In December 2010, Qatar was awarded the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. This decision represented a great opportunity for this Gulf State to foster its international image. Since then, the Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has invested over US$100 billion to build new infrastructures and pledged to improve its human rights record, labour conditions and tackle the main social issues.
Since 2010, FIFA has been criticised and accused of “being used as a vehicle to advance the political agenda of Qatar.” Allegations of corruption, together with consistent infringements of human rights, jeopardise the image of such a sporting event as a tool to promote peace, harmony and respect. The main matter of concern is embodied by the use of migrant labour. Migrant workers represent 95% of the country’s labour force. Among other things, due to the kafala system, between 2010 and 2018 the population of Qatar has increased from 1.6 million people to nearly 2.7 million. They come from the poorest countries, such as Bangladesh and Nepal, and face abuses, exploitation and visa restrictions.
In September 2018, the government of Qatar has introduced a new law which allows foreign workers covered under the national labour law the right to leave the country and travel without getting permission from their employer. This law has been hailed as a milestone, even if it excludes all the migrant workers who are not under the country’s law. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has stated that this move is the first step towards the abolition of the kafala system.
The European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) expresses concern over the situation of migrant workers and the violations of human rights occurring in Qatar. This emirate is not the only Gulf country in which sporting events have been related to human rights issues. In Bahrain, during the Formula One Grand Prix, female activist Najah Yusuf and freelance photographer Ahmed Humaidan have been arbitrarily arrested for their human rights activism in April 2017 and December 2012 respectively. ECDHR calls on the government of Qatar to seize the opportunity of a world event to abolish the kafala system and implement social reforms aiming to better its human rights record.