World Cup: Inside Qatar camp where migrant workers who built stadiums on minimum wage live | Football | Sport


At the Asian Town Cricket Stadium, an hour away from Qatar’s gleaming Al Bayt Stadium, a couple of thousand migrant workers watched on listlessly as their temporary homeland quietly exited the World Cup. It was a still Tuesday evening in Doha’s badlands – the part they don’t show you in David Beckham’s promotional Qatar programmes. The men – they were all men – sat on the scrubby outfield, partly illuminated by patchy floodlights and the light of the big screen, observing impassively as Qatar toiled away in front of them. 

This, in theory, was their team yet as Qatar slipped to a 2-0 defeat against the Netherlands, there was no disappointment at seeing them become the only host nation ever to lose all of their matches, nor frustration that it was all over for the maroons almost before it had started. 

They were watching, because it was something to do and it was free, not because of any connection with the Qatar team or even the country itself. When the Qatari anthem had played just before kick-off, it had been met by indifferent silence. 

Michael, a pork-pie-hat-wearing security guard from Kenya, wanted Senegal to win the tournament. Deewan, a company supervisor from Nepal, backed Argentina. Muhammad, a taxi driver from Bangladesh, opted for Brazil. To them, like the rest of the world, Qatar were irrelevant also-rans.

The Industrial Fan Zone, to which the cricket ground belongs, backs onto the grim, sand-blasted, accommodation blocks of Labour City where 70,000 migrant workers live. There are no flags of the competing nations draped from the barred windows here.

Mike, from Uganda, who shares a dorm room with three other African labourers, proudly shows off pictures on his phone of his children back at home. He misses them but he can make a lot more money here in construction, he says. He earns the Qatari minimum wage of £225 per month.

The wages are OK, he says. His gripes are with the recruitment agencies who saddle migrants with a debt to pay off in return for a job in Qatar. Away from any official oversight, watching the football at the cricket ground, the same story is repeated.

Qatar’s working conditions have improved, the workers say. The red flags flown to stop work during the heat of the day in the summer, are now adhered to. Unfortunately it has come too late for too many.

The hideous human cost to stage the greatest football show on earth was finally admitted to this week by Qatar ‘22’s head Hassan Al-Thawadi. Between 400 and 500 died on projects connected to the World Cup.

Those are the numbers that, joyous though the football has been, will forever make this World Cup indefensible. A sign at the fan park thanks the workers for their contributions in delivering ‘the best FIFA World Cup ever’. But if you are searching for a discernible sense of pride amongst the migrant workers, forget it.

The World Cup may be happening on their  doorstep but downtown Doha, with its designer malls and flashy, tinted-windowed 4x4s, is a parallel universe to Asian Town. Unless they have been fortunate enough to have been gifted tickets – as England did with 19 workers for the Iran game – they have been priced out of the tournament and left to exist on the big-screen scraps.

For the men who built it, this World Cup might as well be happening on another planet.

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