This World Cup should be set in stone as a reminder of the failure of our collective consciousness where some lives were deemed more important than others.
The FIFA World Cup, due to be held in Qatar in December, will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of 2022. It is the only second World Cup to be held in Asia (the previous one was was organized jointly by South Korea and Japan in 2002). It is also the first World Cup to be held in winter, due to Qatar’s sweltering summer.
FIFA recently announced that in the first twenty days of the sales period, fans have already requested 17 million World Cup tickets. In total, the World Cup is expected to attract around 1.5 million foreign visitors to the country, giving Qatar an economic boost of nearly $20 billion. However, it comes amid controversies surrounding the World Cup, from allegations that Qatar would buy votes from voting FIFA members to be declared hosts in 2010, to widespread human rights abuses of migrant workers involved in related projects. at the World Cup.
Situation of human rights in Qatar
It is reported that more than 6,500 migrant workers from Nepal, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have died in Qatar since 2010. Actual fatalities are expected to be higher after factoring in worker fatalities other countries such as the Philippines, Nigeria and Kenya. These figures average around 12 migrant worker deaths per week over the past 12 years and can be attributed to the construction of stadiums, roads, railways, an airport and an entirely new city.
This blatant disregard for the human rights of migrant workers can be attributed to the kafala system. the kafala is a labor governance system that originated in the Middle East. This system gives disproportionate power to the employer (the Coffee) on terms and conditions of employment by making it compulsory to sponsor any worker before allowing them to enter the country. While technically all foreign workers need such sponsorship, inequities exist in the case of “migrant workers” who do not have bargaining power over their employment contracts (unlike high-income “expats” ). In addition, this system requires workers to obtain permission from their employers if they wish to leave or change jobs or even leave the country (some employers also require their workers to deposit their passports). If employers report one of the workers for absconding, the workers risk being arrested, imprisoned or deported.
In a place where such an exploitative system is deeply rooted, worker abuse is bound to be commonplace. To this extent, Qatar has become one of the “global hotspots” of modern slavery. Workers toil up to 20 long hours without adequate water in extreme heat.
Workers are often promised high wages before they are recruited, but these contracts are dropped or changed upon arrival in Qatar and wages withheld. Their living conditions, in housing provided by employers, are unsanitary and without adequate ventilation.
Human rights activists call the untimely deaths of many able-bodied young workers “unnatural deaths” due to a lack of adequate food combined with heavy physical labor under extreme circumstances. In addition to deaths, as a result of incredibly long working hours in extreme heat, thousands of migrant workers who have returned home from Qatar are being diagnosed with chronic kidney diseases, many of which require regular dialysis.
As more individuals and activist groups have voiced their protests against the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar, the government and its spokespersons have played down most of the allegations. The Qatar World Cup organizing committee has reported just 38 deaths so far, with a claim that 35 of those deaths were non-work related.
Qatar introduced labor reforms in August 2020, which include implementing a revised minimum wage of 1,000 Qatari riyals (about $275) per month. In addition, this reform removed the requirement of employers’ approval for workers who leave or change jobs, with the aim of crippling kafala system. The Ministry of Administrative Development, Labor and Social Affairs (MADLSA) said the reforms would be fully implemented within six months of their introduction. Although human rights groups have welcomed these efforts, implementation has not been as promised. The workers say there have been no significant changes to their working conditions and that changing jobs or quitting remains a herculean task for migrant workers.
Is Qatar violating international law?
In 2018, under pressure from the international community before hosting the World Cup, Qatar finally agreed to ratify two multilateral treaties: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic Rights. , social and cultural (ICESCR). , two central instruments of current international human rights law. Ratification of these treaties means that Qatar is now legally bound to guarantee and protect basic human rights for all who reside in the country, including migrant workers.
Additionally, Qatar is a member of the International Labor Organization and has ratified some key conventions such as the ILO Forced Labor Convention, 1930, and the Abolition of Forced Labor Convention, 1957. The ICESCR guarantees the right to safe working conditions, fair wages, and reasonable working hours, none of which are enforced. Freedom of movement is one of the essential guarantees of the ICCPR, and if implemented in accordance with the intention of the instrument, no migrant worker can be prevented from returning home, contrary to what regularly happens. . In light of the above-mentioned multilateral conventions and treaties, the practices prevailing in Qatar constitute a flagrant violation of the guarantees guaranteed by these instruments.
The responsibility of FIFA, its sponsors and other stakeholders
FIFA, a non-profit organization, is the highest international governing body of football in the world with 209 member countries. Article 3 of its statute provides that “FIFA is committed to respecting all internationally recognized human rights and will endeavor to promote the protection of these rights.”
In 1961, FIFA was the first international sports body to impose sanctions on South Africa during its apartheid regime, which resulted in South Africa’s global sporting and political isolation.
However, one could argue that FIFA has not upheld the same sanctity of the game given the numerous corruption allegations made against the body. In 2020, the United States Department of Justice claimed that FIFA officials had accepted bribes from Russia and Qatar in exchange for awarding the countries Cup hosting rights. world for 2018 and 2022 respectively. The US Department of Justice has indicted three senior FIFA officials for corruption. While the decision as to which nation is chosen as host is based on the vote of FIFA member countries, Qatar’s successful bid has raised many eyebrows around the world, mainly due to the fact that the country, in the time, did not have adequate infrastructure. to host the World Cup.
In July 2019, FIFA admitted in a press release to the human rights abuses committed against workers in Qatar and said it would investigate the matter. In this press release, FIFA alleged a subcontractor but did not imply any liability on the part of the host state. Activists have called on World Cup sponsors to take action against workers’ human rights abuses in Qatar.
Coca-Cola and Visa, two of the main sponsors of the World Cup, have each released their statements claiming to have raised their concerns with FIFA. Another issue that was raised was that of Qatar’s stance on homosexuality, as it is a criminal offense in the country and can be punished by death. In response to these concerns, the Qatar World Cup Committee announced that it would abide by FIFA’s rules on promoting tolerance and that rainbow flags would be permitted in stadiums across the country. world Cup. However, there have been no changes to the nation’s law and the country’s position on homosexuality remains largely the same.
A large number of stakeholders, including activists, human rights groups and footballers, have called for a boycott of the Qatar World Cup, with some countries including the Netherlands, Germany and Norway expressing their disagreement with the conditions of workers in Qatar by wearing human rights protective clothing. shirts to their games. However, ten months before the World Cup, a boycott seems very unlikely. If no action is taken against Qatar for the widespread disregard for human rights over the past decade, it could set a very dangerous precedent for the future of human rights and football.
The path to follow
The 2018 FIFA World Cup attracted over 3.5 billion viewers worldwide. Given the enormous popularity of the sport, FIFA must demonstrate a high level of responsibility to prioritize human rights and other core values over corporate gains. It is imperative that FIFA values and fundamental human rights are protected throughout the process of hosting the sporting event.
In order to avoid such human rights violations in the future, workers must be allowed to form unions in their own right so that they can participate in collective bargaining more effectively. The decision to award the World Cup should not be set in stone and should be made reversible. An independent body should be established in which certain seats should be reserved for human rights groups, for effective monitoring and enforcement of applicable international law as well as FIFA values. This body should be vested with the right to impose sanctions so that violation of the laws can be dealt with, with immediate effect.
With about ten months to go until the start of the world cup, it is widely expected that the world cup will go ahead as planned. However, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar should be remembered as a tainted lesson in history where corporate greed was privileged over the values of humanity and equality. This World Cup should be set in stone as a reminder of the failure of our collective consciousness where some lives were deemed more important than others. May this World Cup be remembered as a time when the beautiful game no longer seemed so beautiful.