Where EAST meets the Northwest
WORKERS WATCHING. Laborers cheer at a fan festival at the Asian Town cricket
stadium in Doha, Qatar, on November 25, 2022. Far from the luxury hotels and
sprawling new stadiums emblematic of Doha during the World Cup, scores of
soccer-mad South Asian workers poured into a converted cricket stadium in the
city’s desert outskirts to enjoy the tournament they helped create. (AP
From The Asian Reporter, V32, #12 (December 5, 2022), page 12.
On outskirts of Doha, laborers watch World Cup they built
By Isabel Debre
The Associated Press
DOHA, Qatar — Far from Doha’s luxury hotels and sprawling new World Cup
stadiums, scores of South Asian workers poured into a cricket ground in the
city’s sandy outskirts to enjoy the tournament they helped create.
Unlike the official FIFA fan zone near Doha’s pristine corniche, this one has
no $14 beer or foreign tourists. There are few food options beyond deep-fried
Indian snacks, scant soccer jerseys in the crowd, and even fewer women.
Instead, the grassy pitch in Asian Town, a neighborhood of labor camps, is
packed with migrant workers from some of the world’s poorest countries. They
power Qatar, one of the world’s richest, and helped accomplish its
multi-billion-dollar stadium-building effort.
Their treatment has been the controversial backstory of the 2022 World Cup,
ever since Qatar won the bid to host the soccer championship. They can face low
wages, inhospitable housing, and long hours, often in the scorching heat.
But the evening that the Netherlands played Ecuador, the bleachers of the
cricket stadium heaved with workers revelling on their one day off of the week.
The lucky ones scored a small number of World Cup match tickets that went on
sale for just 40 riyals ($10) — a special cheaper ticket category for Qatar
residents. But for those who can’t afford to go to gleaming stadiums, the giant
screens in Asian Town have become a key glimpse into the tournament that has
reshaped the tiny emirate.
"Who can afford to go? I keep 400 riyals ($109) a month in my pocket," said
Anmol Singh, an electrician, who sends the rest of his $600 salary to his
parents and grandparents in Bihar, eastern India. "I work to give it all to
Even if meager by western standards, the salaries of migrant workers in Qatar
and across the oil-rich sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf often exceed what they
could make back home and serve as lifelines for their families in India, Nepal,
Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.
Workers in the fan zone who spoke to an Associated Press journalist last
month said they coveted their jobs in the country, which has strict laws on
speech. The yearslong boycott of Qatar by four Arab nations also stoked
nationalism among the migrant workforce that makes up some 85% of the country’s
Kaplana Pahadi, a 21-year-old cleaner from Nepal, strolled through the
crowded cricket stadium with three co-workers she called "my family."
Decked out in a maroon Qatar jersey, scarf, and cap, she said she moved to
the energy-rich emirate over four years ago to pay medical fees for her mother,
who developed heart problems after her father’s death. "She’s always sick," she
said. "I want to help her."
At halftime of the match, the floodlit stadium became a riot of music and
dance. A celebrity Indian emcee whipped up the crowds as Hindi pop blared.
Some men hoisted themselves up on the shoulders of their friends. Others
jumped up and down with excitement. Most wore jeans and t-shirts, or cream
shalwar kameez — a knee-length shirt with a pair of loose-fitting trousers
common in South Asia.
Hundreds took out their phones to film the reverie, smiles spreading as women
in LED-lit white dresses traipsed onstage.
It was a stark respite from the daily grind.
"These are people from companies doing hard work," said Imtiaz Malik, a
28-year-old IT worker from Pakistan, gesturing to the crowds of men. "But any
kind of work is good."
He said he misses his family back in Lahore, Pakistan, and wishes he could
hear their voices more often. Despite the difficulties, he said, Qatar has
become his home, too.
"This country is becoming better," he said.
The glaring spotlight of the World Cup has compelled Qatar to overhaul its
labor system. The country scrapped the kafala system that tied workers’ visas to
their jobs and set a minimum wage of 1,000 riyals ($275) a month, among other
changes. Still, rights groups argue more needs to be done. Workers can face
delayed wages and rack up debt paying exorbitant recruitment fees to land their
Imran Khan, 28, said many young men in his hometown of Kolkata, India, dream
of working in Qatar. He left his parents and brothers behind to search for work
in hospitality during the World Cup. But he has yet to find a job.
The competition is fierce and work is harder to come by now that the
tournament is underway, he said. In the meantime, he spends his days watching
matches on the big screens at the cricket stadium next to the mall.
The fan zone allows Khan and legions of other migrant workers to enjoy the
World Cup atmosphere just a short walk from their dormitories. It also means
they’re not taking the bus into downtown Doha, which is now filled with foreign
fans watching games and celebrating.
"I can’t explain the excitement," Khan said. "It’s unreal."
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