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Qatar's Migrant Workers 'Celebrate' Their Own World Cup

On the outskirts of Doha, migrant workers are finally getting to enjoy the World Cup that they made possible. Far from the city's shining lights, the lives lost and their impact on the event are not forgotten.
Qatar's migrant workers 'celebrate' their own World Cup

Qatar couldn't have hosted the 2022 World Cup without their migrant workers, some of whom lost their lives. As their national team played its final World Cup game against the Netherlands on Tuesday, the Asian Town Cricket Stadium on the outskirts of Doha was once again a hub of activity.

Thousands of people filled the stadium, all gazing at the same big screen. In the Industrial Fan Zone, this is how many of the migrant workers have been following the World Cup. You won't run into any tourists here, a 45-minute drive from Doha with its magnificent Corniche boulevard and the glittering facades of the skyscrapers. This stadium is the sole domain of the migrant workers.   

Every day, thousands come to watch World Cup games. They are almost exclusively young men, between the ages of 20 and 40. Most of them come from India, Bangladesh, Kenya, Nepal or Pakistan. Most of these men worked in construction and built the infrastructure the hosts put up for the tournament. Some even lost friends along the way.

There's plenty of space at the Asian Town Cricket Stadium where fans even played five-a-side football matches


There's plenty of space at the Asian Town Cricket Stadium where fans even played five-a-side football matches

Different atmosphere from downtown Doha

On this night, though, they were entertained with music as the show host called some of them up onto the big stage to play Hindi word games to loud applause from the crowd. 

Omna Rayan, 26, a Nepali construction electrician who moved to Qatar four years ago, uploaded some of the footage to his TikTok account, where he has over 2,000 followers. His pictures and videos of life abroad have made him popular among his friends back home.

Rayan makes 1,200 riyals ($329/€319) a month, the bulk of which goes to his parents back home. "The pay here is better than in Nepal," Rayan told DW. It was the reason he moved to Qatar.

The same goes for Ibrahim Gazi, a 25-year-old construction worker from India who, like many, wasn’t able to fulfill his ultimate wish of attending one of the games in person. "When I tried to buy tickets, they were sold out," said Gazi, a team leader at work, who earns 3000 riyals ($823/€797) monthly.

Shams from India, on the other hand, was among the lucky few. He has been living in Qatar for almost 13 years and has built something for himself; his family also lives here. He got hold of a ticket and spent the equivalent of €60 on it. 

"We helped build this country," said Shams. "Why shouldn't we be allowed to experience and celebrate the World Cup just like the Qataris?" The sandwich stall he runs on the grounds is decorated in typical FIFA branding, but alcohol is not served. "Beer is not allowed," whispers Shams behind the counter.

Deadly, but lucrative, work

The fees quoted are not much by Western standards, but these men from Southeast Asia appreciate what Qatar has offered them. It's a place to make more than they would in their home countries and support their dependents.

Yet, these jobs have also been the source of pain for many of their families. This week, Hassan al-Thawadi, secretary-general of the Supreme Committee of Delivery and Legacy, the World Cup organizing committee, admitted that between 400-500 migrant workers had died in the run-up to the tournament. 

This figure was later revised to 414 deaths between 2014 and 2020. However, media reports have put the number of deaths at over 6,500, with many migrant workers made to toil under intolerable conditions.  

Al-Thawadi said employment laws had been improved with the scrutiny of the World Cup, helping to change attitudes toward migrant workers. They have also improved health and safety measures at workplaces to prevent fatalities.

But human rights groups have called for FIFA to compensate affected workers and their families, many of whom are now unable to work due to debilitating health conditions. However, Qatar has rejected these attempts, saying that all workers owed salaries have been paid from its Workers Support and Insurance Fund.


An escape, despite defeat

But the magic of football is that it can transport you away from daily challenges and troubles, and that's what has been taking place at the Asian Town Cricket Stadium throughout the tournament.

When the football isn't on, different artists perform on stage. This evening, it was the task of Indian actress Lincia Rosario to keep the audience engaged, including with halftime trivia that had those in attendance scrambling for answers.

"These are the people who built the stadiums and are why Qatar is what it is today, and it is an honor to do this for them," Rosario told DW. "I'm here to make this moment special for them and have them live in the moment to enjoy the work they have put in."

Some men gathered the courage to get on the stage and dance to the Hindi music that blared from the loudspeakers. As they danced, the others cheered with loud clapping.

The same couldn't be said of the game, as several men walked away disappointed following a 2-0 defeat, with host Qatar losing all three group games. "We love our team," said Ibrahim Gazi. "It's sad but they are not very good at football."

Edited by: James Thorogood

Courtesy: dw

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