The Qatari official in charge of delivering the 2022 World Cup has said that around 400 people died during the construction work associated with preparations for the tournament, a far higher figure than previously given.
Speaking in a TV interview with Piers Morgan on Tuesday, Hassan Al-Thawadi said Qatari authorities did not have a precise figure when asked how many migrant workers had died as “a result of what they are doing for the World Cup”.
“The estimate is around 400,” he said. “Between 400 and 500, I don’t have the exact number. That’s something that’s being discussed.”
The Qataris have previously given a figure of just three work-related deaths at World Cup construction sites, with a further 37 deaths that were not work-related. Rights groups believe the true number is likely to be far higher, but say it is impossible to establish an accurate number because deaths are not investigated.
The Supreme Committee, the Qatari entity organising the World Cup, later issued a statement reiterating the figure of three work-related deaths, adding that the estimate of 400 given to Morgan was for “all work-related fatalities nationwide in Qatar, covering all sectors and nationalities” in the years 2014-2020.
The $200bn in infrastructure spending to prepare for the World Cup encompassed many more projects than those overseen by the Supreme Committee.
Thousands of workers from countries including Nepal and Bangladesh were brought in to work on the construction. Seven of the eight World Cup stadiums are new, while the tournament accelerated other planned work, such as the construction of the Doha Metro system and upgrades to the city’s port.
The International Labour Organization in 2020 conducted detailed research across the country that indicated there had been 50 work-related deaths, with 506 severe injuries that year.
Questions over how these workers were treated — and how many of them died during building work — have dogged the tournament organisers for years. Many workers say they were forced to endure miserable living conditions, unpaid salaries and dangerous working environments.
Steve Cockburn, head of social and economic justice at Amnesty International, said that “thousands of workers have returned home in coffins, with no explanation given to their loved ones”.
“The continued debate around the number of workers who have died in the preparation of the World Cup exposes the stark reality that so many bereaved families are still waiting for truth and justice,” he added.
Both Qatar and Fifa, world football’s governing body, have responded to criticism around the treatment of migrant workers by pointing to the reforms brought in since the tiny Gulf kingdom won the right to host the sport’s biggest tournament.
Qatar has dismantled the kafala sponsorship system that bound workers to their employer and established the region’s first minimum wage. However, while labour groups have welcomed the changes, they complain about how the new policies are enforced.