Blame Qatar’s Illiberal Migrant Labor Laws for Its Mounting World Cup Death Toll
Qatar’s bid to boost its global standing by hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup is hardly unprecedented. Adolf Hitler hoped the 1936 Olympics would demonstrate the merits of his terrible ideals (Jesse Owens had other plans), while modern authoritarians in China and Russia use sports to bolster their nationalist credos. Even democratic leaders vie to host prestigious sporting events in the usually vain hope of boosting economic growth and raising tourism baselines long after the final whistle.
“Sportswashing” of this kind often serves to distract people from bad government behavior in other arenas. But in Qatar’s case, it was the government’s eagerness to host the World Cup that fostered deadly abuses.
Since FIFA awarded Qatar the hosting rights in December 2010, more than 6,500 migrant workers are known to have died in Qatar, according to a February 2021 Guardian report. That combined number came from the governments of Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The true total may be much higher, since large numbers of Kenyans and Filipinos also are working in Qatar.
Most of these workers died while building the vast infrastructure the country needed to host the roughly 1.5 million foreign fans who are expected to attend the World Cup in November and December. In 2015, when the migrant worker death toll was at least 1,200, the BBC reported that workers were building “subways, hotels, and even an entire city…not to mention an airport, numerous roads, a new sewerage system in central Doha and 20 skyscrapers.”
Qatar’s insufficient infrastructure raised major c
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