Last Wednesday the Washington Post produced a graphic purporting to show the number of migrant workers who have died in Qatar (1200) on work related to the 2022 World Cup as compared to worker deaths for other major international sporting events (I used it here). Qatar cried foul, saying that those 1200 migrant workers, while still dead, did not in fact die on “World Cup construction sites,” that Actually there hasn’t been a single migrant worker death on “World Cup construction sites.” The Post has now changed the graphic to refer to “migrant worker deaths since Dec. 2010,” when the 2022 World Cup was awarded to Qatar. We all regret the error.
Except…well, for one thing, the Qataris overplayed their hand here. I mean, you guys didn’t think people would notice your use of the oddly specific designation of “World Cup construction sites”? Meaning that plenty of those workers could have died on World Cup-related work, just not on a specific World Cup site? What about a worker who maybe got hurt on one of those sites but had the good taste to die someplace else, how would he be counted? And for another thing, part of Qatar’s defense here relies on the fact that, as Human Rights Watch’s Nicholas McGeehan pointed out to Foreign Policy, “construction has really only started in earnest on one of the stadiums being built.” Your defense is that you’ve gotten 1200 migrant workers killed and you’ve only barely begun the heaviest load of World Cup construction work? Again, this is a defense?
The Qataris also trotted out their old chestnut about how it’s perfectly normal that this many migrant workers would be dropping dead. Sure; that, and not the fact that they’re forced to work in 40-plus degree Celsius heat without adequate rest or water, explains why you’ve got a bunch of 20-something year old men dying of heart attacks. But, you know, the system is going to change soon, just give it time; Qatar only established a National Human Rights Commission a scant 13 years ago, so clearly they’re still at the early stages of figuring out this whole “human rights” thing.