Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Qatar the World Cup

Qatar and the World Cup
     Qataris were very excited to win the bid for the 2022 World Cup. They hosted the Asian Games seven years ago and had tried to win the Olympics, but failed. Having lived in the country for eight years, I have to commend the Emir and the leaders of the country for attempting to bring this small emirate into the main stream of world events. They've done this in many ways, the bid for the World Cup being just one. In other ways, however, they have not lived up to expectations of the main stream, their treatment of their vast number of employees from Asian and African countries being a case in point.
     When I moved to Qatar in 2002, the population consisted of around 250,000 Qataris and 500,000 ex-pats. When I left in 2010, the number of Qataris had grown to around 270,000 while the overall population had doubled. Many people from the West go to Qatar to work, but Asians (especially Indians) and Africans form the vast majority of the ex-pat population. And while the westerners are treated well -- large salaries and perks -- the Asians and Africans are not. The conditions under which they are forced to live is what will probably cost Qatar their opportunity to host the World Cup.
     Thousands of workers are brought in to perform the labor the Qataris refuse to do.  The citizens of this tiny emirate have the highest per capita income in the world, so why should they build buildings, clean the streets, cook meals, and dress and entertain their babies? Instead, recruits are brought in and put to work. But there's nothing wrong with that so far, is there?
     The problem is the conditions that the imported workers must endure. First, salaries that would just about pay for my Starbucks and movie tickets. Forget the popcorn. The $100 per month that many get would never stretch that far. Maids, drivers, and nannies don't have it so bad. They get to live in the compound with their employers, thus, decent shelter and food, even if the salaries  are pitiful. Construction workers usually live in a dorm. They have a bunk, space for one suitcase and an electric pan of some sort, and no meals. They live on rice.  When the price of rice went up a few years ago, there was panic among them.
     So why don't these workers just leave? In spite of the low salaries, most manage to send money to their families. There are several countries where the money sent home from workers in the Gulf Countries form a significant amount of the national income.
      Money is one reason they stay, but the other reason is that they can't leave. No one leaves Qatar without an exit permit. This stricture includes Qataris and Westerners, as well as Asians and Africans. To get an exit permit, an expat must petition his employer. The employer has it in his power to deny the permit. And many are denied. Stories abound of Asians not being paid by their employers and not being given exit permits. There is only one way to describe this: slavery.
    The person, or persons, who allegedly succumbed to bribes and awarded Qatar the 2022 World Cup, obviously did not anticipate the attention of human rights organizations. The despicably paid workers, some of who may not be allowed to leave, are the ones building the soccer stadiums and other venues for the games. 
     It seems grossly unfair that the wealthiest per capita nation in the world builds its success and fame on the backs of less fortunate people.    

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