The 2022 World Cup is being hosted in Qatar, a small Arab country ruled by a centuries old monarchy and located in the Middle East. The World Cup occurs every four years and is the biggest and most watched event to exist, with approximately 3.5 billion people watching the 2018 World Cup. This year, 32 national soccer teams will compete to win the world championship for the first time in the Arab world. The International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) announced Qatar was awarded hosting the 2022 World Cup in 2010. For the last 12 years, the decision has been a source of controversy due to alleged corruption, human rights abuses and the decision to host the event in such a hot climate.
When it was awarded the 2022 World Cup location over ten years ago, Qatar lacked the hotels and stadiums needed to host the international event. At just 4,471 square miles with 2.8 million residents, it is the smallest country ever to ever host the World Cup, both by population and land mass. The country built major infrastructure in preparation for the tournament, including seven new stadiums and 100 hotels to accommodate the anticipated arrival of over a million fans. Qatar also accelerated the construction of an entire new city, Lusail, as well as a subway system to support it. This year’s World Cup is the most expensive one ever, at an estimated cost of $300 billion. The work of building the proper infrastructure fell on South Asian and African migrants that make up most of the country’s labor force. These migrant workers far outnumber Qatar’s citizen’s by making up 90% of the population. While an approximate 10% of people hold Qatari citizenship, migrant workers live in stark disparity against them and working conditions described as exploitative have raised human rights concerns.
An analysis by The Guardian found that at least 6,500 migrant laborers have died in Qatar since the country was selected to host the World Cup. Qatar and FIFA dispute this number, with Qatar stating that only three people have died due to work-related construction for the World Cup.
Anish Adhikari is a migrant worker who came from Nepal to Qatar due to the higher salary he could earn working in Qatar. He described his working conditions to PBS News Hour and independent film makers Fat Rat Films: “It got up to 125 degrees Fahrenheit. We didn’t get the water we needed. The water we got was almost 90 percent ice. We asked why they did that and told them it was impossible to drink water like that. They said they froze it because, if they provided normal water, the workers would drink more.”
Allegations of forced labor for migrant workers are common due to the terms in which the workers have been kept in Qatar. Many people arrive in the country and have their passports taken and not returned until their labor contracts are finalized. Housing conditions for the workers report people living in squalor, crammed in tiny living spaces.
Reporter Pete Pattison said in an interview with NPR, “Some of them include workers who collapsed on the stadium construction site and died after they were taken off it. Others died in road traffic accidents on their way to work in a company bus. And many others died suddenly in an unexplained way in their labor camps.”
For the first time in the tournament’s history, it is being played in November and December to accommodate for the hot climate in Qatar. In the summer months, the climate in Qatar frequently exceeds 100 degrees Fahrenheit. While the World Cup is usually held during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer months, the time of the tournament has changed due to the inability to play soccer in Qatar’s desert heat. Critics have argued that this is an example of corruption at FIFA’s end, with the organization making an unprecedented time change for the host.
The decision to choose a desert country that has never qualified for the World Cup raised suspicion among soccer fans that Qatar had received a legitimate bid, especially as it beat out global powers known for their sports like the U.S. The U.S. alleged in 2020 that officials from Qatar, as well as Russia, bribed FIFA for successful bids to host the tournament. Nine FIFA executives were indicted in 2015 for wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering in connection with a scheme to sell the tournament’s broadcasting rights. This, combined with numerous additional corruption allegations for FIFA over the years have decreased fan’s faith in the honesty of Qatar’s bid.
Qatar also has a history of human rights abuses that have led some to accuse the Arab nation of “sportswashing” — a term used to describe efforts by a repressive government to distract from their international reputation with esteemed sports events. LGBTQ Qataris report widespread harassment and intimidation from police, although World Cup organizers have indicated LGBTQ fans will be welcomed at the games. The country has been criticized by human rights groups for legislation that impedes on the rights of women and LGBTQ people, such as provisions that criminalize same sex sexual activity.
While some argue Qatar’s desire to host the World Cup is on account of sportswashing, the country stands to gain international recognition and influence as a small country for hosting the event. But despite the many benefits Qatar seeks to gain by hosting the World Cup, it also faces increased international scrutiny as people around the world discover their history of human rights abuses. Teams playing in the tournament are now forced to grapple with the reality that the stadiums they are playing in have been built on the backs of migrant workers in cruel conditions.
Portugal player Bruno Fernandes from Manchester United said to Sky Sports, “We know the surroundings of the World Cup, what has been in the past few weeks, past few months, about the people that have died on the construction of the stadiums. We are not happy about that at all.”