As ethically bad as the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia are going to be, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is going to be worse. Several years ago, that Persian Gulf absolute monarchy, a country the size of Connecticut, won its bid to hose the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament for the summer of 2022.
Most criticism at the time focused more on the superficial (though valid) points about how hot the desert country would be in the middle of the summer and how that might affect the tournament. There was also consternation over the government’s human rights laws (the lack of them) and some allegations of possible bribery in the bid. But more recently, concerns over labor conditions in the World Cup preparation stage have pushed to the fore.
Current estimates say hundreds of marginally compensated foreign laborers preparing for the tournament have already died during construction and as many as 4,000 may be dead by the time construction ends. Some workers haven’t been paid at all in the past year and a half and all live in dangerous, packed tenements.
This is, to be clear, not a problem solely restricted to the World Cup, though that’s the angle with the most global ramifications. The overall foreign worker population in Qatar is more than six times the size of the ruling Qatari population, at about 1.65 million to 250,000. The foreign population has grown very sharply in the past few years so the numbers are a bit hard to track.
Due to oil wealth and concentrating it in native hands, Qatari citizens are among the world’s wealthiest populations. But they’ve also preserved their wealth by chronically underpaying (even enslaving) the huge migrant worker population. According to IMF data, even if the national wealth were distributed annually over the whole population, including non-citizens, everyone would still be making well over $100k a year, even adjusted for purchasing power.
Instead, through pure avarice, the kingdom is determined to keep its foreign workers — who make the country function daily — in horrid conditions.
If Qatar doesn’t make a big change soon, there’s going to be an awful lot of blood on the hands of the world through the World Cup’s presence there. And sadly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.