It was on live television. The great and good of world football were announcing the winners. Australia, Japan, South Korea, United States and Qatar were in the running – all were eager to host the 2022 Fifa World Cup. Qatar does not have a rich football history, and I must admit, I did not think it had a chance. But when Qatar won the bid, I jumped for joy. At last, I thought, a Gulf state is going to do something that will be seen around the world as good. But moments later, my delight evaporated as some disturbing thoughts came to the fore. The World Cup would need a string of stadiums and new venues. Qatar can certainly afford them, but who is going to actually, physically, build them? Images of toiling South Asian labourers I had seen on various building sites around the Gulf came into mind. This is going to increase their suffering manifold, I said to myself.
Sure enough, within months news of death and distress of expatriate workers began to emerge from Qatar. Between 2010 and 2012, more than 700 workers from India died on construction sites in Qatar. Some forty labourers from Nepal lost their lives in a single month in 2013 building the new stadium, which is shaped like a well-known part of the female anatomy. And the death toll continues to rise. According to a report by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), twelve migrant workers will continue to die every week, taking the toll to at least 4,000 migrant workers by the time we actually see the World Cup on our television screens.