- Qatar’s World Cup chief made a bold claim about the amount of migrant workers who have died.
- The Guardian reported at least 6,500 migrants died since Qatar was awarded the World Cup contract.
- Qatar’s numbers were close to 40 deaths before the tournament, and now 400 deaths is the estimate.
In an interview with Piers Morgan Monday, Qatar World Cup Chief Hassan Al-Thawadi said that 400 to 500 people have died in the preparation leading up to the tournament that started last week, despite figures indicating the actual number of deaths may be much higher.
“The estimate is around 400,” Thawadi told Morgan in an episode of Uncensored. “Between 400 and 500. I don’t have the exact number, that is something that is being discussed.”
“One death is a death too many, it’s plain and simple,” he continued. “Every year the health and safety standards on the sites are improving, at least on our sites, the World Cup sites, the ones we are responsible for. Most definitely to the extent that you have trade unions [commending] the work that has been done on World Cup sites and the improvement.”
The Monday announcement from Thawadi followed reporting from The Guardian, which estimated a total of 6,500 migrant worker deaths in the country since the award of the tournament in 2010, based on data from migrant workers’ countries of origin.
“A very significant proportion of the migrant workers who have died since 2011 were only in the country because Qatar won the right to host the World Cup,” Nick McGeehan, a director at FairSquare Projects, an organization which has researched migrant deaths in Qatar, told The Guardian.
The 2022 World Cup host has faced criticism around migrant workers since being awarded hosting rights
Qatar snagged a controversial bid to host 2022’s World Cup after the 2010 tournament in South Africa, in a saga where Qatar has faced accusations from US authorities of bribing FIFA officials to secure the bid. The Gulf nation has been preparing for this moment for 12 years, building stadiums and infrastructure to house the large number of games — and fans — the tournament would surely bring.
The Persian Gulf country’s pattern of abuse of migrant workers has been one of the central criticisms of its hosting of the World Cup. In contrast, eight people died during preparations for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, according to Reuters. In the lead-up to Russia’s 2018 world cup, 17 people died, The New York Times reported.
According to The Guardian, Qatar has built seven new stadiums for the event and renovated an eighth. The country has undertaken a slew of other construction projects, too, including upgrades to public transportation and roads, new skyscrapers and hotels, and even a new city to host the final game: Lusail.
Thawadi told Morgan that the 400 to 500 figure captures deaths as a result of anything being done for the World Cup over the last 12 years.
“This is just the latest example of Qatar’s inexcusable lack of transparency on the issues of workers’ deaths. We need proper data and thorough investigations, not vague figures announced through media interviews,” McGeehan added to the Guardian. “Fifa and Qatar still have a lot of questions to answer, not least where, when, and how did these men die and did their families receive compensation.”
Qatar offers higher figures than a week ago, but much lower than outside estimates
The workers mainly immigrate to Qatar from Nepal, India, and Pakistan in a “kafala” (sponsorship) system which gives private companies agency over immigration and employment for the workers.
According to Qatar’s government, 30,000 migrant workers were employed to get ready for the tournament and the country has one of the highest ratios of migrants to citizens, per The Guardian. Workers toiled in temperatures as hot as 117 degrees Fahrenheit and lived in labor camps, according to CBS News.
In 2020, Qatar announced some labor reforms, but groups such as Human Rights Watch have called for the country’s authorities to compensate workers and their families, and have alleged worksite abuses leading up to the tournament.
According to the Washington Post, the workers were subjected to squalid living conditions, had wages withheld and workers have died due to heart failure and heat exhaustion, among other causes related to work.
Thawadi’s figures were a sudden uptick from messaging from the tournament’s organizers, which claimed that only 40 people had died in the lead-up to the major sporting event. The country’s breakdown said 37 people died from “non-work-related deaths” and only three of those 40 were from “work-related deaths.”
Rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also accused Qatar of improperly issuing death certificates and investigating the deaths of thousands of workers, thus deflating the numbers and skewing their causes of death. Many of the workers have died in the labor camps and not on the job, the groups reported.