QATAR: Will the World Cup Bubble Burst?

ALEXIS CRUZ WRITES- Qatar has been fairly confident about keeping the 2022 World Cup. The country has passed some labor reforms and FIFA still backs them, but the country’s officials might have to be more cautious. Harvard professor John Ruggie wrote a FIFA-commissioned report on the organization’s human rights responsibilities and advised that if Qatar does not stop human rights violations, FIFA would have to take away Qatar’s right to host the World Cup.

Ruggie recommends that FIFA add human rights criteria for selecting tournament hosts and sponsors. According to the professor, FIFA has to exert a positive influence on its partners or walk away. He told The Guardian, “FIFA can’t impose human rights on countries but in return for hosting a tournament there are certain human rights to which you should have to adhere. If you can’t, you have to make tough decisions. That may include having to terminate an existing relationship.”

Ruggie’s report follows Amnesty International’s ‘The Ugly Side of the Beautiful Game: Exploitation on a Qatar 2022 World Cup Site,” which confirms that labor abuses continue despite recent reforms. Workers still face squalid accommodations, pay delays, and passport confiscation; Amnesty recommends that FIFA carry independent investigations and publicly push Qatari authorities for reform. After the release of Ruggie’s report, the human rights group criticized Ruggie for not stressing the need for immediate reform but Amnesty International did not suggest taking the tournament away.

News in Qatar tends to focus more on the positive. Qatari newspaper, The Gulf Times reported that the US State Department’s “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015” acknowledged that Qatar has improved human rights practices through several labor reforms. The article pointed out that laws passed last year reduced forced labor conditions and that authorities arrested guilty employers.

The Gulf Times article overlooked some of the report’s negative aspects. Although the US report is far more lenient than that of Ruggie and Amnesty International, it adds that Qatar does not have a minimum wage and unionization is prohibited. Both contribute to continuing human rights abuses in the country.

So what else will likely to rain on Qatar’s parade? The economy.

Qatar is one of the world’s wealthiest countries but falling energy prices forced all sectors to make cutbacks, including news broadcaster Al Jazeera, which recently closed Al Jazeera America. The World Cup is estimated to cost Qatar some $220 billion but the budget has faced cuts. The number of planned stadiums has been reduced from twelve to eight yet foreign labor has increased forty percent since 2010. With six years left until the world football tournament begins, Qatar’s once-promising World Cup looks to be springing some leaks.

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