunk beds in a crowded room deep within Qatar’s largest labor camp, miles away from glistening towers of Doha.

Image Credit: Imre Solt

While Qatari officials get away with the fatalities attributed to heart attacks dubbing as “natural deaths” or “sudden deaths syndrome,” research published by the Cardiology Journal in July reveals that most of the deaths were caused by cardiovascular problems admittedly higher during the summer temperature.

Another investigation published by the Guardian on October 7 uncovered that 676 of at least 1025 Nepalis who died in Qatar between 2012 and 2017 and 1345 of 1678 Indians who died in Qatar between 2012 and 2018 were issued death certificates citing reasons such as cardiac arrest, heart attack, respiratory failure and sickness- all of which attributed to “natural causes” and prohibiting postmortem examinations under Qatari law, hence, making it further impossible to investigate.

Migrant workers in Qatar make up 90 percent of the workforce, and with the booming construction ahead of the 2022 World Cup, the number has peaked to 1.9 million migrant workers.

Apart from appalling working conditions, migrant workers in Qatar are victims of state-run sponsorship programs known as the “Kafala system,” which binds each worker to a single employer, prohibiting them from changing jobs or leaving the country. Oftentimes, employers confiscate their passports, leaving them trapped with lower salaries and harsh working conditions, pushing them deeper into the debt.

Although on October 16, Qatar announced the abolishment of the Kafala system next January before the 2022 World Cup after receiving intense scrutiny from international bodies on allegations of human rights abuses and unfair labor rights.

The timing of this reformation falls flat as a flaky attempt to cleanse its media image as Qatar is expecting the World Cup to be a jewel in its soft-power crown and a strategic diversion of global attention away from the plight of dying migrant workers. For now, the country continues to pump its oil money to fund its massive World Cup infrastructures and to transform the state into a glistening sports paradise, whereas migrant workers remain vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, and life-threatening fatalities.

Image Credit: Nikolovskii on Flickr

With 2022 nearing, instead of working towards plausible human rights reformations, the state is busy obscuring human rights abuses and putting a spotlight on the gleaming infrastructures built upon the graves of migrant workers.  

With this harrowing shade of reality, we should be boycotting the 2022 World Cup. Instead, I am afraid that when 2022 arrives, this will be old news as we continue to sit glued to our television sets, hooting the glory of the World Cup. Some of us might even fly to Qatar, purchase the pricey tickets, and enjoy the show with the alcohol that the Muslim state has promised to subside.

The truth is, we don’t deserve such a colossal human loss for an ephemeral glory.

To create social pressure on the sponsors of the 2022 World Cup and to put an end to Qatar’s slavery, sign the petition on change.org.