Qatar: Rights Abuses Stain FIFA World Cup

‘Reporters’ Guide’ Highlights Key Labor Rights Issues, Needed Reforms 


(Beirut, November 14, 2022) – The FIFA World Cup from November 20 to December 18, 2022, will be played following years of serious migrant labor and human rights abuses in Qatar, Human Rights Watch said today, publishing a “Reporters’ Guide” to support journalists covering the Qatar World Cup.

The 42-page guide, “Qatar: FIFA World Cup 2022 – Human Rights Guide for Reporters,” summarizes Human Rights Watch’s concerns associated with Qatar’s preparations for and hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup and outlines broader problems with protecting human rights in the country. The guide also describes FIFA’s human rights policies and how the global football governing body can more effectively address serious violations in Qatar and mitigate harm.

“The World Cup draws immense international media and fan attention, but the tournament’s dark side is overshadowing football,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch. “The 2022 World Cup’s legacy will depend on whether Qatar remedies with FIFA the deaths and other abuses of migrant workers who built the tournament, carries out recent labor reforms, and protects human rights for all in Qatar – not just for visiting fans and footballers.”

Over 1.2 million international visitors are expected to visit Qatar to watch the 32-team tournament, along with many government and global football leaders. Thousands of journalists will cover the once-every-four-years’ event, and billions of fans will watch on television. FIFA’s partners and corporate sponsors will benefit financially and widely promote it.

FIFA granted Qatar the games in 2010, with no human rights due diligence and no set conditions about protections for migrant workers who would be needed to construct the massive infrastructure. FIFA also failed to examine the human rights concerns for journalists, or systemic discrimination that women,LGBT people, and others face in Qatar. In 2017, FIFA adopted a Human Rights Policy, pledging to take “measures to promote the protection of human rights,” saying, “FIFA will take adequate measures for their protection, including by using its leverage with the relevant authorities.”

Migrant Worker RightsFIFA should have recognized that because Qatar lacked the infrastructure for the World Cup, millions of migrant workers would be needed to build and service it. This included eight stadiums, an airport expansion, a new metro, multiple hotels, and other key infrastructure, at an estimated cost of US$220 billion.

FIFA is responsible not just for stadium workers, a minority of the total migrant workforce whose employers are held to higher standards for workplace conditions, but also for workers to build and service projects for tournament preparation and delivery, including transport and accommodations, security, cleaning, and landscaping.

Despite repeated warnings from the workers themselves and civil society groups, FIFA failed to impose strong conditions to protect workers and became a complacent enabler to the widespread abuse workers suffered, including illegal recruitment feeswage theft, injuries, and deaths, Human Rights Watch said.

FIFA has the responsibility to identify and remedy these abuses in accordance with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which FIFA adopted into its Statutes in 2016 and its Human Rights Policy, adopted in 2017. FIFA also has ample resources for remedy since the 2022 World Cup is expected to generate over $6 billion in revenue.

Key labor reforms introduced by Qatari authorities came too late or were too weakly implemented for many workers to benefit.

In May, Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations, trade unions, and fan groups pressed FIFA and Qatari authorities in a Joint Open Letter and campaign to provide a remedy for the abuses workers have experienced, including financial compensation for wage theft or injuries, and to families of the deceased.

Women’s Rights
In a 2021 report, Human Rights Watch documented that Qatari laws, regulations, and practices impose discriminatory male guardianship rules, which deny women the right to make key decisions about their lives. Women in Qatar must obtain permission from their male guardians (male family members) to marry, study abroad on government scholarships, work in many government jobs, travel abroad until certain ages, and receive certain reproductive health care.

Qatar’s penal code criminalizes all forms of sex outside marriage, with sentences of up to seven years in prison. If they are Muslim, they can also be sentenced to floggings or stoning. Women have been disproportionately prosecuted, because pregnancy serves as evidence of the so-called crime, and reporting rape can be deemed as a confession. Police often disregard women who report such violence, instead believing the men who claim it was consensual. Any indication that a woman knew the man has been enough to prosecute the woman.

Women are also required to show a marriage certificate to access certain forms of sexual and reproductive health care, including checks for sexually transmitted infections and post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV, and lack access to emergency contraception.

On November 7, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, Qatar’s organizing body for the World Cup, told Human Rights Watch that it will provide shelters and clinics for psychological, medical, forensic and legal support for victims of abuse during the World Cup.

On November 9, FIFA told Human Rights Watch that, “FIFA is confident that women will have full access to medical care, including any care connected with a possible pregnancy, regardless of circumstances and without questions asked about marital status.” The association also said that, “FIFA has been assured that women reporting rape or other forms of abuse will not face any questions or accusations regarding possible consensual extramarital sexual relationships and should not fear repercussions of any form on that basis.”

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) People’s Rights
Qatar’s penal code punishes consensual sexual relations between men above age 16 with up to 7 years in prison (article 285). It also provides penalties of between one and three years (article 296) for any male who “instigates” or “entices” another male to “commit an act of sodomy or immorality.” A penalty of up to 10 years (article 288) is imposed on anyone who engages in consensual sexual relations, which could apply to consensual same-sex relations between women, men, or heterosexual partners.

In October, Human Rights Watch published research findings that Qatar Preventive Security Department forces, under the Interior Ministry, had arbitrarily arrested six Qatari LGBT people and subjected them to ill-treatment, including severe beatings and sexual harassment, in detention. As a requirement for their release, security forces mandated that transgender women detainees attend conversion therapy sessions at a government-sponsored “behavioral healthcare” center. LGBT people interviewed said that their mistreatment took place as recently as September, even as the government came under intense scrutiny in advance of the World Cup for its treatment of LGBT people. In November, a 2022 FIFA Qatar World Cup Ambassador described homosexuality as “damage in the mind” in a television interview.

Freedom of Expression and Press Freedom
Qatar’s penal code criminalizes criticizing the emir, insulting Qatar’s flag, defaming religion, including blasphemy, and inciting “to overthrow the regime.” Qatar’s 2014 cybercrimes law provides up to 3 years in prison and a fine of 500,000 Qatari riyal (US$137,000) for anyone convicted of spreading undefined “false news” on the internet or for posting online content that “violates social values or principles,” or “insults or slanders others.” Some international journalists have been detained while reporting in Qatar, forced to confess, and their work has been destroyed.

“Qatar, FIFA and sponsors still have an opportunity to salvage the tournament’s legacy by remedying the migrant rights abuses associated with the World Cup and adopting reforms to improve protections for women, LGBT people, and migrant groups – not just during the World Cup but beyond,” Worden said. “Journalists can help ensure these crucial issues come to light.”

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Sport has the potential to be a catalyst for human development, unity, and freedom, but too often it instead brings harm to its athletes, fans, and communities. We exist to uncover and rectify the many abuses that exist both in and around sport. We aim to transform sports into an authentic force for good.