The Human Cost of the World Cup

The 2022 Qatar World Cup has brought controversy, causing fans, celebrities, players and even teams themselves to feel wary of the games


The most anticipated tournament in men’s soccer is upon us, but the joy of the World Cup has been stripped away due to abuse and neglect. The tournament which has often brought fans together all over the world has been stained with the failure to protect migrant workers and their rights. 

Migrant workers are the heart of Qatar’s entire economy — they build, clean, serve and staff all of its industries. However, Qatar’s kafala system, which is a sponsorship program for migrant workers, permits those workers to be abused by their employers. Each worker is tied to their employer, who controls their freedom of movement through power over their salaries, passports, renewal of visas and labor. Migrants cannot renew permits or visas without permission from their sponsor. If workers break the rules, they may face terrible consequences: for example, a Ugandan security guard took a couple of days off to get his COVID-19 vaccine and then noticed a reduction in pay with no explanation

Migrant workers have also experienced wage theft from employers. It is important to note that a lot of these migrant workers have actually put themselves in debt in order to work in Qatar  under the promise that they would have a comfortable salary. However, they do not see their work paying off and end up digging themselves deeper into debt. 

The abuse of power from employers has led workers to put themselves in dangerous situations, such as extreme heat. Qatar reaches temperatures as high as 118 degrees Fahrenheit. Workers do not drink water during their 12-hour shifts in the sun in order to avoid bathroom breaks. Imagine working in the blazing heat with little pay, little to no bathroom breaks and only five-minute standing lunches. No one should have to work in conditions like these. However, South Asian and African migrant workers did so in order to construct Qatar’s high-tech stadiums and lavish hotels. 

Qatar built seven new stadiums in order to accommodate the 1.3 million visitors expected to attend the World Cup, but they originally planned to build eight. The country invested approximately $6.5 billion into these new stadiums. This does not include the hotels, fan camps and vehicle infrastructure needed to run the World Cup smoothly.

The construction of these stadiums has been going on since the announcement in 2010 that Qatar would be hosting this year’s games. Migrant workers have suffered under these dangerous, negligent working conditions for 10 years, which led to many injuries and even deaths. The exact number of migrant worker deaths is unclear due to a lack of transparency from the Qatar government. However, it is estimated that thousands have died due to negligent work conditions.

The continued pressure from various human rights organizations and the International Labour Organization pushed Qatar to commit to aligning themselves with international labor standards. In 2020, Qatar implemented a minimum wage for their workers as well as the right to terminate their employment contract. However, the loss of freedom of movement, wage theft and death toll make these reforms feel almost meaningless and far too late. More needs to be done in order to fully repair the damage. 

Denmark’s effort to stand in solidarity with migrant workers was shut down by FIFA. The national soccer team of Denmark wanted their training jerseys to say “Human rights for all” but FIFA said it was “too political.” 

Soccer fans in Germany have utilized German soccer stadiums as a way to display their disapproval of World Cup 2022 and its practices. Fans have unveiled banners that say, “Boycott Qatar” and have also been calling FIFA a “mafia.” The biggest concern for fans is the loss of morals among soccer enthusiasts as they turn a blind eye to human rights injustices occurring in Qatar. 

However, there is nothing political about human rights.

Major cities in Europe have also suspended fan zones in order to bring more light to the human rights abuses in Qatar and their disagreement with this treatment. In France, the defending world champion, major cities will not be hosting fan zones to watch the games. 

The boycotts and criticism from western countries have been followed with accusations of hypocrisy. Europe and the United States have histories of infringing on the human rights of many minority groups. For example, France’s very own Paris Saint Germain soccer team is owned by a Qatari company. It starts to feel performative when countries judge others when they have yet to work on injustices in their own countries. The West is not innocent either. 

However, there is nothing political about human rights. Everyone is entitled to human rights because they are universal. Teams have spoken against Qatar’s practices, but as soon as FIFA threatens to suspend them, they back off immediately. I understand that this tournament only comes around every four years — and for many, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to host, participate or view it — but how will things change for the better if teams do not commit to the values for which they swear to stand?