Migrant Worker Deaths Overshadow Upcoming Qatar-Hosted FIFA World Cup

The Norway Football Federation has ruled out boycotting the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, despite pressure from many human rights advocates over the treatment of migrant workers constructing the stadium for the tournament.

The movement to boycott the 2022 World Cup started following comments made by Tom Hogli, the public relations officer for Tromso IL, who stated that “we can no longer sit and watch people die in the name of football.” He also believes Qatar should never have been awarded the opportunity to host the Cup due to the “abominable conditions that have led many to lose their lives.”

Qatar was awarded the tournament’s hosting in 2010, and, ever since, the decision has been scrutinized by human rights advocates. The Guardian first reported the abuse and exploitation of migrant workers in 2013, investigating the high number of deaths of Nepalese workers. It found that the deaths were occurring at a rate of almost once a day. Since the commencement of the stadium construction, 6,500 migrant workers have lost their lives. Many deaths were caused by so-called natural causes such as heart failure, and others from falling from a height, asphyxia due to hanging, and undetermined deaths due to decomposition. Along with this, Amnesty International has accused Qatar of facilitating conditions of forced labour, underpaying workers, denial of access to water in the sweltering heat, and many workers receiving threats and having their passports confiscated.

These reports of poor treatment towards migrant workers have caused worldwide outrage and initiated talks of boycotting. Spokesman of the Norwegian Supporters Alliance said that playing in Qatar will “be like playing on a cemetery.” Despite the allegations and pressure to boycott, 368 delegates voted to reject the boycott, with 121 votes in favour. A committee decided that rather than a boycott, they have recommended 26 measures to ensure that FIFA doesn’t become complicit in “sportswashing”.

Norway’s recent debate over its position in the FIFA World Cup due to human rights issues has highlighted the role of politics in sports and the importance of transnational corporations such as FIFA to promote human rights. With the Qatar-hosted World Cup just over a year away, questions are being raised regarding the suitability of the nation to hold an international event. Many countries condemn their abysmal human rights track record. Some players have been sporting shirts with slogans that state “human rights on and off the pitch,” during recent FIFA qualifying games.

New laws passed in Qatar offer migrant workers improved legal protection and make it easier to move jobs and a minimum wage. However, many human rights advocates have expressed that these changes are not adequate. May Romanos, the Gulf researcher for Amnesty International, has said that “there is a need for Qatar to strengthen its occupational health and safety standards.”

As well as huge issues regarding the rights of migrant workers, Qatar has significant human rights abuses. These include restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, criminalization of homosexuality, and many restrictions on women’s lives. Amnesty International is encouraging FIFA to demand implementation of labour reforms in Qatar and is asking football players to use their platforms to promote human rights. The 2022 FIFA World Cup is an opportunity to promote human rights, transforming it from merely a football tournament and into a much-needed stage for social justice.

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