• Villanova Sports Law Blog

The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar: Continued Fouls On and Off the Pitch

By: Christopher Imad Mdeway, Guest Contributor, 3L

The Fédération Internationale de Football Association, globally known as FIFA, is no stranger to controversy. FIFA’s Congress votes for World Cup host countries under a ballot system in which countries are selected seven years before the respective tournament to allow for preparations. [1] On December 2, 2010, the FIFA Executive Committee announced that Qatar would host the 2022 World Cup tournament, making it the first country from the Middle East, and the smallest country geographically, to entertain the cup. [2] Qatar’s selection raises many issues.

Qatar’s Unethical Avenues to Securing the 2022 Bid, Disregarding a Labor Shortage

The first issue regarding the 2022 tournament stems from the bidding process itself and the alleged corruption between Qatari government officials and FIFA executives. In 2014, FIFA president Sepp Blatter stated that confirming Qatar for 2022 was a “mistake” based on an internal technical report that “clearly indicated that it was too hot in the summer”, reaching temperatures of 120 degrees during the day. [3] Furthermore, the United States Department of Justice stated that “representatives working for Russia and Qatar had bribed FIFA officials to secure hosting rights for the World Cup in men’s soccer.” [4] U.S. prosecutors charged three media executives and sports marketing company with wire fraud and money laundering related to television and marketing rights for the tournament. [5] The prosecutors brought forth footage of Qatari officials buying votes from FIFA executives to edge out the U.S. for the bid. [6] Of the three officials who received payments to vote for Qatar, two died shortly after the vote with the third remaining in Brazil, a country without an extradition agreement with the U.S. [7]

Qatar is no opponent to utilizing dirty tactics to pursue its goals, going as far as hiring a former U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer “to help spy on soccer officials as part of a no-expense-spared effort to win and hold on to the 2022 World Cup tournament.” [8] The former CIA officer, Kevin Chalker, was hired to “spy on rival bid teams and key soccer officials who picked the winner in 2010” and then continued working for Qatar “in the years that followed to keep tabs on the country’s critics in the soccer world”. [9] Ultimately, “Chalker also promised he could help the country “maintain dominance” over its large population of foreign workers” of whom have been dragged into lives of underpaid, forced labor, and slavery. [10]

Qatar’s Abuse of Labor Laws

Second, Qatar, with a population of 2.88 million people, failed to appropriately acknowledge the sheer lack of available labor to build the venues for the tournament. [11] In order to accumulate the number of people required for the construction process, Qatar took direct advantage of abusive Arabian Peninsula labor laws. The Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Lebanon, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, is home to something transliterated as the “kafala system”, which translates to “sponsorship system” from Arabic. [12] The system “ties migrant workers’ employment visas to their employers”, provides that an “employer assumes responsibility for a hired migrant worker” and dictates that the employer “must grant explicit permission before the worker can enter, transfer employment, or leave the country.” [13] Consistently deemed an abusive system, Human Rights Watch, among other international human rights advocacy organizations, have “documented numerous cases where workers were unable to escape from abusive conditions or even to return home upon completion of their contracts because their employer denied them permission to leave the country.” [14]

Qatar has abused the kafala system as a result of their labor shortage and has even been deemed “an open jail” by Nepalese Ambassador to Qatar Maya Kumari Sharma, whose country has sent a plethora of desperate workers; the Ambassador was deported shortly after the statement. [15] There is extensive “evidence to suggest that thousands of Nepalese, who make up the single largest group of [labor] in Qatar, face exploitation and abuses that amount to modern-day slavery” resulting in one Nepalese worker dying per day on construction sites. [16] Many who arrived to work in-country had their work contracts destroyed upon arrival, pay rates slashed, passports and other forms of identification withheld, been beaten and starved, and ultimately arrested if caught escaping. [17] It is estimated that over 6,500 migrant workers from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka have perished in Qatar, many from heart attacks due to being overworked for six to seven days a week in unbearable conditions. [18]

Those opposing Qatar’s corruption from inside the organization have found themselves in life-or-death situations. Former employee Abdullah Ibhais became a whistleblower for migrant worker rights in 2019 for which a Doha court sentenced him to prison. Ibhais claimed that after being detained and denied access to an attorney, Qatar government officials “coerced him into signing a confession and that he was being punished for criticizing the handling of a migrant workers' strike.” [19] FIFA responded by stating that “any person deserved a fair trial that observed and respected due process, and that it would "consider today's ruling before making any further comment.” Nothing further ensued, showing a total disregard for basic human rights in the face of wealth. [20]

Qatari and FIFA officials should be held accountable for the mass murder of thousands whom they enslaved out of greed and inflated egos. These human rights abuses are in direct connection with the World Cup event itself. Therefore, the global community should orchestrate a mass boycott of the tournament until accountable persons are prosecuted under available international law, restitution is made to families who have lost loved ones, and appropriate labor laws are established and adhered to moving forward.


Photo: https://www.sportingnews.com/us/soccer/news/fifa-world-cup-which-teams-have-qualified/86nbyru9dkh41ii7s800gjwav

[1]: Karabekyan, D. (2016). "Strategic Behavior in Exhaustive Ballot Voting: What Can We Learn from the FIFA World Cup 2018 and 2022 Host Elections?," HSE Working papers WP BRP 130/EC/2016, National Research University Higher School of Economics. Retrieved from https://ideas.repec.org/p/hig/wpaper/130-ec-2016.html.

[2]: FIFA (December 2, 2010). "Russia and Qatar to host 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups, respectively". Retrieved fromhttps://web.archive.org/web/20101206011341/http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/russia2018/media/newsid=1344971/index.html.

[3]: Ohlheiser, A. The Atlantic. (May 16, 2014). “FIFA President Admits a Qatar World Cup Is a 'Mistake'”. https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/05/fifas-president-calls-the-qatar-world-cup-a-mistake/371041/

[4]: Draper K., Panja T. The New York Times. (October 20, 2021). “U.S. Says FIFA Officials Were Bribed to Award World Cups to Russia and Qatar”. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/06/sports/soccer/qatar-and-russia-bribery-world-cup-fifa.html.

[5]: Id.

[6]: Id.

[7]: Id.

[8]: Suderman, A. The Associated Press. (November 23, 2021). “World Cup host Qatar used ex-CIA officer to spy on FIFA”. Retrieved from https://apnews.com/article/soccer-sports-business-migration-middle-east-d9716b62fc69ab88beb3553d402da7d1.

[9]: Id.

[10]: Id.

[11]: The World Bank (February 2, 2022). “Population, total – Qatar”. Retrieved from https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL?locations=QA.

[12]: Human Rights Watch. (2008). ““As If I Am Not Human” Abuses against Asian Domestic Workers in Saudi Arabia. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/saudiarabia0708_1.pdf.

[13]: Id.

[14]: Id.

[15]: ESPN (September 26, 2013). “Qatar hits back at 2022 slavery claims”. Retrieved from http://www.espn.co.uk/football/sport/story/241827.html. See also: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-nepal-qatar-ambassador/nepal-envoy-recalled-after-qatar-open-jail-remarks-idUSBRE98P10O20130926.

[16:] Pattison, P. The Guardian (September 25, 2013). Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/25/revealed-qatars-world-cup-slaves.

[17]: McIntyre, N., Pattisson, P. (February 23, 2021) “Revealed: 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since World Cup awarded”. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/feb/23/revealed-migrant-worker-deaths-qatar-fifa-world-cup-2022

[18]: Id.

[19]: BBC (December 15, 2021). “2022 World Cup: Ex-media officer loses Qatar corruption appeal”. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-59669307#:~:text=A%20former%20employee%20of%20Qatar's,charge%20of%20misappropriating%20state%20funds.

[20]: Id.