The life of most migrant workers in Qatar is bleak — so bleak, it's a human rights violation. The latest report from Doha reveals a new twist in the sad story. When they're not toiling away at building stadiums for the 2022 World Cup, many workers are being paid impossibly small wages to be fake sports fans. It doesn't sound fun either.
Qatar's ruling emir is obsessed with sports, and his people like to say they feel the same way. There's obviously some sort of disconnect, though. As the nation invites more and more prestigious sporting events to its cities, its also having a hard time filling the stadiums so that the events appear successful. So what's the natural thing to do? Pay the same migrant workers who are building the stadiums for the next big sporting event around $US1 an hour to sit in the stands and pretend to have fun.
An AP reporter recently rode a bus with African and Asian migrant workers from their dormitories in an industrial zone to a stadium, where they were paid to cheer at a volleyball game. He said the workers flocked to jump on the bus as it was still moving "like bees on honey." Once at the stadium, the workers would "applaud to order, do the wave with no enthusiasm and even dress up in white robes and head-scarves as Qataris, to plump up 'home' crowds." The volleyball league had no idea this was going on.
The funny thing is, there aren't really any home crowds, and the Qataris who would normally go to these events are now shying away because of the migrant workers present. A government survey from January showed that the vast majority of Qataris didn't attend any football games last year. Some two-thirds of that majority said "the spread of paid fans" was a "significant reason" not to attend.
The AP report is just the latest instalment of the ongoing saga of the newly ultra-wealthy country's project to turn itself into a capital for sports and entertainment. The 2022 World Cup in Qatar has so far been marred by hundreds of worker deaths and condemned for how the survivors are forced to live. Most people would think that being paid to go cheer at a sporting event would be fun. But in this case, it just highlights how Qatar treats migrant workers as less-than-human. [AP]