Amid criticism of its treatment of low-income construction workers in the run-up to the 2022 World Cup, Qatar will hold its first sports tournament for these expats on Friday.
The move, which is in the trial phase right now, has already been hailed by one analyst as “a break with a reluctance among Gulf states to give their largely expatriate majorities a sense of belonging.”
The first Workers Cup, which is organized by the QSports League, will consist of 16 teams of 18 players each. But eight teams and more than 100 workers beyond capacity tried to sign up, spokesman Ben Panton told Doha News.
The Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee, Qatar Stars League and the Qatar Olympic Committee have expressed support for the tournaments, which offer some QR36,000 in prize money each, he added.
Playing in what they built
is now open for subsequent cups, which include basketball, cricket and volleyball. QSports expects to organize and hold the tournaments by May 31, Panton said.
One catch: Players have to register as part of a company team and cannot sign up an individual basis. Companies must pay QR6,000 to register a team.
Games are expected to be played around Doha, Wakra and Ras Laffan, with a possibility of hosting final and semi-final matches in major club stadiums.
“Qatar Stars League are hoping to organize it so that the final can be played directly after one of the QSL league games,” Panton said. “After all, we wanted the players to have the opportunity to play in the stadiums they are often helping build!”
According to MidEast Soccer’s James Dorsey, sports tournaments for low-income immigrants in the Gulf have previously been unheard of:
The foreign workers’ cup is viewed by many as a first step towards creating a fan base for Qatari clubs among the country’s a non-Qatari population - an initiative long shied by clubs across the region because that could be a first step towards a greater attachment to their host countries.
He also states:
International trade unions have threatened Qatar with a boycott of its hosting of the 2022 World Cup if it failed to adopt international labor standards. Human rights groups are meanwhile documenting individual cases of workers that they consider to be violations and in some case are intervening to improve their conditions.
The government’s tacit cooperation like the soccer cup and moves to improve worker safety and security as well as living conditions constitute small but not insignificant steps forward.
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