Co-Authored – Francesco Rosso and Toby Lehain
In December 2010 Qatar successfully bid to host the 22nd edition of the World Cup. The prestigious tournament, held on a quadrennial basis, represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Gulf state to show itself to the world, attract foreign investors, and boost its already shining economy. Yet, despite the idea that the event is meant to promote values of fair play, freedom, and integration, shocking allegations of corruption and exploitation have emerged. As early as 2011, Lord Triesman declared in front of a British parliamentary select committee that a group of Fifa officials had approached the English Football Association offering their vote for the 2018 bid (later assigned to Russia) in exchange for money. This, as I’m sure you know, is not the first time that Fifa has been openly accused of corruption and the public opinion, in the UK and abroad, is that Qatar obtained the contract to host the World Cup by illicit means.
Following the wave of arrests of individuals suspected to have interfered with the bid, coordinated by the FBI and the Swiss authorities, Fifa announced a formal and extensive investigation into its activities. The investigation, conducted by Michael J Garcia (former Chairman of the investigative branch of Fifa’s Ethics Committee), was completed in 2014. However, in a surprising twist of events, Hans-Joachim Eckert (Chairman of the adjudicatory chamber of the Ethics Committee) refused to publish the much awaited report which could have exonerated Qatar from all allegations of bribery. Eckert supported his decision by declaring that following a personal inspection of Garcia’s findings, it transpired that neither Russia nor Qatar had interfered in any way with the bid. Perhaps not unexpectedly, Eckert’s summary of the Garcia Report attracted disapproval by the international community. According to the Associated Press, Eckert’s interpretation was “denounced by critics as whitewash”. Garcia himself, shortly before signing his resignation from the Ethics Committee, claimed that Eckert committed “erroneous representations of facts and conclusions”. To date, the report remains unpublished, fueling understandable suspicions over the legality of the 2018 and 2022 bid.
To make things worse for Qatar, several NGOs recently revealed the presence of labour exploitation in the country. More than 1.6 million migrant workers are currently employed at multiple building sites part of the $200 billion infrastructural project endorsed by the Gulf state. In June 2015, an article published by the Washington Post suggested that more than 1.000 lives were lost since the beginning of the works due to inhumane working conditions. Despite the obsolete Qatari laws prohibiting labour inspections, Amnesty International was able to interview 234 individuals working at the Khalifa Stadium. All 234 workers confessed of being deceived in some way by recruitment agencies in their home countries and 132 claimed to receive late payments on a regular basis. The NGO’s report also revealed that workers are forced to live in overcrowded and unhygienic premises in clear breach of Qatari law. It appears that transnational building companies, acting as sponsors, are not bothering to respect domestic or international labour rules and local authorities are showing no concern.
The Kafala system, present in most member-states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, seems to be the root of all this evil. The Kafala is a sponsorship scheme that supervises the employment and residency of migrant workers. Prospective employees approach recruitment agencies which, in return for fees twice a year’s salary, provide them with a job and a sponsor (i.e. employer) in Qatar. The downside of the framework is that the workers’ visas are tied to their sponsors, which take advantage of the control they acquire over the employees’ lives. For example, only sponsors can grant workers permission to change job, exit the country, rent a home, or apply for a driving licence. During the spring of 2015, hundreds of Nepalese workers were refused an exit visa by their sponsors and forbidden from visiting their families after the devastating series of earthquakes that shook the country. It goes without saying that Qatar is voluntarily endorsing an employment framework that shockingly resembles a modern day feudal system. In fact, another key element of the Kafala that should not be overlooked is that it expressly excludes migrant workers from national labour and social security laws (e.g. Qatar see section 3 Labour Code #14 of 2004).
Whilst little has been done in relation to accusations of bribery, the Qatari government pledged to tackle labour exploitation in two ways: first, introduce a Wage Protection System compelling sponsors to pay employees via bank transfer and on time. Second, abolish the Kafala by the end of 2016 and replace it with an employment contract scheme. For the time being these remain mere promises. Qatar 2022 has been doomed from the start, and the responsibility for this must be attributed to FIFA and Qatar. On the one hand, the latter demonstrated to be unable to draft and enforce democratic laws ensuring the humane treatment of workers. On the other hand, Fifa demonstrated to be unaccountable and in need of radical reform. Fifa must introduce human rights considerations into its bidding process, publish the Garcia Report, and reconsider the adjudication of the World Cup to Qatar.