Nepalese migrant workers’ lives are being put at risk as Qatar prepares for the 2022 World Cup, The Guardian has reported, with the competition's organising committee saying it is "appalled" by the findings of the investigation.
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The newspaper has obtained documents from the Nepalese embassy in Qatar’s capital city, Doha, showing at least 44 workers died in a two-month spell this summer as the Gulf state puts the infrastructure in place for the tournament. The deaths were said to be predominantly down to heart attacks, heart failure or workplace accidents.
The investigation also found evidence of forced labour on the World Cup infrastructure project, as well as allegations that pay has been withheld for several months and passports have been confiscated to prevent the workers leaving.
The problems with the summer heat -- already a major talking point amid plans to move the World Cup to the winter for the first time in its history -- are said to be posing a substantial health risk, with some workers claiming they have been refused free drinking water.
Qatar, whose immigrant workforce stands at 90 percent, is accused of exploiting a situation that sees Nepalese workers paying recruitment agents to secure work in the state and then being left powerless to escape the conditions. The Nepalese ambassador to Qatar, Maya Kumari Sharma, sparked a significant controversy earlier this summer when she said that the state had become “an open jail” for workers from her homeland.
On Thursday, FIFA responded to the accusations with this statement: "FIFA is very concerned about the reports presented by the media regarding labour rights' abuses and the conditions for construction workers in projects at Lusail City, Qatar.
"FIFA will again get in contact with the Qatari authorities and the matter will also be discussed at the executive committee meeting."
Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International, said: "The evidence uncovered by The Guardian is clear proof of the use of systematic forced labour in Qatar. In fact, these working conditions and the astonishing number of deaths of vulnerable workers go beyond forced labour to the slavery of old where human beings were treated as objects. There is no longer a risk that the World Cup might be built on forced labour. It is already happening."
Work directly relating to the World Cup has yet to begin but new cities are being created that will house stadiums to be used in the tournament, and the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee has said the current treatment of workers is inexcusable.
A statement read: "Like everyone viewing the video and images, and reading the accompanying texts, we are appalled by the findings presented in The Guardian's report. There is no excuse for any worker in Qatar, or anywhere else, to be treated in this manner.
"The health, safety, wellbeing and dignity of every worker that contributes to staging the 2022 FIFA World Cup is of the utmost importance to our committee and we are committed to ensuring that the event serves as a catalyst toward creating sustainable improvements to the lives of all workers in Qatar.
"We firmly believe that all workers engaged on our projects, and those of the other infrastructure developers in Qatar, have a right to be treated in a manner that ensures at all times their wellbeing, safety, security, and dignity. This is our top priority as we begin to deliver on the promises made in our bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar."
In a recent interview with insideworldfootball.com, FIFA president Sepp Blatter had said he believed hosting the World Cup in Qatar would make a positive impact.
He said: “The Qatar World Cup promises to help unite an unstable region of the world by bringing hope and joy to millions who have suffered for decades. It will show, once again, that football is a force for good -- as we have most recently demonstrated by encouraging the Palestinians and Israelis to come to Zurich and start meaningful dialogue towards reaching an historic agreement.
“We have no political ambitions, which is why we are not suspect of having a political agenda. All we want is to bring the World Cup to regions where it has never been before, and where football can help make a difference -- even for a few weeks. I am a firm believer in the good of the game and what it can generate.”
The International Trade Union Confederation also said Thursday it is pushing FIFA to press for changes in Qatari labor laws.
ITUC secretary general Sharan Burrow said on September 20 to Blatter that "several hundred migrant construction workers die each year in Qatar" where they often work in extreme heat.
ITUC wants FIFA to discuss the issue at its executive committee meeting next Thursday and Friday when it will also discuss other World Cup issues, including switching the tournament from summer to winter.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.