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Qatar World Cup: Air-con stadium opens as worker abuse continues

Rights groups say there are still abuses of workers involved in the renovation at the Khalifa International Stadium
The Khalifa International Stadium's "air-conditioned" capability helped Qatar's World Cup bid (Reuters)

Qatar's World Cup stadium was scheduled to hold its first football match on Friday - as migrant workers working on its construction continue to face abuse.

Hailed as the lynchpin in the Qatari World Cup 2022 bid, the newly renovated "air-conditioned" Khalifa International Stadium in Doha will host its first match five years before the tournament begins. 

Costing more than $91mn, the renovated stadium will host its inaugural match, the 2017 Emir Cup Final between Al Rayyan and Al Sadd, one month after independent auditors published fresh details of ongoing exploitation of migrant workers across World Cup projects. 

An Indian migrant who fell unconscious near the stadium where he worked died in hospital on Thursday from a cardiac arrest.

Carpenter Jagdesh Kumar, aged 54, is the fourth Indian employed on a World Cup site to die from a heart attack. Three other workers from India died during the past 18 months, according to a 2016 report by Qatar's World Cup organising body. 

The Qatari authorities, in an emailed statement to Reuters, said that findings showed Kumar's death was due to natural causes and denied claims that there were higher instances of heart attacks among construction workers. 

Continued abuses of workers

James Lynch, who is the deputy director of Amnesty International's global issues programme, said: "It's a year since Amnesty International exposed the exploitation of migrant workers who helped to build the Khalifa Stadium, but abuses on Qatar 2022 sites have continued.

"Qatar's World Cup organisers have placed special requirements on contractors that are supposed to stop this happening, but the reality is that workers on their sites still live under Qatar's repressive sponsorship system, which gives employers powerful tools to abuse them.

"With hundreds of thousands more people being recruited to build and service at least seven more World Cup stadiums, along with the infrastructure to support the tournament, many more migrant workers are at serious risk over the next five years," added Lynch.

Last year, Amnesty International published a report exposing how workers at the Khalifa International stadium were subjected to systematic labour abuses. 

Many workers who spoke to Amnesty said that they had accrued heavy debts after paying large recruitment fees and forced to live in squalid accommodation. 

Others had their passport confiscated and barred from leaving the country by their employers, according to Amnesty's report.

'[Migrant] workers on their sites still live under Qatar's repressive sponsorship system, which gives employers powerful tools to abuse them'

- James Lynch, Amnesty International

Conditions for workers from India, Nepal and Bangladesh, who are building the $200bn infrastructure upgrade for the World Cup, have come under scrutiny from rights groups, which say that migrants live in squalor and work without proper access to water and shelter from the sun.

The kingdom says it is implementing labour reforms and last year hired a British consulting firm to assess working conditions on stadiums in an effort to improve transparency.

The 40,000-seat capacity stadium has been open since 1976 but has been extensively renovated for the World Cup. One of the key features is the cooling system at the ground, where temperatures can soar to 50 degrees.

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