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Playing for Profit: The Complex Tale of Inclusivity at Qatar 2022 World Cup

The World Cup is one of the biggest footballing spectacles in the world, and for the last century, we have seen the trophy hosted in all five continents. It was long anticipated that Qatar 2022 was going to be like no other World Cup we had ever seen, as it was the very first time that the competition would be hosted in the Middle East.

Straight from the off, the tournament broke away from the traditional summer schedule due to the extreme Qatari summer heat. All European leagues had to break away for this condensed schedule of one of the biggest sporting spectacles ever.

Qatar wanted to focus on creating a ground-breaking tournament in so many different ways, with key aspects of having a strong focus on innovation and sustainability. But, little did they know, a year on from the tournament, this ‘spectacle’ would be remembered for everything but.

People echoed allegations of corruption across the FIFA scene as they gave a small state in The Middle East the most prestigious sporting tournament on the planet. Problem after problem arisen as we grew closer to the competition.

From the beginning of 2010 when FIFA first announced they were handing the winning bid to Qatar, there was controversy arising in relation to the country’s alleged violations of human rights. This included the situation involving migrant workers and the many other issues such as the rights of the LGBTQ community, alcohol consumption and the scheduling of the World Cup itself.

In April 2011, it was confirmed that a government decree established the Supreme Committee for Deliver and Legacy were overseeing the construction of the required infrastructure such as the sports stadiums, public facilities, residential facilities, roads, tunnels and bridges. This would lead to the mass problems surrounding the migrant worker issue in Qatar.

The road to Qatar 2022 saw many different issues overshadow the prospects of the competition, but beneath the glimmer lied a complex tale of how inclusivity in the sport is often sacrificed for the money, where people’s beliefs and interests are often overshadowed by the pursuit of financial gains.

When asked what a migrant worker is, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), it is a person who migrates from one country to another (or who has migrated from one country to another) with a view of being employed other than on his own account.

In the build up to the World Cup, Qatar had undertaken a massive construction program to prepare. This included building seven new stadiums, a new airport as well as open up their public transportation network. Qatar’s population stood at 2.6 million in 2017, seven years after winning the bid. Of that 2.6 million, 313,000 were Qatari citizens, the other 2.3 million were migrant workers.

Thousands of migrant workers made their way to Qatar. Workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and other southern Asian countries made their travels, being told in their respective countries they were going to Qatar to help build stadiums for one of the most prestigious sporting events ever.

According to The Guardian, in 2021, more than 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had died since Qatar had won the bid for the World Cup.

These findings, alongside government sources, shows that a mean average of 12 migrant workers from those five south Asian countries have died each week since 2010.

A graphic from Statista showing the Deaths of South Asian migrants in Qatar from 2011 to late 2020 by nationality. Source: The Guardian

The Guardian graphic shows that 2,711 workers from India died in Qatar between 2011 to late 2020, whilst 1,641 Nepali workers died which was 50% of these deaths. The Qatari government have never disputed these figures, even stating that the number of deaths is proportional to the size of the migrant workforce.

But, this is just five nations deaths, the death toll in Qatar is significantly higher, as these

figures did not include deaths from a large number of countries who had also sent migrant workers to Qatar. We’re only touching the surface when it comes to migrant deaths over the 13 year period before the event itself actually took place, but we only know so much about the deaths as not all documents have been released from the government.

One of the main stories that came out of the migrant workers controversy in Qatar 2022 was the death of Vinod Kumar, who died in October 2020 in Qatar where worked on building the World Cup stadiums.

His brother, Ashwini Kumar, 24, spoke highly of his brother who unfortunately lost his life whilst working. His family had many different stories about his cause of death, from a workplace accident to suspected suicide.

In an interview, he never really got a definitive answer on his brothers passing.

“I got a call from his colleagues. They said my brother was missing and hung up the phone. Then they called me back and told me he was dead.” The family got various calls from co-workers and supervisors but the final cause of death was never confirmed.

Vinod Kumar was 28. He left behind a wife and a young child. This is just one of the stories from over 2,500 Indian migrant workers who lost their lives building stadiums for our entertainment purposes.

Namrata Raju, an economist and labour researcher with Equidem, stated in an interview “The world should remember this, while watching our favourite teams in these air-conditioned stadiums.” Before the World Cup, Equidem conducted an 18-month investigation into working conditions for migrant workers.

“We are forced to keep working.” Said a Nepalese worked employed on the Lusail Stadium, 12 miles north of Doha. “If they complain (To the FIFA group), there is a risk that the license of the company [Hamad Bin Khalid Contracting Company] may be revoked.”

They continued by saying “To avoid this, we were all sent to the camp at least an hour or two before the FIFA group’s arrival. Everyone was sent to camp. There was no worker on site…”

This was one of the near 1000 workers Raju and her colleagues interviewed.

“There were a lot of cases of overwork, wage theft and Nationality-based discrimination,” she says. “ Essentially, the conditions we found workers in were varying forms of forced labour or other forms of modern slavers. That’s what we found.”

In the lead up to the World Cup in Qatar, one glaring truth remains and that is that profit was undeniably prioritised over people, in particular when discussing the treatment of migrant workers. No matter was potential economic gain was possible from the tournament, the cost in terms of human rights violations, labour exploitation and poor working conditions has been staggeringly high.

Migrant workers were not the only sufferers when we speak about the World Cup in Qatar, another key group were not allowed to express the views they believe in at any point in the country.

The LGBTQ+ community faced many significant challenges and concerns in the build up and during the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar due to the country’s restrictive views on LGBTQ+ rights and issues.

The landscape of those said views created a complex and potentially unwelcoming environment for LGBTQ+ individuals involved in the tournament itself, whether that was participants, fans or even advocates.

The LGBTQ+ supporters felt that football is ‘leaving them behind’ when the bid was officially accepted for Qatar. Although before the tournament Qatari officials said that all fans would be welcome without discrimination, homosexuality is still illegal in the country.

One of the main stories before the World Cup started, was that captains of seven European teams were set to wear rainbow armbands to promote a message of LGBTQ+ inclusion. But after facing heat from FIFA, none of them followed through with this proposition.

Role models such as Harry Kane, Virgil Van Dijk and Kevin de Bruyne were set to wear the armbands but FIFA left them no choice to abandon it. LGBTQ+ supporters felt betrayed by their role models as they felt as if they wouldn’t support their decisions and fight the appeal of what the armband meant to so many people

A statement from the FA communications stated that “as national federations, we can not put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions including bookings.” They continue by adding that they were “very frustrated by the FIFA decision” but continued to follow their rules in the competition.

FIFA released their own statement after the European countries released theirs, stating that they were an “inclusive organisation that wants to put football for the benefit of society.”

“FIFA can confirm its No Discrimination campaign has been brought forward from the planned quarter-finals stage in order that all 32 captains will have the opportunity to wear the armband during the World Cup” and that Gianni Infantino, FIFA President has “reiterated his support of the LGBTQ+ community during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022”

These comments faced severe backlash from the community as they felt that once again eluding back to the original point that football was ‘leaving them behind’. Many felt that taking away the simplest thing such as an armband showed that Qatar were not willing to accept all different communities after numerous reports that they were accepting of everyone.

During the World Cup, many different fans reported to various different media outlets that they were confronted when wearing rainbow things in public. Some fans were refused entry for the clothes they wore despite the constant reassurance from Qatar that everyone was welcome to the tournament.

One journalist who stood by the LGBTQ+ community was Grant Wahl. Grant Wahl was an American sports journalist and football analyst who worked for CBS Sports and was also a correspondent for Fox Sports.

Grant Wahl was detained early in the tournament after wearing a rainbow shirt to USA’s opening game against Wales. He initially wore the shirt as a sign of solidarity with the community, which is still illegal in Qatar. Grant Wahl unfortunately died of an aneurysm while covering a later World Cup match between Argentina and the Netherlands.

Throughout the tournament, FIFA missed out on the best opportunity to promote inclusivity and their support for all different beliefs, but, instead, they were silent. Being a global governing body for football, they could of used their platform to promote inclusivity, diversity and respect for everyone’s human rights.

By not pushing for change in support of LGBTQ+ rights in Qatar, it left a impression that these issues were put secondary to the profit they were making from the tournament. Not only this, but the omission failed to address the concerns of LGBTQ+ individuals who attended the event.

Despite the challenges that the event has sparked, involving the LGBTQ+ community and its rights in Qatar and the broader Middle East region. Many people hope to highlight the problems of the World Cup and raise awareness about LGBTQ+ issues and push for progress if another Middle Eastern region host the World Cup.

Scenarios such as these pose a potential threat for many other middle eastern countries hosting the World Cup in the future, for example, Saudi Arabia are currently preparing a bid for the tournament in 2034. This stems to both the issues with migrant workers and the LGTBQ+ community.

Going forward, FIFA should introduce clear and concise policies that allow all different people and communities attend these tournaments whilst following the correct human rights for all. FIFA unfortunately failed to live up to it’s promises with the Qatar World Cup.

Throughout the tournament, FIFA stated its commitment to human rights and inclusivity, concerns will continue to increase about implementing them into future tournaments.

By demanding and enforcing improved labour conditions for migrant workers and advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, FIFA, the biggest footballing governing body in the world, could send a powerful message to host nations that key issues such as these two discuss cannot be sacrificed for the sake of our entertainment.

The pursuit of profit should never be put over people, no matter what they believe in, and by addressing these issues before we have yet another detrimental tournament in the future, we need to remind ourselves of what really matters in this world, and that’s people.

No person should be made to feel ashamed for what they believe in, historically, the LGBTQ+ have fought tirelessly for the chance to be heard, and have finally got the respect they well and truly deserved from the beginning.

FIFA and the global following it has can ensure that major sporting events like this one can leave positive and lasting legacies of all the key aspects of what makes the sporting event what it is. The reason we watch the sports we watch, is because of our love for the game. That love should not be hindered over the issues that inclusivity and social progress face.

The Qatar 2022 World Cup should serve as a stark reminder of the need for global sports organisations, governments and corporations to prioritise the safety of all individuals involved, whether that be migrant workers or tourists attending the tournament.

It is a call to action, demanding accountability and reassessing some of the integral values that come with hosting such a monumental event. The blatant disregard for both migrant workers and the LGBTQ+ community is a dark stain on world sports, and one that should not be forgotten any time soon.

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