In 2010, FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, awarded the World Cup to Qatar, a country smaller than Connecticut that had never even qualified for the tournament. Qatar was awarded the bid over other potential hosts such as the United States and Japan, economic powerhouses that rarely miss out on World Cup qualification.
Since then, eight stadiums have been built, $220 billion has been invested, 1.3 million jobs have been created for foreign workers — and 6,500 people are dead.
Although the Middle Eastern country is among the richest in the world per capita, it didn't have the infrastructure needed to host such a large sporting event — the necessary stadiums, hotels and highways. Lusail, the city where the World Cup final is set to be played, didn't even exist in 2010.
To undertake the infrastructure project, Qatar filled its need for cheap labor with desperate migrant workers. Three million people live in Qatar, but only 15% are citizens. The rest are largely migrant workers and their families from India, Pakistan, Nepal and other South Asian countries. Over the past 12 years, many of those workers have been subjected to severe labor conditions while building stadiums, hotels and even cities in 100-degree heat, preparing Qatar for the World Cup this month. Often, living conditions have been poor.
In 2021, the Qatari government mandated a meager minimum wage for migrant workers following widespread criticism from global media and fans. The new wage requirement pays workers $275 a month, which comes out to a minuscule $1.70 an hour for a 40-hour workweek. Even under this new requirement, complaints from migrant workers about unpaid wages continued to grow.
Taking advantage of one of the world's most prominent stages, Qatar is trying to improve its global reputation, even if it means losing breathtaking amounts of money. World Cup hosts normally see financial gains in the billions from the event, but the World Cup in Qatar is projecting a net cost of $200 billion — on top of the thousands of human lives, which seem to have no value to Qatar.
According to the Guardian, more than 6,500 migrant workers from South Asian countries alone have died since Qatar won its World Cup bid, with the U.N.'s International Labor Organization expressing alarm over the harsh working conditions they have been subjected to. With many of these deaths being labeled "natural" by the Qatari government, Amnesty International called for "greater clarity and transparency surrounding these deaths," and pointed out the "need for Qatar to strengthen its occupational health and safety standards."
During a global conference in Los Angeles in May, FIFA president Gianni Infantino dismissed questions about the alarming number of deaths in Qatar: "FIFA is not the police of the world or responsible for everything that happens around the world."
Infantino's comments are true to FIFA's position: stand by and watch. But why accept the deaths of thousands of workers? Because it makes money. Since Qatar won the bid, serious questions have been raised regarding alleged corruption in the awarding process. FIFA has faced several corruption scandals over the years, and many of the board members that made the Qatar decision have resigned following the allegations.
Some fans have suggested a possible boycott of this year's World Cup, but it may be easier to turn away from the deaths of thousands of migrant workers than it is to turn away from the beautiful game. When Qatar kicks off the 2022 FIFA World Cup against Ecuador on Nov. 20, human rights advocates hope these workers won't be forgotten.
Marcos Odegard, of St. Paul, is a student at Nova Classical Academy and at ThreeSixty Journalism at the University of St. Thomas.