Migrant worker abuse at Qatar World Cup sites show FIFA hasn’t completely reformed

When Gianni Infantino won the FIFA presidency and new reforms were passed last month, it brought a new hope for FIFA in that things were finally changing for the better. Infantino promised transparency, more revenue for soccer development for all nations and a greater representation of women within FIFA as well as an added investment in women’s soccer. It’s tough to judge how that has gone after one month but it seems like things have progressed (especially when compared to the previous president). That is, except for one issue that came to the forefront and has been an issue for years.

Independent organization Amnesty International published a report that showed even more abuse on migrant workers than was previously reported over the past five years. This time, at the site of Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, workers renovating the stadium have been subject to abuse and conditions tantamount to forced slave labor at the future World Cup stadium.

ESPN, among other media sources have reported on the situation in Qatar as upwards of thousands of workers are likely to die by the time the World Cup kicks off in Qatar in 2022. The Amnesty International report chronicles specific complaints by workers such as:

– Squalid and cramped accommodation.

– Paying large fees ($500 to $4,300) to recruiters in their home country to get a job in Qatar.

– Being deceived as to the pay or type of work on offer (all but six of the men had salaries lower than promised when they arrived, sometimes by half).

– Not being paid for several months, creating significant financial and emotional pressures on workers already burdened with heavy debts.

– Employers not giving or renewing residence permits, leaving them at risk of detention and deportation as “absconded” workers.

– Employers confiscating workers passports and not issuing exit permits so they could not leave the country.

– Being threatened for complaining about their conditions.

This goes into how FIFA has handled all of this. May as well not even ask what Sepp Blatter did because he didn’t do anything. In the five years of being FIFA President, he barely acknowledged that anything was wrong and kept reiterating that the World Cup would not be moved from Qatar. So, he was borderline useless at instituting change for human rights purposes.

This leads us to FIFA itself and Infantino. Infantino’s remarks have been scant so far but has said that the World Cup will not move from Russia or Qatar in 2018 and 2022. Infantino seems to be focusing more on the possible corruption in terms of releasing the Garcia Report than on work conditions but like I said, it has only been a month. If this situation is the same and Infantino hasn’t said anything about Qatari work conditions in let’s say six months, that would be a problem. According to Amnesty International, Qatar’s World Cup committee passed standards “requiring companies working on World Cup projects to deliver better standards for workers than are provided for under Qatari law.” That just hasn’t been followed and FIFA isn’t exactly keen on checking if Qatar is following through.

FIFA has been called on by many to set an example and force Qatar to treat workers better. If FIFA can demand, and receive, power to form a court and sentence people in South Africa in 2010 and be immune from tax and laws in Brazil in 2014, surely they can demand and get better conditions for the workers building the stadiums for their biggest and most profitable tournament. Some will say that if Qatar hadn’t won the World Cup, these workers would just be working on some other Qatari construction site with equally horrible conditions and thus FIFA is somehow off the hook of responsibility, but regardless, FIFA has power and a platform to get what they want. It’s just something that, as of now, isn’t on the minds of FIFA.

Does this mean FIFA should take the World Cup away from Qatar? Well for one, given the human rights conditions, they shouldn’t have gotten the World Cup anyway but it’s a bit too late for that. At this point, every day that goes by, the less likely the World Cup goes anywhere else other than remaining in Qatar. While six years may be a long time, it’s really a short period of time when it comes to planning and running a World Cup. We’re running out of countries to take over hosting duties even if Qatar doesn’t deserve to host so while it may not be ideal, we may be stuck.

This has been an issue known since Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup in 2010 but only really casually mentioned by FIFA and haven’t had really any strong statement concerning human rights issues in Qatar. If FIFA doesn’t want to take the World Cup away from Qatar, fine. But that doesn’t mean FIFA should sit idly by when thousands of people are expected to die in the name of their tournament. FIFA has thrown around their political weight many times before and they can do it again, this time for good. Until then, FIFA will still show glimpses of the old, corrupt regime that they are trying to get away from.

[Amnesty International]

About Phillip Bupp

News editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing, highlight consultant for Major League Soccer as well as a freelance writer for hire. Opinions are my own but feel free to agree with them. Follow me on Twitter @phillipbupp