Football World Cup in Qatar: Uphold human rights, foster remedies to the victims

Karim Jaafar / AFP

18 October 2022 - The International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) World Cup, one of the world’s biggest sports events, should be used to advance human rights, not pull them back. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) calls on FIFA and the 2022 World Cup’s 14 sponsors to engage effectively in human rights and foster real remedies to the victims of the event.

On 20 November 2022, the first blast of the whistle will kick off the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. In order to host an event of such magnitude, the country has undertaken large-scale construction projects resulting in new stadiums, hotels, roads, airports, and more. However, behind the global euphoria of one of the world’s most watched sporting events lies thousands of deaths, recurring violations of fundamental rights and a disastrous ecological balance sheet. That Qatar could be selected as a host country for such an event is particularly abhorrent, considering the hereditary dictatorial rule of the emir as well as the fate of migrant workers, women, LGBTQIA+ people, and political dissidents, whose most basic rights are systematically violated.

FIDH regrets that this federating occasion has once again taken place in a country where human rights are systematically violated. FIDH urges Qatar to put an end to these human rights violations. It calls on both FIFA and the sponsors of the World Cup to shed light on these systematic violations and to take the responsibility of ensuring the remedy of the victims of the event.

Qatar, a competitor in a World Cup of human rights violations

Already in 2013, in a letter addressed to the former FIFA President, Joseph Sepp Blatter, in 2013, FIDH was condemning the death of more than 350 workers involved in the construction of the World Cup infrastructures since the end of 2010. Nearly ten years later, it is estimated that more than 6 500 people have died because of working conditions on construction sites Despite this vertiginous number, Qatar still refuses to investigate the causes of the high death rate among these workers, most of whom were young and healthy. 95% of the workforce is constituted by migrant workers, mainly from East and South Asia, who are put in extremely precarious working conditions.

High recruitment fees, passport confiscation, promises of wages disappointed upon arrival, unsustainable work pace, and deleterious accommodation with overcrowded work camps having neither water nor electricity, have been documented Because Qatari law prohibits workers from forming trade unions, they are not protected when denouncing or protesting against their working conditions and run the risk of being arrested or evicted. Again in August 2022 a number of the 60 workers who rallied to demand the payment of their wages were deported or detained by the government of Qatar. While the country has collaborated with international labour rights organisations such as the International Labour Organization (ILO), notably in reforming the harshest sides of the sponsorship system imposed on foreign workers, the changes are yet to be fully effective (see ILO’s annual report on forced labour).

“The World Cup is supposed to be a moment of joy, team spirit, and gathering for all the people around the world, we cannot accept it could be built on pain, poverty, and abuses”

Alice Mogwe, FIDH President

Having Qatar hosting the World Cup cannot be defended as it provides the country with an international aura despite persistent severe human rights violations. On top of the disregard for workers’ human rights, women in Qatar are still subjected to many forms of discrimination, particularly with regard to the guardianship system they undergo. They are required to have the permission of their male guardians to marry, study abroad on state scholarships, work in various public jobs, travel abroad and receive reproductive health care. Female domestic workers are particularly affected by poor working conditions. LGBTQIA+ individuals face repression. Homosexuality is criminalized, the Penal Code providing a sentence of up to seven years of imprisonment for same-sex relations. Similarly, human rights defenders are subject to repressive measures as they risk travel-bans, arbitrary detention, or even enforced disappearance, becoming prisoners of conscience.

Moreover, the environmental impact of holding such an event in the middle of a desertic region is clearly underestimated by the organisers. Giant air-conditioning systems are installed for each of the stadiums built. While the organisers committed to staging the first "carbon neutral" World Cup, meaning that all emissions would be contained and offset, the projected emissions have been reported as having been clearly underestimated compared to the footprint generated by the highly energy-consuming infrastructures. It seems that the Olympic Council of Asia is following the lead of FIFA as it unanimously approved Saudi Arabia’s bid to host the upcoming Asian Winter Games that will also take place in a desert.

FIFA’s partners and sponsors must act in accordance with their commitments

FIFA’s partners and sponsors have a clear responsibility in using their leverages to improve the situation and to push FIFA and Qatar’s government to provide a remedy to the workers and families of victims who suffered from the violations perpetrated in the preparation of the event. For instance, the French Football Federation (FFF) suggested the creation of a compensation fund for all the victims of work-related incidents (yesterday October 3rd, Labour Minister Ali bin Samikh Al Marri publicly refused such fund). According to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), companies need to undertake a detailed due diligence process through which they identify the human rights impacts tied to their value chain and adopt measures to end those impacts. This requirement will soon become a legal requirement for European companies and part of the companies operating in Europe, with legal consequences for non-compliance.

FIFA, while claiming to be aligned with the UNGPs since 2016, following the allegations of widespread corruption in late 2015, has a clear responsibility in respecting human rights in its operations and should have prevented human rights abuses in the preparation of the event. In the present context where it failed to do so, it is clear now that FIFA should contribute to the reparation of human rights violations that occurred. Not only FIFA has to respect internationally recognized human rights but it has also to comply with their own policies.

In addition, FIFA, its sponsor, and partners should all use their leverages to push Qatar to pursue the legislative reforms needed to protect migrant workers, women, and LGBTQIA+, as the efforts made are until now inadequate.

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