FIFA has yet to officially commit to a fund to compensate migrant workers for harms and deaths in Qatar, despite public backing from at least seven national Football Associations, four World Cup sponsors, former players, political leaders and, according to an opinion poll, a large majority of the public in 15 countries.
Almost 12 years ago, in December 2010, Qatar won the right to host the FIFA Men’s World Cup 2022. The Gulf peninsula state, with a population of just over a million, had only three stadiums and little other infrastructure and summer temperatures of up to 50 degrees Celsius.
There was concern about the feasibility of delivering the World Cup in Qatar’s desert temperatures for both fans and footballers, who are not allowed, by FIFA’s rules, to play in more than 32 degrees Celsius (89.6 degrees Fahrenheit) without mandatory cooling breaks. These concerns were assuaged by plans to build solar-powered air cooling stadiums, and necessary infrastructures like a metro, a new airport, and a substantial number of hotels.
However, little to no attention was given by the sporting and state authorities to the conditions for the millions of migrant workers who would be needed to build the massive infrastructure and stadiums for the World Cup in the extreme heat. In 2010, low-paid migrants from Asia and Africa already made up more than 90 percent of the country’s workforce, according to Human Rights Watch. Football’s governing body, FIFA, in its 2010 evaluation of Qatar’s bid acknowledged the “significant human resources” required for the considerable number of infrastructure projects, but otherwise did not require labour rights commitments from Qatar, despite human rights reports detailing abuses against migrant workers there.
12 years on, “With 30 days left until the tournament, there is a slim window for FIFA and Qatari authorities to correct course and commit to remedying past abuses that have stained the 2022 World Cup,” say Human Rights Watch. “Unless FIFA and Qatar act, then the real ‘legacy’ of this tournament will be how FIFA, Qatar, and anyone profiting from this World Cup left families of thousands of migrant workers indebted after they died and left many migrant workers who had their wages stolen uncompensated.”
Given the inadequacies of the current reforms due to their late introduction, narrow scope, or poor enforcement, in May of this year Human Rights Watch, alongside other migrant rights groups, labour unions, fan groups, abuse survivors, and human rights organisations initiated a campaign demanding that FIFA should establish a comprehensive program to provide remedy for all abuses related to the 2022 World Cup, including unexplained deaths, injuries, serial wage abuses, and exorbitant recruitment fees. To fund this, FIFA should reserve an amount at least equivalent to the US$440 million prize money provided to teams participating in the tournament. It is likely that in many cases, whether it is compensation for deaths or wage abuses, many beneficiaries will use part of the support to repay outstanding loans associated with recruitment fees. With a month before the 2022 World Cup tournament begins, however, FIFA and Qatari authorities have failed to publicly commit to a remedy program.
Last week, Australia became the first World Cup finals side to release a collective statement from players criticising host Qatar's human rights record. Some 16 players, including ex-Arsenal and Brighton goalkeeper Mat Ryan, appear in the video in which they draw issue with the country's treatment of migrant workers and the LGBTQ+ community. On 13th October, the Associated Press reported that FIFA Deputy Secretary General Alasdair Bell told a Council of Europe session that compensation is “certainly something that we’re interested in progressing.”
However, just weeks from the World Cup opening game, neither FIFA nor Qatar have formally committed to setting up a fund to remedy a range of harms including the deaths of migrant workers who delivered the World Cup.