Qatar’s Human Rights Abuses Show the Underbelly of Sports Diplomacy

Qatar 2022

Qatar is abusing the foreign workers building the 2022 soccer World Cup infrastructure. From the Guardian a few months ago:

Dozens of Nepalese migrant labourers have died in Qatar in recent weeks and thousands more are enduring appalling labour abuses, a Guardian investigation has found, raising serious questions about Qatar’s preparations to host the 2022 World Cup.

This summer, Nepalese workers died at a rate of almost one a day in Qatar, many of them young men who had sudden heart attacks. The investigation found evidence to suggest that thousands of Nepalese, who make up the single largest group of labourers in Qatar, face exploitation and abuses that amount to modern-day slavery, as defined by the International Labour Organisation, during a building binge paving the way for 2022.

NPR updates the story by examining reports of FIFA President Sepp Blatter visited the emir of Qatar in alarm over the allegations. Qatar itself has gone into PR mode:

In response, a Qatari Foreign Ministry official told the Qatar News Agency that the country was “doing its utmost” to protect human rights. Qatar’s government has hired the global law firm DLA Piper to look at issues surrounding the construction sector, the news agency said.

President Blatter said in response:

“The workers’ rights will be the responsibility for Qatar and the companies — many of them European companies — who work there. It is not FIFA’s primary responsibility but we cannot turn a blind eye. Yet it is not a direct intervention from FIFA that can change things.”

It was definitely a disturbing read — a country hosting a cultural event at the cost of immigrant lives and the head of the event acknowledging the problem, showing sympathy, and stating that they cannot and will not do anything.  I had felt this frustration previously with Sochi 2014. How can a country with a marked up report in terms of human rights abuses host a major sporting event? Obviously, few countries who host the Olympics are spotless. Take Munich 1936.

But when a country takes on the responsibilty for a major global cultural event, they are also leaving themselves open for serious scrutiny, especially countries like Russia and Qatar, who are either re-inventing or even just perfecting their global image. Qatar has been hoping to host the World Cup for a while because they know that hosting a cultural event for a worldwide audience is a grand feat that would be lauded on the country’s part, hailed as a watershed moment in the Middle East, and bring a new international image to the country of Qatar. The fact that they are willing to bring over foreign workers to die for this feat puts their national image on an international stage into sharp relief as an intensely bloody one.

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