Bryan Altman, CBS Local Sports
The only thing rising faster than the death toll among migrant workers building FIFA’s (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) stadiums for the 2022 World Cup taking place in Qatar is the worldwide outrage at international soccer’s governing body – most notably because of its handling of human rights issues relating to Qatar’s preparations for what is arguably the biggest sports event in the world.
Reports have been abundant since the 2022 World Cup was awarded to Qatar in December of 2010 detailing the deplorable working and living conditions that Nepalese and other migrant workers have faced in Qatar while working.
The sports website Deadspin detailed the findings of a report released by the International Trade Union Confederation in March of 2014 that excruciatingly detailed first-hand accounts of the working conditions that migrants from Nepal, India and elsewhere encounter when they arrive in the small, oil-rich country on the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula.
Experiences ranged anywhere from incoming workers having their passports taken away upon arrival so they cannot leave, their resignation letters ripped up before their eyes, along with the indignity of working for roughly $300 a month in conditions that the ITUC claims will cause the deaths of “conservatively 4,000 migrant workers” before the World Cup in 2022.
By contrast, United Kingdom newspaper The Guardian reported that only two workers died during the construction process before the World Cup in South Africa in 2010 and eight workers died before the World Cup in Brazil in 2014.
For Nepalese workers however, worrying about their own lives and the deadly safety conditions they deal with daily is now being complemented by a new issue that The Guardian brought to light this week: Nepalese workers have been forbidden from returning home to their earthquake ravaged country to attend the funerals of deceased family members.
Tek Bahadur Gurung, Nepal’s labor minister told The Guardian that the Nepalese government requested that all Nepalese employees working in Qatar received “special leave and pay for their airfare home” in the aftermath of the April 25 earthquake that took more than 8,000 lives.
“Workers in some sectors of the economy have been given (permission), those on World Cup construction sites are not being allowed to leave because of the pressure to complete projects on time,” Bahadur Gurung told The Guardian. We have even offered to pay the air fare home for all our people building stadiums and involved in other projects, where companies are not willing, but not even this has made a difference. Our embassy in Doha has been inundated with requests for help from World Cup workers who are not allowed to leave.”
In addition to the statement from the Nepalese government, The Guardian also reported on an Amnesty International report that stated that Qatar has still not done much, if anything, to improve the lives of migrant workers.
Mustafa Qadri, a gulf migrant rights researcher for Amnesty Internaional, told The Guardian that as Qatar’s 2022 World Cup inches closer, “More than a year and a half after Amnesty highlighted rampant exploitation of migrants, little has been done to address the root causes of this abuse.” Qadri also added that “time for changes to be implemented is running out,”
The complaint from the Nepalese government is just the latest black eye for soccer’s international governing body, who in recent weeks have also had to answer questions regarding an upcoming vote, initiated by member country Palestine, to remove Israel from FIFA.
Additionally, FIFA’s current president, Sepp Blatter, who has held that title since 1998, is running for his fifth term as head of soccer’s governing body amidst cries for his resignation. Blatter’s tenure over FIFA has been marred at time by controversy and the public perception that FIFA has become a corrupt organization that favors wealthy corporations.
When Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup, reports surfaced that bribery may have played a role – a charge that FIFA had investigated and cleared the 2022 host country of any wrongdoing late last year.