WM workers face allegedly unfair working conditions despite promises from Qatar

With the World Cup games underway, human rights activists and others have been protesting against the games and Qatari officials, saying they are human rights issues for the hundreds of workers who have been on the ground over the past few months.

According to some activists, everyone from construction workers to hotel workers was allegedly forced to work long hours in the heat for little pay and, in some cases, subtle threats.

Grant Wahl, a veteran sportswriter who has covered football for various outlets including Sports Illustrated, investigated some of the allegations and reported that many workers were being subjected to unfair conditions.

PHOTO: Activists from "Red box for Qatar" (Red card for Qatar) Demonstrate at Place de la Republique in Paris on November 20, 2022 to protest the FIFA World Cup Qatar.

Activists from Carton rouge pour le Qatar (Red Card for Qatar) hold a demonstration on November 20, 2022 at Place de la Republique in Paris to protest against the FIFA World Cup Qatar.

Benoît Tessier/Reuters

Wahl, who hosts the Fútbol with Grant Wahl podcast, spoke to Start Here on Monday about what he found upon arriving in Qatar.

START HERE: Grant, unlike many journalists who flew to Qatar last week, you spent time there amidst these construction projects earlier this year. Why would you want to look at a bunch of empty stadiums and hotels?

GRANT WAHL: I knew I was going to the World Cup, I would come here and cover.. I would focus entirely on football once the tournament started. But before that I wanted to do a story and tell something about the issue of migrant workers in Qatar. Almost 90% of the workforce in Qatar are non-Qatari. They come from East Africa, West Africa, the Indian subcontinent [and] The Far East. And they take jobs in construction, work in households and houses, hotel workers [and] all sorts of things migrant workers do in Qatar. But the story is that they don’t get paid well. You are not treated well. Many people have died.

Human rights organizations that study this stuff very closely say Qataris really don’t care, and they’ve shown they don’t care [not] trying to figure out why people died. The vast majority of deaths are classified as natural causes only. But of course Qatar is extremely hot all year round.

PHOTO: A total of 20,000 candles are lit in Herne, Germany, November 20, 2022 in Herne, Germany to commemorate what organizers of the event are citing as the deaths of thousands of workers employed in building the stadiums for the tournament in Qatar have lost their lives.

A total of 20,000 candles are lit in Herne, Germany, November 20, 2022 in Herne, Germany, to commemorate the deaths of thousands of workers who lost their lives building the stadiums for the tournament in Qatar, organizers of the say Event.

Thilo Schmulgen/Reuters

There are many deaths among migrant workers due to the heat and the body’s reactions to it.

Under pressure, the Qatari government has passed new laws. They were announced in 2019 and the Qatari government made a fuss about it, saying we’d ended this “kafala” system, where employers are allowed to keep their migrant workers’ passports, and essentially bar them from leaving the country even if they do You are treated badly. So a minimum wage was introduced.

Workers were no longer allowed to pay recruitment fees, either in their country or in Qatar, to get to Qatar and get a job there. After the announcement of these new laws, workers were allowed to change jobs within Qatar for the first time without having to leave and come back.

But what I did on the floor; I decided to go to 14 FIFA hotels and speak to at least one staff member in each FIFA hotel and grant them anonymity and really find out what their experience was and if these laws were being followed on the ground in Qatar.

As I spoke to more and more workers, and I spoke to almost two dozen at all of these 14 different FIFA hotels, it quickly became clear that many of these new laws are not being followed. Some of the workers I spoke to did not have their passports.

START HERE: Holding your passport as if to say, “Follow what we tell you or you won’t get home”? Is that the implication there?

WALK: Right. You literally cannot leave the country without your passport and there is an element of freedom with that.

A bunch, including someone from the hotel where the US team is staying in Qatar, told me they had to pay hefty recruitment fees to get into the country, which they owe from the moment they get there would. One thing that seemed to be followed was the new minimum wage, which I found interesting. But keep in mind that the new minimum wage is about $1.25 an hour.

PHOTO: A woman walks between soccer-like sandbags installed on the pitch of the stadium in Herne, western Germany, November 20, 2022, during a protest to commemorate those who died building the World Cup stadiums in Qatar.

A woman walks between soccer-like sandbags installed on the stadium’s pitch in Herne, western Germany, November 20, 2022, during a protest to commemorate those who died building the World Cup stadiums in Qatar.

Roberto Pfeil/afp/AFP via Getty Images

START HERE: But the question then is… what is the responsibility of everyone who participates? The US recently hosted a nice friendly with some migrant workers, almost to say, “See you guys,” but what about all of us at home? I’ve seen people think about boycotting these games. Do you think people will connect the dots between these topics they hear about in the news and the game they love on their screen?

WAHL: So the English language broadcaster of this World Cup in the US is Fox Sports and they’ve said publicly that we’re not going to cover any of these so-called controversial issues like the situation of migrant workers in Qatar or LGBTQ rights or women’s rights or anything that Incidentally, US soccer enlightens its players and takes the time to deal with it and many other journalistic media discuss it. And so, not only for this World Cup, but previously when the 2018 World Cup was held in Russia, Fox decided that they wouldn’t touch that. And that’s certainly a decision they made.

PHOTO: Activists from "Red box for Qatar" (Red card for Qatar) Demonstrate at Place de la Republique in Paris on November 20, 2022 to protest the FIFA World Cup Qatar.

Activists from Carton rouge pour le Qatar (Red Card for Qatar) hold a demonstration on November 20, 2022 at Place de la Republique in Paris to protest against the FIFA World Cup Qatar.

Benoît Tessier/Reuters

If people, fans, in the US decide to boycott the World Cup and not see it, I understand.

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