The eight stadiums are ready six months before the World Cup in Qatar, but questions remain about human rights, which arose when the event was awarded to the small Emirate of Gas in 2010.
Critics say progress has been mixed over the past decade, with pressure mounting on the country and world football’s governing body FIFA ahead of the competition (21 November to 18 December).
The NGO Amnesty International on Thursday asked FIFA to pay at least $440 million in compensation to migrant workers “abused” on construction sites related to this World Cup. In Europe, clubs of supporters and associations, led by Norway, are moved by the plight of LGBTQ people in a country where homosexuality is criminalized.
In a 2016 study for the International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics, Paul Michael Brannagan and Joel Rockwood identified several problematic points: allegations of corruption surrounding the awarding of the event, the climate (before the World Cup was moved to winter) or women’s rights, homosexuals and migrant workers.
Six years later, some Europeans will boycott the World Cup for logistical and financial reasons, but also because of these issues that the country has not been able to fully answer, despite efforts noted by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and NGOs.
“The World Cup sped things up”
The emirate, whose infrastructure spending for the World Cup is estimated at 300 billion dollars, reduced the “kafala”, a sponsorship system that makes employees more or less the property of their employer, from 2016 onwards. A minimum wage was also introduced in 2020.
“These reforms were inevitable and the World Cup accelerated things,” notes Max Tunon, head of the ILO’s Doha office. “Other countries in the region are also beginning reforms, but few in the world are moving forward as quickly as here.” Mr Tunon believes these efforts, which companies are still reluctant to undertake, will continue beyond the World Cup thanks to agreements between the government and the ILO, international unions and third countries.
The rights of women and the LGBTQ community are another hot topic in this conservative Muslim society. Three women are ministers (of health, family and education) and two-thirds of university graduates are women, but “the biggest changes happened twenty years ago and not in the last ten years,” laments Rothna Begum of the NGO Human Rights Watch. She denounces the guardianship of women, who need the consent of a male representative to get married, study abroad or hold certain jobs.
Rothna Begum adds that recent changes, such as the possibility to obtain a driver’s license without a permit since January 2020, are “thanks in large part to women who have asserted their own rights”, particularly on social media.
The organizing committee of the World Cup, which is regularly consulted on the risks of homosexual fans, promises an event “open to all”. Can the arrival of 1.2-1.4 million visitors, authorized by FIFA to wave rainbow flags while organizers call for respect for local culture and caution, help change mentalities?
“It can go either way, more acceptance or very harsh reactions, depending on how things go,” said Merissa Khurma, director of the Middle East program at the American think tank Wilson Center. Either way, “a big event isn’t going to trigger a sea of change, but the fact that the discussion is happening is important.” Rather, she expects “adaptive change” in this country of 2.8 million people, of whom only 10% are Qatari.
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