By Lauren Sweeny
The 2022 World Cup has kicked off and billions of fans are watching across the world. But what does this mean for human rights and the hands that helped build this glorious stadium for the world to bear witness to? Considering FIFA’s international platform and status, is it right to host in a country so widely recognised for not protecting people’s rights?
It is well-known that Qatar, a small nation of fewer than 3 million residents, has had a recent tumultuous history: characterised by reports on infringing upon people’s human rights, its role in the revolutionary action in the Arab Spring, and involvement in diplomatic issues within the Middle East. Although Qatar has benefited enormously from the oil boom of the 1950s, it has shown little political transformation and is today regarded as a hard-line autocracy.
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Since Qatar only became an independent nation from British rule in 1971(it was a British Protectorate before that), hosting the World Cup is an opportunity for Qatar to enforce a sense of legitimacy on the global stage, to impose a sense of dominance to its Gulf neighbours, and legitimise the nation in the eyes of the international public as FIFA estimates that 5 billion fans will watch the competition. This is reflected in the $300bn Qatar has spent on preparing for the event compared to the $12bn – $15bn spent by Russia in 2018 and $15bn spent by Brazil in 2014.
The treatment of migrant workers
The Qatari government has had a longstanding history of not protecting the rights of people travelling to the country in search of work. Employment has typically centred around the domestic, construction, and service industries. And without legislative protection, workers have been vulnerable to exploitation from recruiters that demand extortionate fees, face poor living conditions, and receive unreliable wages which employees then share with their family overseas.
Traditionally, migrant workers were organised through the Kafala sponsorship system. The system bound foreign workers to their employers, restricted employees’ ability to change jobs, and couldn’t leave the country without their employer’s permission.
However, change was introduced such as the Domestic Workers Law, a new non-discriminatory minimum wage, and ratifying two key international human rights treaties (although Qatar ignored the obligation of allowing workers to form and join trade unions).
Nevertheless, the construction of the World Cup exposed cracks within the system and ineffective enforcement of the reforms as these reforms eroded and previous abusive practices return. Migrant workers involved in developing the Khalifa Stadium into the Lusail Stadium for the World Cup (1.7 million migrant workers and 90% of the daily 3,200 workforce on the stadium are migrant workers) still paid expensive recruitment fees ranging from $500 to $4,300 to recruitment agents in their home country, were lied to about their salaries, and were victim to delayed salaries.
As of today, it has been recorded that 6,500 workers have died building the stadium, many have lost their freedom, and FIFA has failed to compensate the workers despite having pledged to do so for any person adversely affected by activities related to FIFA.
Is it not immoral to pour money and thrust attention onto Qatar when the sole construction of the 2022 World Cup has been due to the hard-labouring migrant workers that have received not more than a pittance of what they are owed? Is this not also shameful of FIFA as this clearly demonstrates it lacks care for the migrant workers that have worked to enable the competition to commence?
How women are treated
Women in Qatar face unequal treatment in society, politics, and everyday life. Although Qatar was one of the first Gulf countries to grant women the right to vote in 1999, women largely do not have equal rights compared to men.
As previously stated, Qatar’s economic transformation and wealth have meant that women have had a substantial role within the economy, and they also have considerable access to education (although there were not any statistics on female or male, engagement with university-level STEM, mathematical, or technology subjects). However, female political empowerment ranked no. 143 out of 146 and no. 137 out of 146 in the general Global Gender Gap Index 2022 rankings. Furthermore, rather than equal, women have restricted rights to their reproductive autonomy.
Additionally, women are situated under the Guardianship system. This system means that women remain tied to their male guardian which is usually a male member of their family, or their husband if they are married. Under the system, women must acquire their guardian’s permission to travel, on whether they can receive some of the forms of reproductive healthcare, their approval on their chosen profession, and who they marry.
Furthermore, under the Family Law, women are unequally represented which makes it harder to acquire a divorce. Additionally, divorced women are not classified as legal guardians of their children.
Women in Qatar continue to face discrimination and with FIFA’s World Cup being hosted there, does it not alienate its female football supporters? Does it not disengage and disrespect FIFA’s women’s football and the Women’s World Cup?
Treatment of the LGBTQ+ community
In Qatar, those who a part of the LGBTQ+ community continues to face oppression and discrimination by law and practice. There is tension between Shari’a Law which is practiced in tandem with civic law in Qatar and international standards on the treatment and protection of the rights of the LGBTIQ community. However, the question here is whether having the World Cup in Qatar disengages its supporters and players within the LGBTIQ community.
Today, in Qatar, LGBTQ+ people face legal discrimination, hate speech, and lack of legal protection. In 2020, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (also known as the ILGA) reported that LGBTQ+ people continue to face an “extremely hostile context” in the country.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated that there is evidence that security forces arrested people in public places solely based on their gender expression and unlawfully searched their phones. Regarding the treatment of the LGBIQ+ community, the HRW documented six cases of severe and repeated beatings and five cases of sexual harassment in police custody between 2019 and 2022.
Furthermore, transgender women are required to attend conversion therapy sessions at a government-funded “behavioural healthcare” centre as a contingency for their release. Additionally, in Qatar’s Penal Code, under article 285, extramarital relations are punishable, including same-sex relations, with up to seven years in prison. However, it was found that those interviewed by HRW were not charged, and authorities more commonly arrested and detained people following Law No 17 of 2002 on Protection of Community which allows for provisional detention without charge or trial for up to six months.
Although not being charged, this demonstrates that people can be arbitrarily detained without being able to access provisions that you would acquire during a trial to defend your case and gain freedom.
Why Qatar shouldn’t be hosting the World Cup right now
Qatar being granted to hold the FIFA World Cup condones the oppressive nature of the Qatari government, alienates its supporters and players, and proves that money is viewed as more important than people’s human rights.
The competition has been built upon the backs of mistreated migrant workers and in the face of unequal treatment of women and the LGBTQ+ community. Furthermore, the money being created will fuel the Qatari economy and crystallise the already oppressive tendencies and inequality within its government.
It is important to stress that efforts have been made by the Qatari government to solve its legal issues regarding human rights, and FIFA has had to enforce human rights legislations since announcing Qatar as 2022 World Cup host, although FIFA has failed to protect vulnerable people.
Ultimately, the FIFA World Cup should not be held in Qatar, or at least should have done so based on sure recognition that vulnerable people would be protected, to uphold that FIFA is for everyone, especially considering the organisation’s international status and platform. Hosting the World Cup in Qatar gives the country the opportunity to situate itself on the world stage, giving credence and credibility to its human rights misgivings.
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