As the 2022 FIFA World Cup approaches, host country Qatar is under more scrutiny than ever.
When the games were first announced in 2010, the country had a rigid labor structure, known as the “kafala” system. Under these rules, workers had few opportunities to transition between employers and no minimum wage in some industries. With all eyes on Qatar, this small, prosperous country has made major reforms to its laws and regulations to improve the human rights and living conditions of migrant workers.
Over the past decade, Qatar has adopted regulations to bring the country into compliance with the International Labor Organization (ILO), FIFA and other international regulatory standards. Some of these new changes include a worker support and insurance fund and, more importantly, the introduction of laws which mean that most workers exit permit no longer needed leave the country. They can also change jobs freely without needing permission from their former employer, as required by the kafala system.
“I am delighted to see the strong commitment of the Qatari authorities to ensure that the reforms are fully implemented in the labor market, leaving a lasting legacy of the FIFA World Cup long after the event and benefiting in the long term. migrant workers in the host country”, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said in a press release last March, after meeting with Qatar’s labor minister, Ali bin Samikh Al Marri.
FIFA’s praise is significant, but is closely tied to the World Cup and won’t last beyond that. Even more crucial is the ongoing technical cooperation between Qatar and the ILO.
“In collaboration with the ILO, (Qatar) has introduced laws in line with international best practices. The next step has been to ensure that the changes are fully implemented by changing the deeply rooted cultural attitudes of employers,” the Minister of Labor wrote in a December 2021 article. letter to the Financial Times.
A recent ILO confirmed report that the basic monthly minimum wage now applies to all workers, regardless of their nationality and profession, including domestic workers. In addition to a minimum wage, workers are entitled to decent housing and food or monthly allowances. As a result, more than 280,000 workers (about 13 for cent of the total workforce) saw a salary increase in 2021.
These reforms are important for the millions of people who will work in the construction and hospitality sector in Qatar in the years to come. World and civil society leaders need to be vigilant, but by all appearances, Qatar seems to want to maintain these reforms, pledging to include them in its National Vision 2030 program. This is important, as Qatar will also host the 2030 Asian Games and is a candidate to host future Olympic Games.
Although the passion for the game is unrivaled in my native Italy, there is much more at stake than football: the role of sport in driving the improvement of human rights. This idea may have been on FIFA’s mind when Qatar was announced as hosts in 2010. It might have limited applicability, but it’s a success story in a matter where such victories are rare.
The reforms observed in Qatar seem to justify the idea of sport for change. It was also an underlying idea for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, which will link Canada and the United States to Mexico, where some matches will be played. The vision here is not an improvement in the human rights situation, but rather a more integrated North America. In this way, major sporting events can be an impetus for change that matters, long after the last football kick.