What did it take to build the Qatar World Cup stadiums?
As the football community eagerly tunes in to the FIFA 2022 Qatar World Cup draw, what should they know about the human cost of the stadiums where matches will be played?
The opening whistle for the FIFA 2022 Qatar World Cup will be blown today (1 April 2022) as teams and fans wait impatiently for the draw to reveal their potential path to lifting the ultimate sporting trophy. While the eight stadiums have been extolled for their “futuristic” and “state-of-the-art” design features, what carefully choreographed promotional materials have left out are the serious allegations of abuse against migrant workers linked to seven of the eight World Cup stadiums.
The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre has tracked the human rights abuses in Qatar since 2016. Despite the tight control over the media by the Qatari authorities, we recorded 211 cases of abuse impacting more than 24,400 workers between 2016 and 2022. Construction workers were most frequently affected in recorded cases, with the construction sector having represented two in five cases across Qatar. As well as the stadiums, projects across the country have sprung up and expanded in the 10 years since Qatar was chosen to host the World Cup, including significant expansions to Hamad International Airport, public transport systems, roadways and hotels.
Although labour standards for the stadiums are stronger than for the general workforce in Qatar, we tracked 20 cases of abuse linked to seven out of eight World Cup stadiums and a further 9 where the specific World Cup project or stadium was not named.
- The vast majority of abuses related to non-payment of wages, with workers in 20 of the 29 cases citing delayed, withheld or unpaid wages, and end-of-service-benefits.
- Health and safety violations were also frequent, with injuries, deaths and hazardous or dangerous working conditions cited in eight cases.
- Fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression and freedom of movement were curtailed in 13 cases.
- Most of the workers abused in the cases were from South Asia and East Africa.
Isobel Archer, Gulf Programme Manager, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said: “The World Cup draw is a time of great excitement across the globe, but these cases demonstrate that even workers who have been subject to the highest labour standards in Qatar and have worked on the country’s most prestigious projects are still vulnerable to serious labour abuses such as fatal health and safety failures and denial of fundamental freedoms. Cases of longstanding issues such as non-payment are still coming to light even in the last month.
“With the World Cup now only a few months away FIFA has only a short window left to use its sway with the Qatari authorities and businesses to ensure the tournament leaves a positive legacy for workers’ rights in the country. A priority should be ensuring the full and effective implementation of the labour reforms and access to remedy for workers who have suffered abuses.”
The truth behind the promotional materials
Al Bayt Stadium
What they want you to know: The host venue for the opening match of the tournament is covered by a giant tent structure that gives a nod to the culture of the host nation; the shade provided together with its retractable roof system “complement the stadium's cooling technologies”.
What you need to know: It has been linked to six cases of reported worker abuse including:
- In June 2019, following an undercover investigation by German broadcaster WDR, FIFA confirmed that 23 workers of a stadium subcontractor, TAWASOL, had not been paid their wages. See what follow-up action was taken here.
- In June 2020, an Amnesty investigation revealed around 100 workers on the stadium had not been paid for up to seven months.
What they want you to know: Lusail is the futuristically designed flagship stadium set to host the final on 18 December 2022. It has a roof representing the “leading edge in engineering and construction techniques”, which will be able to provide shade to players, while also letting through “just the right amount of sunlight to nourish the first-rate playing surface”.
What you need to know: It has been linked to two cases of labour rights abuse:
- Workers who said they had worked on the stadium accused their employer Meinhardt Bim Studio of failing to pay them for three months and withholding end of service benefits. See their letter to Migrant-Rights.org here.
- In December 2021, the Nepali Times reported that a worker who had helped on the construction of the stadium had paid USD$1,000 in illegal recruitment fees to secure the job.
Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium (formerly Al Rayyan)
What they want you to know: Situated on the edge of the desert with a striking “glowing façade” the stadium will host matches up to the quarter finals. Fans will be able to enjoy the match in comfort as they are protected from “the elements by a lightweight canopy and advanced cooling systems”.
What you need to know: It has been linked to two reported cases of worker abuse. Including in November 2018, construction workers alleged they did not receive enough money to adequately support their families in their home countries.
Education City Stadium
What they want you to know: Nicknamed the “diamond in the desert” due to its distinctive design, fans can reach the stadium, which will host matches up to the quarter finals, easily by either road or metro. It also boasts particularly “excellent” access for fans with disabilities. After the tournament, the capacity will be reduced by half and donated to “build stadiums in developing countries, helping cultivate a passion for the game around the globe”.
What you need to know: It has been linked to two reported cases of abuse:
- In 2018, workers were seen by Deutsche Welle on the hottest day of the year apparently working during a designated rest period in contravention of the summer working hours directive designed to safeguard workers’ health in light of concerns workers were suffering ill health and dying due to heat stress.
- In 2019, workers at the stadium allegedly went on strike saying they had not been paid for four months.
Khalifa International Stadium
What they want you to know: Referred to as a “veteran”, it has been Qatar’s “National Stadium” since 1976 and has hosted a number of international tournaments, such as the Asian Games. Khalifa International reopened in 2017 with a revamped “ultramodern look” and now attached to it is the 3-2-1 Qatar Olympic and Sports museum to celebrate its history, which all lies in the heart of the Aspire Zone Sporting Complex.
What you need to know: In the process of transforming this stadium into its current state-of-the-art appearance, it has been linked to five allegations of labour abuse, including:
- In 2017, British construction worker Zac Cox died on the job due to safety failures.
- A 2016 Amnesty report reported multiple cases of serious abuse, including non-payment of wages, withholding of passports, contract substitution and the charging of recruitment fees.
Al Janoub Stadium (Previously Al Wakrah)
What they want you to know: Al Janoub Stadium was opened in 2019 and boasts a “futuristic” design by the late Middle Eastern architect Zaha Hadid. Located in the historic Al Wakrah area, spectators can promenade the waterfront and the old souqs for local goods.
What you need to know: The premise of a combined sports and touristic experience that Al Janoub Stadium promises is not attainable for the workers who built it from scratch. This stadium has been linked with four allegations of abuse, which include:
- In 2014, a Guardian investigation stated workers were being paid less than allowed under the Worker Welfare Standards and their passports were being held by their employer in another apparent breach.
- At least two workers have allegedly died in the building of this stadium, including Tej Narayan Tharu, a Nepali national who reportedly fell from a walkway.
Al Thumama Stadium
What they want you to know: Al Thumama was unveiled to the public as it hosted the 49th Amir Cup in October 2021. It is a stadium “steeped in local culture”, its “bold, circular form reflects the gahfiya – a traditional woven cap” worn by men and boys across the region and symbolises “dignity and independence”.
What you need to know: Al Thumama has been the subject of two allegations. In one case, revealed by The Times as recently as November 2021, a Nepali migrant worker, now suffering from choric kidney disease, reported working 12-hour shifts in extremely hot conditions and sometimes working up to 20 hours with only a few breaks with insufficient drinking water and food. He also said he was not paid overtime and slept in a cramped room with six other people.
Visit our Qatar World Cup Parallel Portal to explore other projects across Qatar implicated in human rights abuse.