Despite numerous calls for action, the 2022 World Cup is ending with no commitment from FIFA or Qatari authorities to remedy abuses, including unexplained deaths that migrant workers, many of them from Nepal and South Asia suffered to make the sport’s biggest tournament possible over the past 12 years.
The final match will be played in the glittering Lusail stadium on 18 December, which is Qatar’s National Day, but also International Migrants Day.
“The final game of this World Cup tournament coincides with International Migrants Day and Qatar’s National Day, a fitting coincidence given migrant workers’ indispensable role in making the tournament and the development of Qatar possible,” said Rothna Begum, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.
She added: “But unless FIFA and Qatar provide a remedy for the widescale unaddressed abuses suffered by migrants who prepared and delivered the tournament, they will have chosen to leave behind a legacy of exploitation and shame.”
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On 19 May, Human Rights Watch with a global coalition of human rights organisations, migrant rights groups, labour unions and fan groups called on FIFA and Qatar government to provide a remedy for serious abuses that migrant workers have suffered since the 2022 World Cup was awarded to Qatar in 2010.
Many global entities, political leaders and actors have since then expressed their support to the cause but to no avail.
To be sure, in the last few years, Qatari authorities made notable reforms to advance worker protections, including to the kafala (sponsorship) system so that workers can now change jobs and leave the country without their employers’ permission. Important initiatives by the Supreme Committee, the body responsible for planning and delivering World Cup infrastructure, included the Universal Reimbursement Scheme to reimburse workers who pay illegal recruitment fees.
But these reforms came too late, were too narrow in scope, or were weakly enforced, which meant many workers who helped build the World Cup infrastructure fell through the cracks, says Human Rights Watch.
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Since June FIFA had indicated in a series of communications that they planned to compensate workers and support an independent migrant workers’ center but failed to do so on the eve of the tournament.
Instead, Qatari authorities and FIFA made grossly inaccurate and misleading claims that Qatar’s current systems including the Workers’ Support and Insurance Fund are adequate to address widespread current and historic abuses faced by workers.
But the fund in question became operational only in 2020 to reimburse workers if their employers failed to pay them their owed wages after they obtained labour court rulings in their favour.
As such, the fund is limited to wage theft, access to it is rife with obstacles including taking years to obtain labour court rulings before workers can apply to the fund, the payments are capped, and it is nearly impossible for workers to apply after they return to their home countries.
It also does not address injuries or deaths on the job or even wage theft in the decade before it was established.
A remedy fund could be built using the existing compensation schemes to reach more workers, including those still seeking to recover stolen wages, adds Human Rights Watch.
Read also: Labour rights legacy of the FIFA World Cup, Meenakshi Ganguly and Mohna Ansari
It would also need to reach the families of workers who died in circumstances Qatari authorities never investigated, allowing families to receive compensation they need to feed themselves and send their children to school.
“FIFA brags that this is the most successful World Cup ever, but there is no successful tournament when so many migrant workers have died utterly preventable deaths – including two workers who died during the World Cup itself,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch.
She added: “The only way to ensure a better legacy would be to finally come through with a genuine remedy for the abuses the migrant workers who built and delivered this World Cup have suffered.”
FIFA and Qatari authorities haven’t been able to deflect global scrutiny with this World Cup essentially being built on injustice and delivered at the cost of abuse and exploitation of low-paid migrant workers.
Many victims and their families have come forward with their stories of losing loved ones, repaying loans and the apathy they faced when trying to report abuses or claim a remedy. Elsewhere journalists have carried out investigations while current and former football players declared their support, on and off the pitch.
Read also: Rights referees blow whistle on World Cup fouls, Kunda Dixit
“FIFA was very strict during the World Cup and did not allow the players and football associations to raise their voices. FIFA was bent on using the World Cup for its own benefit, and pleasing the hosting nation,” said former German footballer turned human rights activist Thomas Hitzlsperger who recently visited Qatar and Nepal to film his documentary Katar, warum nur? (Qatar, why?)
But even now, FIFA has an opportunity to avoid a reputational disaster and make some amends, HRW says.
The football governing body is set to announce a FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Legacy Fund, a fraction of its expected US$7.5 billion revenue from this tournament, to use it on education projects and establish a global Labour Excellence Center.
This can be directed to remedy the abuses faced by migrant workers who made the very tournament possible.
“FIFA had no regard for the welfare of migrant workers when they awarded Qatar hosting rights and are set to make billions from the tough labour of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from South Asia and Africa who toiled in the extreme heat to make the tournament possible,” Begum said.
“Pay Qatar’s World Cup workers”
Cup of the world, Nepali Times