They’re impossible to miss. On a drive around Qatar, at every turn, it seems, a new football stadium rises out of the desert — each design offering a futuristic take on its traditional culture.
One of them, located in an area that was long known for pearl diving and fishing, is shaped like a dhow boat, a traditional vessel that ply Gulf waters. Another is designed like a woven hat known as a “gahfiya,” mostly worn by men in Gulf countries as a base for their traditional white headscarves. Each stadium design represents Qatar’s history and culture and are testaments to its future ambitions on the world stage. But each has been built with the help of an army of workers coming from abroad, many of whom hail from South Asia and parts of Africa. And the small Gulf country has gone on a media offensive following several reports alleging egregious mistreatment and abuse.
Since Qatar won the bid to host the World Cup in 2010, more than 6,500 migrant workers have died in the country, The Guardian reported in February. Most of the workers, the authors alleged, were involved in low-wage, dangerous labor, often done in extreme heat. The Guardian report did not definitively link all 6,500 deaths to World Cup infrastructure projects. Though one expert told the British paper it was “likely many workers who have died were employed” on those projects. Qatar World Cup officials estimate a very different death toll, saying there have been just three work-related deaths on stadiums and 35 non-work-related deaths. Hassan Al Thawadi — the man in charge of leading the event’s preparations — told CNN’s Becky Anderson that The Guardian’s 6,500 figure was “inherently misleading” and lacking context.