With just over two weeks to go before the World Cup kicks off, the sporting competition continues to create controversy. The labour situation of workers - mostly Asian immigrants - during the construction of the Qatari stadiums continues to be in the spotlight of international human rights organisations.
After Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among other NGOs, called on FIFA and Qatar for a compensation fund of 440 million dollars for the dead and injured workers, Qatar's Minister of Labour Ali bin Samikh Al Marri has spoken out in an interview with AFP.
According to Al Marri, who was previously chairman of Qatar's National Human Rights Committee, Doha is already paying the workers and will not set up the fund requested by international NGOs. For the minister, this request "is a publicity stunt", while criticism of the Gulf country's treatment of migrant workers, women and members of the LGTBI+ community is motivated by "racism". According to Al Marri, critics of Qatar "do not want to allow a small country, an Arab country, an Islamic country, to host the World Cup".
The reality is that 6,500 workers - mostly from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka - have died in Qatar since the country was chosen to host the World Cup, according to a Guardian investigation in February 2021. In this regard, Al Marri has acknowledged that "every death is a tragedy", although he questions the figures published by the British newspaper. "Where are the victims, do you have the names of the victims, how can you get that data," the minister asked during the interview with the news agency.
Amnesty International further adds that the authorities failed to "adequately investigate the deaths of migrant workers". This, according to the NGO, "means that Qatar failed to protect a central element of the right to life". The families of the deceased were also denied "the opportunity to receive compensation from the employer or the authorities".
Al Marri argues that the international community and critics "are well aware of the reforms that have been carried out, but they do not recognise them because they are racist in their motivation". Qatar has set a minimum wage of 1,000 rials - $275 - making it the first country in the region to adopt "a non-discriminatory minimum wage", according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The kafala has also been virtually dismantled in the country. Kafala - considered a method of modern slavery - is a labour system that ties migrant workers to their employers. In this way, private citizens or companies have total control over the worker and his or her migration status.
However, Amnesty International stresses that despite Doha's commitment, "the government failed to implement and enforce the reforms, allowing abusive practices to resurface and reviving the worst elements of kafala".
Even so, Al Marri goes on to lament that, after all the "efforts", people still "attack" Qatar. These attacks, he stresses, are based on "false information" and "rumours" to "discredit" the country "with deliberately misleading claims". While not naming any specific country, Al Marri accused some foreign politicians of "double standards" and of using Qatar "as a stage to solve their own political problems".
Qatar's own emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, said last October that his country was facing "an unprecedented campaign" of criticism just weeks before the start of the World Cup, according to AFP.
Recently, the Qatari authorities summoned the German ambassador to Doha, Claudius Fishbach, following remarks by Interior Minister Nancy Faeser about the World Cup organisation. During an interview with German public radio ARD, the minister stressed that the competition must be subject to criteria, "i.e. compliance with human rights and the principles of sustainability".
A statement from the Qatari Foreign Ministry rejects and condemns Faeser's comments, saying they are "against diplomatic norms and conventions".
In addition to labour rights, critics of Qatar and the World Cup also point to the plight of women - subject to the male guardianship system - and members of the LGTBI+ community. Gay men, for example, can be sentenced to up to seven years in prison for "inducing, instigating or enticing a man in any manner to commit sodomy or debauchery".