Is Qatar using the World Cup to whitewash its political

Is Qatar using the World Cup to whitewash its political situation?

(CNN Spanish) — The soccer World Cup began and for a whole month the eyes of the world rest on Qatar. Beyond the impressive stadiums and skyscrapers that flourish in the desert of this small country, many concerns remain about the political conditions that prevail there.

Are people from the LGBT community who went to Qatar for the sporting event guaranteed their rights? What about the report of the aberrational conditions in which thousands of migrant workers built the modern stadiums where the matches will be played? In short: will the World Cup serve to raise awareness about these issues or rather will it serve as a facade for the monarchy that governs there to continue in power?

“It will not be the first or the last time that a national government uses the organization of a very popular sporting event to position its country in a certain way in the eyes of the world,” said Mariela Belski, executive director of Amnesty International Argentina and consulted by CNN on the subject.

This has an extra value for the countries of the Persian Gulf. Governments do not become so through democratic mechanisms and there are neither political parties nor the separation of powers. The Reporters Without Borders 2021 Press Freedom Index ranked Qatar 128th out of 180 countries.

“Qatar is the first Arab country to host a soccer World Cup, and this fact may be useful to consolidate its image as the leading country in the region. In addition, the World Cup underpins the country’s dissemination as a tourist destination,” Belski added. .

Rights of the LGBT community

Despite the warnings on these issues and the concerns of different groups, the authorities of this small emirate located on a peninsula on the Persian Gulf have insisted on several occasions with the same idea: in Qatar there is tolerance and everyone will be welcome during the World Cup. World.

Nasser Al Khater, executive director of the tournament’s organizing committee, told CNN the country has been treated “unfairly” since it won the right to host the tournament 12 years ago.

“We know that the World Cup brings with it greater visibility. We’ve seen it in the past,” Al Khater told CNN Sport’s Amanda Davies. “But if that’s a catalyst for change, we’re all for it,” she added.

A woman standing by the sea overlooking the towering skyline of the Qatari capital Doha on December 13, 2021. (Photo by Karim SAHIB / AFP)

However, Al Khater also said that while everyone would be welcome, the condition was that there be no “public displays of affection” because “they are frowned upon, and this applies to everyone,” by gay and straight people. In addition, he assured that “whoever displays the LGBT flag in the World Cup will be arrested for 7 or 11 years.”

The Qatar Penal Code makes homosexual relations between men an offense punishable by up to 7 years in prison. Article 296 specifies the crimes of “leading, instigating or seducing a man in any way to commit sodomy or dissipation” and “inducing or seducing a man or woman in any way to commit illegal or immoral actions.”

That is why, despite what the organizers say, the activists and Human Rights organizations demand the repeal of article 296, to guarantee the safety of all those who travel to the World Cup and, in general, of all Qataris.

A photograph taken on October 11, 2022 shows people walking in the Souq Waqif bazaar in the Qatari capital Doha ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)

A photograph taken on October 11, 2022 shows people walking in the Souq Waqif bazaar in the Qatari capital Doha ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)

In the midst of this context, captains from England, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Wales were initially ready to participate in the “OneLove” campaign to promote inclusion and oppose discrimination. But right at the beginning of the tournament it was learned that they will not finally wear “OneLove” bracelets in the World Cup in Qatar due to the danger of receiving yellow cards.

The associations of those countries said in a statement on Monday, November 21, that the bracelet, which features a heart striped in different colors to represent all heritages, origins, genders and sexual identities, will not be worn in Qatar.

immigrant workers

Qatar is also under scrutiny over the country’s treatment of migrant workers involved in building World Cup stadiums. Recently, the International Labor Organization (ILO) said the State is not adequately investigating and reporting deaths in the workplace.

Last year a Guardian report revealed that some 6,500 migrant workers had died in the country in the 10 years after Qatar was named host of the 2022 World Cup. The report was “categorically” denied by organizers. of the tournament, and CNN was unable to independently verify that report.

However, there is a series of data that serves to verify what is, at present, the situation of migrants in Qatar —who represent almost 90% of the total population of the country.

According to an Amnesty International report published this year and titled “The World Cup of Shame”, the migrant workers involved in the construction of the stadiums suffered different types of abuses and labor exploitation. According to the organization, the number of immigrant workers in the country amounts to 1.7 million.

Workers walk past a billboard displaying an illustration of the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup mascot “La’eeb” in the Qatari capital Doha on October 13, 2022 (Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP)

“… Coming from Bangladesh, India and Nepal (who) work on the renovation of the emblematic Khalifa stadium and on the landscaping of the sports facilities and surrounding green areas, the so-called “Aspire Zone”, are being exploited. Some are the object of forced labor. They cannot change jobs, cannot leave the country and often have to wait months for their wages,” the report states.

Amnesty lists 8 forms of exploitation: high contract conditions – what workers pay to agencies to escape poverty in their countries of origin -, terrible living conditions, lies about salary, late payments, impossibility to leave the stadium or camp, impossibility to leave the country or change jobs, threats and forced labor.

“From 2017 onwards, Qatar has enacted a series of reforms to its labor system, but the changes have stalled and old abusive practices have resurfaced. Those laws were aimed at removing restrictions on migrant workers to leave the country and change jobs without permission from their employers,” says Amnesty’s Belski.

If realized, those changes could have eliminated the kafala (sponsorship) system, a mechanism that ties migrant staff to their employers.

“Several workers have warned Amnesty International that they still face significant obstacles to changing jobs, and they live with the possibility of being expelled from the country if the employer is not satisfied,” added Belski, noting that together with other organizations they have urged FIFA to allocate at least US$440 million to compensate migrant workers in Qatar.

With reporting from CNN’s George Ramsay, Zayn Nabbi and Ben Church