ALEXIS CRUZ WRITES- The last month has brought a flood of news about the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. It’s been a controversial topic ever since FIFA awarded the tournament to Qatar, in part because of the country’s kafala system that critics say lets employers abuse migrant workers. When FIFA announced their proposal, reports on worker’s rights appeared in much of the international media, especially in the west where anger over the World Cup host selection is greatest. In Qatar, however, newspapers must wane on the side of caution.
Qatari newspapers like Gulf Times and The Peninsula have devoted their coverage of worker’s rights to demonstrating progress. Both newspapers are among Qatar’s most popular English-language publications and are sister papers to their Arabic-language counterparts, Al-Rayah (Gulf Times) and Al-Sharq (The Peninsula). The worker’s rights issue resurfaced when FIFA President Sepp Blatter held a meeting with Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. Groups such as ESPNFC and BBC have reported that Blatter noted that while progress has been made, “more must be done” to improve working conditions in Qatar.
Qatari papers reported on Blatter’s more positive comments, in which he stated that Qatar has made progress to reform worker’s rights. Gulf Times and The Peninsula reported that Blatter said: “It was encouraging to hear the Emir’s personal commitment to workers’ welfare and to get a sense of the improvements planned for all workers in Qatar.” The newspapers devoted their stories to Blatter’s praises, ignoring any remarks he made on the negative aspects of workers’ welfare in Qatar. Qatari media law restrains newspapers from presenting reports critical of the emir and they cannot publish material that causes “any damage to the supreme interests of the country”.
Gulf Times, The Peninsula, and their sister papers are privately owned but are pro-government, thus restricting any material on the country’s human rights abuses (or any news that would appear anti-government, for that matter). The newspapers acknowledged the deplorable conditions Qatar’s migrant workers face because it would not offend Qatar’s government.
Qatari reports on improved welfare for workers are not entirely disingenuous. Human Rights Watch welcomed Qatar’s proposed reforms but admitted that the country needs to go further to completely eliminate the kafala system. However, there are still seven years left until the competition begins and Qatar has to build entire cities, not just stadiums. Worker’s welfare will improve at the government’s behest.
Perhaps soccer will be the push Qatar needs to shape up.