Losing Games or Losing Lives: The World Cup in Qatar

By Lily Bourne

With the World Cup coming to a close, some fans have begun to question FIFA’s decision to host the insanely popular competition in this specific country. Although a simple answer can be found–Qatar won the vote for hosting rights back in 2010–many do not believe this explains the whole situation. Not only that, allegations began to surface regarding Qatar’s dangerous use of migrant workers in the preparations for the World Cup. Because of these upsetting claims, officials have investigated deeper into possible corruption surrounding this controversial country’s involvement with the World Cup. 

Rumors of FIFA officials’ corruption began years ago, after the country’s unexpected victory at the hosting rights selection. Beating out the United States, South Korea, Japan, and Australia for the elusive chance to host, Qatar immediately raised questions from opposing government officials, with allegations claiming representatives from Qatar had paid off FIFA officials in order to win the bid. A yearslong corruption case opened, resulting in convictions of many FIFA officials. According to the US Department of Justice’s indictment in 2020, three South American officials were bribed by the Qatari government to vote for Qatar. By 2020, more than half of the government officials involved in Qatar’s selection were accused of corruption. But why sway the vote in their favor? What does Qatar gain from hosting the World Cup? Well, the wave of tourism the World Cup brings boosts host countries’ economies tremendously. Qatar will make a predicted 66 billion rials–18 billion USD–from World Cup tourists. Such a large event will also generate foreign interest in Qatar, bringing in possible new investments. In addition, over 1.5 million jobs will be created within the construction, preparation, and hospitality sectors needed for such a large event. However, the insanely large scale of construction needed to prepare for the World Cup has also put Qatar in a compromising position, with allegations surfacing of terrible working conditions and unethical use of migrant workers.

` Being a small country with little infrastructure already in place to support the World Cup, Qatar’s migrant worker population–making up over 90% of the labor force–was tasked with the construction of seven full size football stadiums, as well as countless other projects including hotels, an expansion of the airport, and a metro system. A 2021 investigation reported 6,500 deaths of migrant workers during the time of construction from various causes. The Qatari government argued that only three of these deaths were World Cup related, and that 37 were non-work related, but many have still begun to criticize Qatar’s labor systems. Through the kafala system, migrant workers are “sponsored” to live and work in Qatar, but they are usually forced to exchange their passport, removing their right to change jobs or leave the country. These individuals reportedly worked under dangerous, harsh conditions in order to meet the relatively quick deadlines to prepare for the World Cup. 

Finally, some individuals have criticized the human rights laws found in Qatar. The most obvious being that homosexuality is illegal, as well as sex outside of marriage. The country also continues to uphold male guardianship laws, which outlaw women from making personal decisions without the approval of a male family member. Clearly these laws offended many, and activists have protested against them throughout the World Cup events; one protester ran onto the field wearing a shirt printed “save Ukraine” on the front and “respect Iranian women” on the back while waving a pride flag. These acts have also been criticized, with many arguing that when traveling to a foreign country, it is only right to respect that country’s laws and customs. Even if seemingly unjust or upsetting, people have argued that these laws must be followed, as we would expect a Qatari citizen to do to ours. 

Obviously, this particular World Cup has stirred up more than the usual country-on-country controversy. With the end of the tournament, it is always important to remember that these large-scale events often rely on the exploitation of lower class workers, and can be laced with corruption and bribery, even if seemingly innocent.