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Between Football Fever and Human Rights Violations


The Corona pandemic has been restricted daily life for over a year, and there are only a few free time activities that distract us from it. Football, the sport of kicking balls into goals, not American football, is an activity that can at least be watched on TV for weekly entertainment, and the Football World Cup 2022 in Qatar poses a big highlight for four billion global football fans.

However, it has most likely been forgotten or is not known by the fans that the World Cup in Qatar is, unfortunately, an example of serious human rights violations. I am a huge football fan and a passionate player myself; therefore, I will try to connect my favourite hobby and our studies SSMS under this important issue by showing two different views of the migrant workers’ situation in Qatar.

Background Information

Let’s start with some background information. Qatar is a small nation in the Middle East with an area of only 11,000 square kilometres (that equals approximately a quarter of the area The Netherlands covers). In 2010, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) surprisingly nominated Qatar as the host country of the World Cup in 2022. This nomination was questioned by many due to the circumstances that Qatar is a very small country with no notable football history, it is in the desert and high temperature are not beneficial for players and fans, there exist only three football stadiums which must be renovated, and nine further stadiums must be built from scratch.

Qatar ambitiously announced to be able to master the construction of nine new, modern stadiums until 2022, and this is the point where a questionable situation drifted into human rights violations. Qatar has only three million domestic citizens, and therefore, a quite limited workforce; most workers are migrants attracted from Nepal, India, Bangladesh, China, or Sri Lanka. Usually, these workers are protected by the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights Articles 23 and 24 (1948) which guarantee inter alia “just and favourable conditions of work”, “equal pay for equal work”, and “the right to rest and leisure”. However, according to Amnesty International, these rights are extensively violated on Qatari construction sites.

SSMS and Health and Safety at the Workplace

On the Football World Cup’s official website, the Qatari government presents colourful pictures of happily smiling workers, and it is always stressed that workers are protected through the country’s own Worker’s Welfare Standards. This seems especially striking to me because I learned in SSMS in the Quality Management course, thanks to Mr Christian, that a global standard for occupational health and safety already exists, namely ISO 45001. Developing an own national standard instead of using already existing ones involves a lot of effort. International ISO standards are widely accepted, recognised and comparable, and organizations using them can easily be audited and evaluated based on the standards. Through developing individual standards adapted to their own workplace situations, Qatar must conduct audits on its own because they do not have international comparison possibilities. I will leave it to the reader what to think about this approach, and whether Qatar wants to be extra thorough with ensuring the workers’ rights and well-being or whether they want to circumvent international controls.

Qatar vs. Amnesty International

I would like to compare the picture that the Qatari government draws, with another picture shown by Amnesty International, an organisation fighting human rights violations. The following parts are solely citations from the Qatari and the Amnesty International websites.

Accommodations: Clean, comfortable, and well equipped vs. Crowded, dirty, and unsafe

Qatar: “Workers [have] access to recreational facilities at their accommodation sites. We provide sporting amenities, including football pitches, where they can play sport with their neighbours, helping them to stay healthy and bond with other workers” (see Figure 1 & 2).

Figure 1

Figure 2

Amnesty International: “Workers often live in cramped, dirty and unsafe accommodation. We saw men sleeping on bunk beds in rooms for eight or more people. But Qatari law and the Workers’ Welfare Standards allow for a maximum of four beds per room and prohibit bed sharing and the use of bunk beds” (see Figures 3 & 4).

Figure 3

Figure 4

Workers’ Voices: Heard as crucial part of the project vs. Repressed, threatened, and intimidated

Qatar: “Communication with our workers is crucial. Our team takes time to get to know them, discussing their cares, worries or grievances. […] we always make sure our workers know we are available for them. We know what they want because we ask them” (see Figures 5 & 6).

Figure 5

Figure 6

Amnesty International: Workers are attracted with false promises regarding the high of their salary, and when complaining that they were promised higher salaries, they are simply ignored.

My manager just said, ‘I don’t care what they said in Bangladesh. We are giving you this salary and nothing more. If you keep talking like this, I’ll tell them to cancel your visa and send you back’.” - Mushfiqur, gardener in Aspire Zone

When workers refuse to work, try to complain, or seek help because of the conditions, they are threatened with having their pay deducted or being deported without receiving the pay they are owed.

Figure 7

Workers’ social lives: Integrating them in Qatari community and enriching their free time vs. Keeping them on constructions sides without papers or passport

Qatar: “We conduct social outreach activities that include training opportunities, social occasions and events that involve workers in our plans […]. Many of our workers benefit from participating in Generation Amazing, our flagship corporate social responsibility programme. The football for development training provided by Generation Amazing aims to boost workers' self-esteem and enhance their sense of belonging in Qatar” (see Figure 8 & 9).

Figure 8

Figure 9

Amnesty International: Employers do not provide or renew residence permits (ID cards for the right to live and work in Qatar), even though they are required to by Qatari law. Without them, workers can be imprisoned or fined, and because of this some workers fear venturing beyond the worksite or their workers’ camp.

Most workers’ passports are confiscated by employers, and to leave Qatar an “exit permit” approved by their company is required. Employers often ignore these requests or threaten workers to keep them in the country against their will.

I remember my first day in Qatar. Almost the very first thing [an agent] working for my company did was take my passport. I haven’t seen it since.” - Shamim, gardener at Aspire Zone

It is left to the reader which version is believed and to what extent. The links to both websites are shared below. Worker safety is of crucial importance on large construction sites and is usually inspected by an independent international auditing organisation. In this case, FIFA is in charge of inspecting the accusations of extensive human rights violations on Qatari stadium construction sites and worker accommodations, and it is to be seen how these will be addressed.

To conclude, I want to demonstrate in which areas our study program and the hobby of many sports fans intersect. I hope that I could draw your attention to the behind-the-scenes processes of one of the biggest sports events in the world, and to the importance of (neglected) safety and security management in practice.

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