In just two months, the 2022 FIFA World Cup will kick off in Qatar.
While South Asian football teams won’t be participating in the tournament, World Cup fever is spreading across the region. Many South Asians will also be among the 1.2 million fans expected in Qatar.
But this year’s tournament is personal for many South Asians beyond love for “the beautiful game.” It is not just that the tournament ball is made in Sialkot, Pakistan. This year, even the stadiums and surrounding infrastructure were largely built by South Asians. Migrant workers from the region are also employed in the stadiums and surrounding hotels, malls, and airports. The money they send home to their families is critical to make ends meet. But at what cost?
Bangladeshis, for example, reportedly spend an average of US$3,863 to go work in Qatar, which averages to around 18 months of earnings there. A significant portion of the money South Asians send home goes to simply paying off loans borrowed to get these jobs. This practice of paying to work in Qatar’s scorching heat is unfortunately routine.
Beyond debt burdens, migrant workers in Qatar have also faced serious abuses like wage theft, injuries, and unexplained deaths. Qatar’s sponsorship system, known as kafala, even after some reforms, still facilitates many abuses that go uncompensated.
Human Rights Watch and a coalition of rights groups have called on FIFA and Qatari authorities to provide remedy, including financial compensation, to migrant workers who have suffered abuses to make the World Cup possible.
During the past 12 years, South Asians have heard terrible stories from family members, friends, and neighbors of their experiences in Qatar. Families are still paying the debts for loved ones who died, were injured, or came home without their wages.
South Asian governments that have instituted welfare systems to support overseas workers or their families, including repatriation of the deceased or death compensation to families, are intimately familiar with the scale of unremedied abuse their citizens have faced in Qatar.
The multibillion-dollar World Cup is a crucial opportunity for all South Asian governments to collectively call for remedy and work together to ensure stronger protections for their workers.