Here’s the Very Real (Human) Price Tag for Giant Stadiums

“Modern-day slavery”: that is the phrase that The Guardian uses to describe the brutal working and living conditions endured by Nepalese migrant laborers who are building facilities for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The emirate is spending some $100 billion, and recruiting 1.5 million workers to build stadiums, roads, ports and hotels for the millions of soccer devotees, officials and others expected to attend the event.

There has been a lot of talk “about the effect of Qatar’s extreme heat on a few hundred footballers,” Umesh Upadhyaya, general secretary of the General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions, says. As he also points out, most “are ignoring the hardships, blood and sweat of thousands of migrant workers, who will be building the World Cup stadiums in shifts that can last eight times the length of a football match.”

90 percent of the Qatar’s workforce is comprised of immigrants. Of these, 40 percent of migrant laborers are Nepalese. A total of 340,000 Nepalese workers are currently in Qatar, some 100,000 of whom came there in 2012. The funds they send back home are crucial for Nepal’s economy. According to the World Bank, remittances from migrant workers in Qatar accounted for 22 percent of Nepal’s economic output, a figure that is expected to arise.

The extent of the exploitation and abuse suffered by the workers amounts to modern-day slavery as defined by the International Labor Organization.

Nepalese workers at Qatari construction sites have described being forced to work in 50 degrees Celsius heat (about 122 degrees Fahrenheit) while being denied access to free drinking water and sleeping twelve to a room in “repulsive” conditions. They have been forced to work without pay and even without food and their passports have been confiscated. Employers have refused to issue ID cards to laborers and prevented them from leaving their place of work.

Between June 4 and August 8, documents obtained from the Nepalese embassy in Doha reveal that at least 44 workers (some young men who suffered heart attacks) died. That is, at least one  Nepalese worker died a day last summer.

The Nepalese ambassador to Qatar, Maya Kumari Sharma, recently described the country as an “open jail” for Nepalis, 30 of whom have sought refuge at the embassy in Doha. After making her comments, Sharma was summoned back to Nepal.

At an October 1 press conference in Doha, Mohammad Ramadan, a legal adviser for Nepali nationals in Qatar, insisted that all the workers are “safe and fully respected.” Ali bin Samikh Al-Marri, chairman of Qatar’s national human rights committee, criticized The Guardian’s report for exaggerating numbers and stated that “there is no slavery or forced labor in Qatar.”

Nonetheless, Ramadan referred in his statement to data from the Nepal embassy, according to which 20 percent of the 276 Nepalese workers who died in Qatar in 2012 have been killed at building sites.

While Qatar has laws protecting workers’ rights on the books (it prohibits employers from confiscating passports and bans illegal recruitment fees), the reality is that these laws are not being enforced, as Human Rights Watch notes, in no small part because of the business community’s opposition to addressing workers’ rights.

Executives for FIFA are meeting this week in Zurich to discuss workers’ safety on 2022 World Cup projects. Such a meeting is more than warranted amid reports of similar abuses about migrant workers in Sochi, Russia to build facilities for the 2014 Olympics.

Sports fans need to know that, to build soccer and other athletic facilities, workers exhibiting stamina and exerting themselves physically as much as any athlete have been injured and even died. Unlike the athletes who crowds will clamor to see at the 2022 World Cup, the exploits of migrant workers from a country far from Qatar will not be noted, let alone celebrated.

Photo from Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for the article.

Yvette S.
Yvette S4 years ago

Thanks for posting

sandra j.
sandra j4 years ago


Nils Anders Lunde
PlsNoMessage se4 years ago


Walter G.
Walter G4 years ago

Re-entry, eyes have failed. Giant stadiums are motivated by greed. Great places to start riots which spill into the streets after the crowd finishes with the carnage in the stands and on the field. They are huge monuments to greed and avarice. These are also obsolete, since the crowds could be avoided by televising the events "Pay per View," shrinking the overhead cost incalculably, and stop the coordinated violence. What to do with the stadiums? Use some of them for psychopathic viewing, remove the stands and just let the crowds onto the field to kill each other. Good riddance. Other stadiums could go the way of what many golf courses deserve, to make way for much needed farmland and housing. The first stadium “Do or Die” event I would recommend would for all the politicians on Capital Hill to assemble, with their security forces, and just have at it with any weapons except nuclear and chemical till the last two survive, and these two should then decide the winner by using shotguns while locked in a telephone booth.

Jonathan Y.
Jonathan Y4 years ago

Awful. But this isn't the fault of stadiums or sports, any more than Jimmy Hoffa's body is buried in Giants Stadium.

It's the fault of a pervasive culture in the Middle East that foreign workers, especially manual workers and servants, are disposable and have less rights than other humans. FIFA should perhaps have awarded the summer cup to a different venue in a cooler climate.

sandra j.
sandra j4 years ago


Annelies Haussler
liessi Haussler4 years ago

I don't get how giant stadiums are to blame. The only thing behind slavery, ever, is greedy humans. Don't blame the plantation. Blame the plantation owner.

Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper4 years ago


A F.
Athena F4 years ago

Thank you!