The Human Rights Controversies Surrounding the 2022 Qatar World Cup

Soccer goal being scored
NOVEMBER 19, 2008 - Football : The 2010 FIFA World Cup Asian Qualifiers Final round Group 1 match between Qatar and Japan at Al Sadd Club Stadium on November 19, 2008 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Tsutomu Takasu)

There should be celebrations taking place as the World Cup is being hosted by a Middle Eastern country for the first time. Instead, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has been shrouded in controversy ever since FIFA chose Qatar as the host country back in 2010. Many deny the legitimacy of Qatar’s bid and are disturbed by the treatment of migrant workers, women and the LGBTQ+ community.

Regarding how Qatar won the bid despite its national team never qualifying for the World Cup, corruption amongst FIFA officials has been a topic of controversy. After years of speculation, the U.S. Department of Justice has finally confirmed that Qatar representatives bribed FIFA executives to win the rights to host the 2022 World Cup.

What was fundamentally wrong about selecting Qatar as the host nation for the World Cup was the lack of infrastructure to accommodate the volume of guests expected at the biggest sporting event in the world. In the past 12 years since the bid was won, they have built a total of seven new stadiums, a new airport, a metro system, and approximately 100 new hotels. This rapid urbanization could not have been done without the hard labor of the migrant workforce in Qatar. 

90% of Qatar’s labor force consists of migrant workers, and the treatment of these workers has long been scrutinized by human rights groups. In a Guardian article published in 2021, it is revealed that 6,500 migrant workers have died since Qatar won the bid. The working and living conditions of migrant workers have been described as “pathetic” and “oppressive” in a BBC article from 2015. Lack of safety regulations on construction sites and withheld pay are common occurrences for migrant workers working on the 2022 World Cup project. In addition, because of the kafala system where migrant workers hand over their passports to their employers when they arrive, workers are not able to change jobs or leave Qatar without their employers approving an exit permit.

The Qatari government and FIFA have come out and assured that they have put in measures like the Workers’ Welfare Standard to ensure the “health, safety and wellbeing of workers”; however, many human rights organizations still dispute this, saying these standards are not enforced. Amnesty International and 24 other groups called on FIFA to provide a compensation fund for the abuses the migrant workers have suffered, which FIFA has not responded to yet.

Other than with the treatment of migrant laborers, many have been frustrated with the criminalization of same-sex relations in Qatar. Between 2019 and 2022, Human Rights Watch has documented that Qatar Preventative Security Department forces have arrested LGBTQ+ people based solely on gender expression and then subjected them to severe beatings and sexual harassment in police custody. As a requirement for release, transgender women are forced into conversion therapy sessions.

In light of all the human rights concerns, a number of teams participating in the World Cup have spoken out against the violations of rights. The U.S. men’s national team is showing their support for the LGBTQ+ community by adorning their training facilities with a rainbow-themed logo. The Netherlands, England, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Wales team  captains planned to wear the OneLove armbands in the games; however, FIFA banned the appearance of the armbands, stating that they would impose sanctions if the armbands were worn on the field. FIFA also denied Denmark’s request to wear training shirts with the words “human rights for all.”

The president of FIFA, Gianni Infantino, wrote a letter to the 32 participating teams in early November, stating that although he is “aware that there are many challenges and difficulties of a political nature all around the world,” he pleads to “not allow football to be dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists.” He also writes how mutual respect and non-discrimination are core values of football and to “let football take centre stage.”