FIFA: Qatar World Cup – Plagued by Slavery, Human Rights Woes – Is ‘a Celebration of Diversity’

Revelers takes part of the annual Gay Pride Parade in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sunday, June 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Nelson Antoine)
AP Photo/Nelson Antoine

The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) described the upcoming 2022 World Cup, scheduled to take place in repressive Qatar, as “a celebration of unity and diversity” this week after years of accusations of human rights atrocities in the country including forced labor used to build soccer facilities.

Qatar is an Islamic monarchy set to become the first-ever Middle Eastern host of the World Cup, despite not having any significant soccer history and an extremely inhospitable climate that has forced FIFA to reschedule the summer tournament deep into November.

As an Islamist government, Qatar treats homosexuality as a crime and allows for use of the death penalty against men accused of same-sex intercourse — adding to the confusion prompted by FIFA’s proclamation on Monday, meant to observe international LGBT pride month.

“Every year, Pride Month during June is a celebration for the LGBTQIA+ community, as well as an opportunity to peacefully protest and raise political awareness of current issues,” a statement from the sports organization read. “This year, FIFA will deliver the greatest celebration of football the world has ever seen – and the first global gathering of sports fans since the pandemic.”

The statement went on to call the Qatar World Cup “a celebration of unity and diversity – a joining of people from all walks of life – regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, age, disability, sex characteristics, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression – everybody will be welcome.”

FIFA promised that it would be “training all staff involved in the competition, including public and private security forces, on how to accomplish their tasks in a non-discriminatory manner” — presumably claiming that the Qatari government had given the soccer foundation a green light on how to train its police. It also claimed FIFA officials would be “insisting hotels and other contractors involved in welcoming LGBTQIA+ fans to Qatar to do so in a manner that respects the rights and privacy of everyone.”

The statement is a far cry from the response then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter — who since departed the organization in disgrace — gave reporters in 2010 about the potential for severe human rights violations against gay people in Qatar following the announcement that the country would host the World Cup. Asked what he would say to LGBT people who sought to attend the event, Blatter responded, laughing, “I would say they should refrain from any sexual activities.”

Blatter later attempted to correct himself, adding, “I’m sure when the World Cup will be in Qatar in 2022, there will be no problems. You see in the Middle East the opening of this culture, it’s another culture because it’s another religion, but in football we have no boundaries.”

LGBT advocacy organizations have expressed skepticism that FIFA leaders have adequately addressed gross human rights abuses by Qatari authorities against gay people in the country. In a statement published in April, eight LGBT groups declared that, as per their information, “there has been little effort from organisers to proactively engage around the concerns fans and rights groups have raised.”

“Human rights deserve detail not deflection, but all we have unfortunately seen from those in charge is slogans not safety, gaslighting not guarantees, avoidance not action. Simply put, this is not good enough,” the statement read.

Qatari officials have done little to calm human rights activists. The same month the human rights statement was made, Qatari Major General Abdulaziz Abdullah al-Ansari warned fans not to bring rainbow-branded paraphernalia or attempt to make any public statements in favor of LGBT rights.

“If he (a fan) raised the rainbow flag and I took it from him, it’s not because I really want to really take it, to really insult him, but to protect him,” Ansari told the Associated Press. “Because if it’s not me, somebody else around him might attack (him) … I cannot guarantee the behavior of the whole people.”

The FIFA statement celebrating LGBT pride month also failed to address an even more sprawling human rights controversy that has plagued the Qatar soccer tournament for years: widespread evidence of predatory practices on the part of Qatari employers that have reportedly resulted in the mass death of migrant laborers and practical enslavement of countless others.

“But in the decade since Qatar was awarded the right to host the World Cup, exploitation and abuse of these workers has been rampant, with workers exposed to forced labour, unpaid wages and excessive working hours,” Amnesty International revealed in a 2019 report. “At the heart of the abuse faced by migrant workers is Qatar’s ‘Kafala’ system of sponsorship-based employment which legally binds foreign workers to their employers.”

The system gives employers full control over the migrant workers’ status in the country, meaning that any complaints about employer abuse, including bosses simply failing to pay workers, could result in those workers’ immediate expulsion from the country.

Amnesty International also detailed abuses such as passport confiscation, “high levels of worker debt caused by illegal and unethical recruitment practices, the late and non-payment of wages, barriers to obtaining justice when rights are violated, the prohibition of trade unions and the failure to enforce labour laws and penalize employers who abuse their workers.”

The Qatari government has claimed to create mechanisms for redress for abused workers on several occasions in the past decade, but human rights groups have reported that the system is so onerous on the workers that it effectively fails to protect their rights.

“In hundreds of cases the government’s new labour dispute committees are still taking many months to hear cases – and may still fail to ensure payment when companies will not or cannot pay,” Amnesty International reported in 2019. “Many workers have had to return home penniless as a result.”

The extreme temperatures in Qatar also create dangerous working conditions that reports indicate have resulted in high numbers of worker deaths due to heatstroke-related conditions. In 2021, the U.K. newspaper the Guardian estimated that about 6,500 migrant workers had died building stadiums and other facilities for the World Cup. The Guardian researched death statistics from the home countries of migrant workers to arrive at that estimate.

“Data from India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka revealed there were 5,927 deaths of migrant workers in the period 2011–2020,” the newspaper detailed. “Separately, data from Pakistan’s embassy in Qatar reported a further 824 deaths of Pakistani workers, between 2010 and 2020.”

“The total death toll is significantly higher, as these figures do not include deaths from a number of countries which send large numbers of workers to Qatar, including the Philippines and Kenya. Deaths that occurred in the final months of 2020 are also not included,” the Guardian warned.

The government of Qatar claimed that only 37 migrant workers have died between 2014 and 2020 and that only three of those deaths were “work-related,” according to reports published as recently as April. Evidence from labor groups suggests that Doha does not document heat stroke, heart attacks, or other sudden deaths as work-related, depressing the true number.

Last month, when asked about the deaths, current FIFA President Gianni Infantino said that Qatar was imbuing its abused migrant laborers with “pride.”

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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