Qatar says worker deaths for World Cup ‘between 400 and 500’

Nov 28, 2022, 12:41 PM | Updated: Nov 29, 2022, 5:54 am
A migrant laborer paints The Pearl Monument, a sculpture depicting an open oyster shell with runnin...

A migrant laborer paints The Pearl Monument, a sculpture depicting an open oyster shell with running water, on the corniche, overlooking the skyline of Doha, Qatar, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022. One of the world’s biggest sporting events has thrown an uncomfortable spotlight on Qatar’s labor system, which links workers’ visas to employers and keeps wages low for workers toiling in difficult conditions. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

(AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

              With the city skyline in the background, migrant workers rest at the Doha port, in Doha, Qatar, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022. Final preparations are being made for the soccer World Cup which starts on Nov. 20 when Qatar face Ecuador. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
            
              A migrant laborer paints The Pearl Monument, a sculpture depicting an open oyster shell with running water, on the corniche, overlooking the skyline of Doha, Qatar, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022. One of the world’s biggest sporting events has thrown an uncomfortable spotlight on Qatar’s labor system, which links workers’ visas to employers and keeps wages low for workers toiling in difficult conditions. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)
            
              FILE - Laborers remove scaffolding at the Al Bayt stadium in Al Khor, Qatar, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Doha, Monday, April 29, 2019. Migrant laborers who built Qatar's World Cup stadiums often worked long hours under harsh conditions and were subjected to discrimination, wage theft and other abuses as their employers evaded accountability, a rights group said in a report released Thursday. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili, File)
            
              FILE - Workers walk to the Lusail Stadium, one of the 2022 World Cup stadiums, in Lusail, Qatar, Friday, Dec. 20, 2019. The eight stadiums for the World Cup, all within a 30-mile radius of Doha, are now largely complete. Migrant laborers who built Qatar's World Cup stadiums often worked long hours under harsh conditions and were subjected to discrimination, wage theft and other abuses as their employers evaded accountability, a rights group said in a report released Thursday. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)
            
              FILE - Pakistani migrant laborers pose for a photograph, as they take a break, on the corniche, overlooking the skyline of Doha, Qatar, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022. Migrant laborers who built Qatar's World Cup stadiums often worked long hours under harsh conditions and were subjected to discrimination, wage theft and other abuses as their employers evaded accountability, a rights group said in a report released Thursday. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — A top Qatari official involved in the country’s World Cup organization has put the number of worker deaths for the tournament “between 400 and 500” for the first time, a drastically higher number than any other previously offered by Doha.

The comment by Hassan al-Thawadi, the secretary-general of Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, appeared to come off the cuff during an interview with British journalist Piers Morgan.

It also threatened to reinvigorate criticism by human rights groups over the toll of hosting the Middle East’s first World Cup for the migrant labor that built over $200 billion worth of stadiums, metro lines and new infrastructure needed for the tournament.

In the interview, portions of which Morgan posted online, the British journalist asks al-Thawadi: “What is the honest, realistic total do you think of migrant workers who died from – as a result of work they’re doing for the World Cup in totality?”

“The estimate is around 400, between 400 and 500,” al-Thawadi responds. “I don’t have the exact number. That’s something that’s been discussed.”

But that figure hasn’t been discussed publicly by Qatari officials previously. Reports from the Supreme Committee dating from 2014 through the end of 2021 only include the number of deaths of workers involved in building and refurbishing the stadiums now hosting the World Cup.

Those released figures put the total number of deaths at 40. They include 37 from what the Qataris describe as nonwork incidents such as heart attacks and three from workplace incidents. One report also separately lists a worker death from the coronavirus amid the pandemic.

Al-Thawadi pointed to those figures when discussing work just on stadiums in the interview, right before offering the “between 400 to 500” death toll for all the infrastructure for the tournament.

In a later statement, the Supreme Committee said al-Thawadi was referring to “national statistics covering the period of 2014-2020 for all work-related fatalities (414) nationwide in Qatar, covering all sectors and nationalities.”

Since FIFA awarded the tournament to Qatar in 2010, the country has taken some steps to overhaul the country’s employment practices. That includes eliminating its so-called kafala employment system, which tied workers to their employers, who had say over whether they could leave their jobs or even the country.

Qatar also has adopted a minimum monthly wage of 1,000 Qatari riyals ($275) for workers and required food and housing allowances for employees not receiving those benefits directly from their employers. It also has updated its worker safety rules to prevent deaths.

“One death is a death too many. Plain and simple,” al-Thawadi adds in the interview.

Activists have called on Doha to do more, particularly when it comes to ensuring workers receive their salaries on time and are protected from abusive employers.

Al-Thawadi’s comment also renews questions on the veracity of both government and private business reporting on worker injuries and deaths across the Gulf Arab states, whose skyscrapers have been built by laborers from South Asia nations like India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

“This is just the latest example of Qatar’s inexcusable lack of transparency on the issues of workers’ deaths,” said Nicholas McGeehan of Fairsquare, a London-based group which advocates for migrant workers in the Middle East. “We need proper data and thorough investigations, not vague figures announced through media interviews.

“FIFA and Qatar still have a lot of questions to answer, not least where, when, and how did these men die and did their families receive compensation.”

Mustafa Qadri, the executive director of Equidem Research, a labor consultancy that has published reports on the toll of the construction on migrant laborers, also said he was surprised by al-Thawadi’s remark.

“For him now to come and say there is hundreds, it’s shocking,” he told The Associated Press. “They have no idea what’s going on.”

___

AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar contributed to this report.

___

Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

United States' Varvara Lepchenko makes a backhand return to Japan's Mayo Hibi during a tuneup tourn...
Associated Press

Tennis pro Varvara Lepchenko’s doping ban cut to 21 months

Former top-20 tennis player and U.S. Olympian Varvara Lepchenko’s doping suspension for use of a banned stimulant was reduced from four years to 21 months as part of an agreement with the International Tennis Federation. The agreeement was reached after Lepchenko appealed her suspention to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The settlement was signed […]
1 day ago
FILE - Britain's King Charles III and Camilla, the Queen Consort meet Wrexham Soccer team co owners...
Associated Press

Wrexham to compete in 7-on-7 tournament in North Carolina

BOSTON (AP) — Wrexham, the fifth-tier Welsh club owned by actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, will send a team to compete in a $1 million, winner-take-all, seven–on-seven tournament in early June in Cary, North Carolina. The 32-team tournament includes Mexico’s Necaxa and teams organized by former U.S captain Clint Dempsey, U.S. women’s team midfielder […]
1 day ago
FILE - Manchester United's Mason Greenwood celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during a...
Associated Press

Greenwood’s future remains uncertain after charges dropped

MANCHESTER, England (AP) — A year after his arrest, Manchester United forward Mason Greenwood is free to resume a soccer career that looked set to make him one of the biggest stars in the sport. Where he goes from here, however, is unknown. The 21-year-old Greenwood, who also played for England’s national team, had charges […]
1 day ago
Minnesota Wild goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, right, stops a shot by Buffalo Sabres right wing Jack ...
Associated Press

Support growing in NHL for longer 3-on-3 OT, fewer shootouts

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Troy Terry made his name in hockey with his shootout heroics for the U.S. in the 2017 world junior championship against Russia, much like T.J. Oshie did at the Olympics a few years earlier. Still, the Anaheim Ducks All-Star wouldn’t mind seeing fewer of them decide NHL games. A movement […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Olympic bans and boycotts go back a century

Ukraine and the three Baltic countries, all former Soviet republics, moved a step closer Friday to boycotting next year’s Paris Olympics because of the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes. The International Olympic Committee plans to allow Russians and Belarusians to compete as “neutral athletes” despite their invasion of Ukraine, saying it can’t discriminate athletes […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

US men’s soccer debut game on TNT draws 416,000 viewers

NEW YORK (AP) — The first English-language television broadcast of the U.S. men’s soccer team in its new media contract was seen by 416,000 viewers on TNT. Last Saturday’s 0-0 exhibition draw against Colombia, which started at 7:37 p.m. EST, was seen by 540,000 in its Spanish-language broadcast on Telemundo for a combined audience of […]
1 day ago
Qatar says worker deaths for World Cup ‘between 400 and 500’