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Sport, architecture and worker rights: The dark side of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 constructions

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Construction workers at Lusail Stadium, December 2019 © Photo by Ali Haider

Two days left until the FIFA World Cup 2022 start in Qatar. Many people were excited about the tournament, but on the other hand, in the latest report of the human rights and labor rights charity, Equidem stated that migrant workers were systematically subjected to racism, physical and psychological violence, and human rights abuses.

Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch said, “The World Cup draws immense international media and fan attention, but the tournament’s dark side is overshadowing football.” According to Amnesty International, data from Qatar’s Planning and Statistics Authority, approximately 15,000 non-Qataris have died in Qatar in the last ten years. The data is not directly presenting workers’ death in World Cup construction sites but currently, nearly all of Qatar’s infrastructure development has a connection to the World Cup.

Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium’s construction progress © Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy

According to a Nepalese worker employed at Lusail stadium construction, “We are forced to keep working. Once when a FIFA group came to Lusail Stadium, workers were on site. Workers have seen deaths and other accidents. If they complain, there is a risk that the license of the company may be revoked. To avoid this, we were all sent to the camp at least an hour or two before the FIFA group’s arrival.”

Equidem spoke to a total of 982 workers employed at these sites and in the “If we complain, we are fired” report stated, 28 out of 60 workers reported nationality-based discrimination (47%), 12 out of 60 workers experienced retaliation for rights violations (20%), 60 out of 60 workers described paying illegal recruitment fees (100%), and 9 out of 60 workers reported unpaid wages and benefits (15%).

“I paid a $1,000 commission to secure the job. I have still not paid up in full the loan… No one has asked or offered to reimburse this cost, everyone is just keeping quiet.” A kitchen worker from Kenya stated in the report. The report claimed that migrant workers were not paid their salaries, illegal recruitment took place and workers were racist because of their ethnic identity.

Lusail Stadium’s construction progress © Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy
FIFA World Cup 2022
Al Janoub Stadium’s construction progress © Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy

Workers at FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 stadiums described being forced to work long hours in constant fear of losing their jobs. According to a Kenyan worker at the Lusail Stadium site, “I worked fourteen hours a day with a thirty-minute lunch break. We ate while standing. I had no time to catch my breath or rest during these long shifts. There was no overtime pay. Given the volume of work, they should have paid me much better.”

Migrants workers from Africa and Asia are given the hardest jobs and the least pay, reported by Equidem. A Nepalese worker at Lusail Stadium reported, “In the summer season, it is very hot. The company provided rest shelters in some of the locations, but it is not enough space for all of us to take rest… Qatar nationals, Egyptian and Pakistani workers are provided air-conditioned rest areas by the company.” Also according to one worker, sometimes supervisors hit workers because the worker did not complete their work on time.

An Indian construction worker also described this abuse and why they haven’t protested this situation, “If we protest, they threaten to cut our salaries or they fire us. Supervisors shout abuse, and sometimes even beat workers. This is why no one protests.” In addition to these situations, supervısıors did not allow when they want to change jobs. They are threatened with deportation from the country if their demands are not acceptable.

FIFA World Cup 2022
Lusail Stadium’s construction progress © Photo by Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera
FIFA World Cup 2022
Education City Stadium’s construction progress © Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy

Qatar and FIFA have spent $229 billion on World Cup preparations. The tournament is expected to generate profits of up to $17 billion for all partners. However, the migrant workers who constructed the stadiums and made the tournament possible have lost wages, and in some cases, their lives.

According to Human Right Watch, “FIFA is responsible not just for stadium workers, a minority of the total migrant workforce whose employers are held to higher standards for workplace conditions, but also for workers to build and service projects for tournament preparation and delivery, including transport and accommodations, security, cleaning, and landscaping.”

Al Bayt Stadium’s construction progress © Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy
Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium’s construction progress © Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy

The International Labour Organization (ILO) reports, Qatar has implemented reforms last four years that have improved the “working and living conditions for hundreds of thousands of workers,” but “more needs to be done to fully apply and enforce the labor reforms.” Also, in the same report, ILO mentioned that the Qatari government had refunded pay abuse victims US$320 million through the Workers’ Support and Insurance Fund. However, the fund will not be operational until 2020.

Rothna Begum at Human Rights Watch stated, “Migrant workers were indispensable to making the World Cup 2022 possible, but it has come at great cost for many migrant workers and their families who not only made personal sacrifices, but also faced widespread wage theft, injuries, and thousands of unexplained deaths.”

Khalifa International Stadium (2015) © Photo by Warren Little

The Middle East is one of the world’s fastest-warming regions. Many other workers’ journeys were cut short by unpaid salaries for physically demanding work in extreme heat. According to TIME, high temperatures in Qatar are thought to be one of the major factors in the deaths of many workers. So, deaths occurring on the site, including workers who lost their lives on stadium construction, are defined as natural death, not work-related death. According to the data, 69% of deaths among Indian, Nepali, and Bangladeshi workers are classified as “natural deaths”.

Al Bayt Stadium’s construction progress © Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy

In 2014, Zaha Hadid responded to The Guardian’s question about worker conditions in Qatar, “construction worker deaths is a serious problem but is a matter for the Qatari government”. She said, “I cannot do anything about it because I have no power to do anything about it. I think it’s a problem anywhere in the world. But, as I said, I think there are discrepancies all over the world.” and added, “Yes, but I’m more concerned about the deaths in Iraq as well, so what do I do about that? I’m not taking it lightly but I think it’s for the government to look take care of. It’s not my duty as an architect to look at it.”

In addition, a few days ago, Foster + Partners, the concept designer of Lusail Stadium, attempted to distance itself from the controversy surrounding the project’s treatment of workers. Fosters said it was “only involved in the initial design concept development phase, so any inquiries regarding the welfare of workers engaged in the venue’s building process are best addressed by the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, who have managed the workers.”

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