Where does the figure of 6,500 workers who died on the construction sites of the 2022 World Cup come from?

Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images In Qatar, like here at the Al Bayt stadium construction site in Doha, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers are employed. They come notably from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal (photo taken in January 2017).

Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images

In Qatar, like here at the Al Bayt stadium construction site in Doha, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers are employed. They come notably from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal (photo taken in January 2017).

FOOTBALL – This is one of the figures that crystallize the opposition to the holding of the Football World Cup which begins this Sunday, November 20 in Qatar: the construction of stadiums would have caused the death of 6,500 foreign workers. A fact hammered out for months by activists, politicians and even some footballers who denounce the organization of the World Cup and by extension its social consequences.

Tuesday, November 15, for example, opponents of the holding of the World Cup gathered in Paris in front of the Qatar embassy to pay tribute to these missing. A few weeks earlier, on October 4, it was the first secretary of the socialist party, Olivier Faure, who denounced on franceinfo a competition in front of play on a graveyard “. And to add, therefore, that he ” there are 6,500 workers who have died in the last twelve years to build these stadiums, in conditions close to slavery “.

A balance sheet maybe even worse, according to the Guardian

Initially, this figure comes from a survey by the British daily The Guardianpublished in February 2021. Based on data from India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, as well as figures from the Pakistani Embassy in Qatar, the newspaper concluded that 5 927 workers from the first four countries mentioned and 824 from the last died on Qatari construction sites between 2010, when the World Cup was awarded to the emirate, and 2020.

the Guardian further clarified that the total balance sheet was in fact “much higher” since it did not include the deaths of workers from other countries, “including the Philippines or Kenya”, also very labor providers for the Gulf countries. Qatar employs some 2 million migrant workers, nearly 90% of its total population. “Deaths from the last months of 2020 are also not included”concluded the article, just like those of 2021 and 2022 moreover, if we had wanted to keep the results up to date on the date of the start of the competition.

For months, the figure of 6,500 deaths on the construction sites of the World Cup in Qatar has been hammered home.  But it is difficult to confirm (illustration photo taken in Doha in March 2022).
Bernd von Jutrczenka/picture alliance/Getty Images For months, the figure of 6,500 deaths on the construction sites of the World Cup in Qatar has been hammered home. But it is difficult to confirm (illustration photo taken in Doha in March 2022).

Bernd von Jutrczenka/picture alliance/Getty Images

For months, the figure of 6,500 deaths on the construction sites of the World Cup in Qatar has been hammered home. But it is difficult to confirm (illustration photo taken in Doha in March 2022).

Based on the testimonies of many families in the five countries mentioned above, the Guardian evoked, for example, a man electrocuted in his room due to poorly insulated electric cables, the suicide of another who had had to pay more than 1,000 euros himself to be hired as a maintenance worker on a construction site or a last found dead in his room. Overall, the daily evoked injuries suffered after falls, the impact of the scorching weather on the organisms, asphyxiation…

To support its investigation, the newspaper also quoted Nick McGeehan, director of an NGO specializing in labor law violations in the Gulf countries. A man who corroborated the fact that these migrant workers – whose place of death was not necessarily specified in public data – mostly died on sites linked to the World Cup.

According to the
Nicola Sua/AMA/Getty Images According to the “Guardian”, as early as February 2021, some 6,500 foreign workers had lost their lives on the construction sites of the 2022 Football World Cup, organized in Qatar (photo taken on the construction site of the Education City Stadium, in Doha).

Nicola Sua/AMA/Getty Images

According to the “Guardian”, as early as February 2021, some 6,500 foreign workers had lost their lives on the construction sites of the 2022 Football World Cup, organized in Qatar (photo taken on the construction site of the Education City Stadium, in Doha).

And for good reason: between the seven stadiums, an airport, infrastructure related to hotels and public transport and even the host city of the final, Qatar had to build massively in order to host one of the main events. athletes in the world.

Natural deaths and normal numbers for Qatar

At the time of the article Guardianthe organizing committee of the World Cup evoked “only” 37 deaths among the workers, including 34 who were “not related to their mission “. A qualification judged fuzzy » by the newspaper, which recalled that this formulation had been used to describe the death of certain workers who died while they were at their place of work, but not due to an accident strictly speaking (a heart attack for example). And which would serve, according to the British daily, to conceal the reality of working conditions on the World Cup sites.

For their part, the governmental authorities of Qatar relativized the extent of the phenomenon by assuring that only a minority of workers from the countries mentioned worked in the construction industry, that natural deaths were extremely prevalent and that, in the end, these figures were in no way higher than the population average “normal”.

An assertion contradicted by the NGO Amnesty International, which has repeatedly recalled that Qatar very rarely investigates the deaths of migrant workers, and that it is very often common to attribute these deaths to respiratory illnesses or cardiovascular accidents.

Faced with the figures put forward by NGOs and journalistic investigations, Qatar and Fifa continue to kick into touch and put forward dubious statistics.
Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images Faced with the figures put forward by NGOs and journalistic investigations, Qatar and Fifa continue to kick into touch and put forward dubious statistics.

Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty Images

Faced with the figures put forward by NGOs and journalistic investigations, Qatar and Fifa continue to kick into touch and put forward dubious statistics.

As the Australian public media SBS reminds us, if we rely on official Qatari data, deaths linked to cardiovascular diseases among Nepalese aged 25 to 35 working in Qatar represent 58% of total deaths. A figure that is only 15% for those who work in Nepal. There is therefore reason to doubt the veracity of official figures and the conditions under which foreigners work in the emirate.

Fifa recognizes 3 dead on construction sites

Since the publication of the figures for Guardian, Fifa (the governing body of world football) like Qatar have continually played down the toll. As recently as January 2022, Gianni Infantino, the boss of Fifa, thus explained to the Council of Europe that this figure of 6,500 dead “was just wrong”. And to ensure that only three people had lost their lives on the Qatari construction sites. A figure that overlaps with the communication of the local authorities on the 37 deaths, including 34 not related to work.

A few months later, he added that ” giving someone work, even in difficult conditions, gives them dignity and pride “. Before going back to the figure to ensure that 6,000 people may have died working elsewhere (only on construction sites, editor’s note)” and that ” Fifa is not responsible for everything that happens in the world “. An argument that he hammered home again on the eve of the opening of the competition during a lunar speech, even comparing himself to ” a migrant worker “.

It should be noted that beyond the figure that has become a reference linked to the survey of the Guardian, other estimates from journalistic and NGO work also give figures much higher than those of Fifa. From 2015, several media including the washington post and the BBC had, for example, looked into the report of an NGO evoking some 1,200 deaths from 2013.

This figure was already based on official data from the Indian and Nepalese embassies, between 2010 and 2013. The BBC, however, put this toll into perspective, recalling that some of these deaths concerned deaths from natural causes and workers not necessarily working in connection with the World Cup. Before repeating the legitimate doubts to have on the data provided and the lack of investigation into the real causes of death.

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