The tragic death of a Filipino migrant worker, Alex, his surname unknown, at a World Cup site in Qatar should have been treated humanely. But FIFA and Qatari authorities responded callously to media questions about his death, returning the spotlight to their disregard for the deaths of thousands of migrant workers in the years leading up to the tournament.
The Athletic reported that Alex died after falling at his worksite, a FIFA training base. The Qatar World Cup’s chief executive, Nasser al-Khater, responded: “We have a successful World Cup. And this [migrant worker’s death] is something you want to talk about right now?” FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura walked away from a reporter, saying, “I think we are here for the conference … if it is about anything else, I am sorry…. I don’t think that’s appropriate.”
The FIFA and Qatari authorities’ responses exemplify their entities’ longstanding disregard for migrant workers’ lives, repeated obfuscation of key facts, and the failure to take responsibility for migrant workers’ safety. The Qatari Supreme Committee was quick to deny the death was under its jurisdiction, even though at the time of his death, Alex was repairing FIFA infrastructure.
Al-Khater added that, “Death is a natural part of life, whether it’s at work, whether it’s in your sleep.” This shameful government attitude towards migrant worker deaths is reflected in the authorities’ failure to investigate the thousands of migrant worker deaths since 2010. It also ignores that many of these deaths were preventable.
Instead, the authorities regularly attributed these uninvestigated deaths to “natural causes” or “cardiac arrest.” This leaves many families of migrant workers ineligible for compensation under the Qatari labor law.
While the authorities say they are investigating Alex’s death and established contact with his family, many families told Human Rights Watch that neither the employer nor the government even bothered to inform them that their loved ones had died.
Qatar and FIFA have doubtlessly learned by now that the world is watching more than just the games, and seeing officials’ blatant disregard for the migrant workers who built the infrastructure that made this World Cup possible. Instead of trying to deflect the criticism, Qatar and FIFA should right these wrongs by compensating migrant workers and their families.