Qatar human rights: 2022 World Cup host’s record explained - how women, LGBTQ+ people and migrants are treated

Fifa has come under fire for allowing Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup, given the country’s troubling human rights record.

The 2022 Fifa World Cup kicks off today (20 November) in Qatar - and many football fans couldn’t be more excited.

But the lead-up to this year’s tournament has been shrouded in controversy, as many have slammed the decision to choose the tiny Arab nation as the host country due to its troubling human rights record. Women in the Gulf state face continued discrimination in both law and practice, and LGBTQ+ people can be arrested, imprisoned, and even sentenced to death if they take part in same-sex sexual activity.

Qatar has also come under scrutiny for how it treats migrant workers, particularly those who have built the hotels and stadiums which will house fans during the tournament. Charities have accused Qatari companies of using forced labour, while others have warned of the number of workers who have died during World Cup preparations.

Here, we take a look at Qatar’s human rights abuses - explaining in particular the country’s treatment of women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and migrant workers.

How are LGBTQ+ people treated in Qatar?

Article 285 of Qatar’s Penal Code bans same-sex sexual activity for both men and women, with a maximum sentence of seven years in prison. The code also criminalises “leading, instigating or seducing a male in any way to commit sodomy” and “inducing or seducing a male or female in any way to commit illegal or immoral actions”.

There are other laws which can be used against LGBTQ+ people too. Under Qatar’s “protection of community” law, police can detain people for up to six months without charge or trial if there are “well-founded reasons to believe that the defendant may have committed a crime”. Additionally, under Sharia, which is the term for Islam’s legal system and can be used in Qatar because the country recognises Islam as the state religion, men can be sentenced to death by stoning for sexuality.

Combined then, these laws allow Qatari police forces to arrest LGBTQ+ people, detain them without access to trial, and, in the most severe circumstances, enforce the death penalty. Reports of the latter are rare, but human rights organisations have suggested there is some evidence of the law having been enforced.

FIFA has come under fire for allowing Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup, given the country’s troubling human rights record. Credit: Getty Images

This is the UK’s official travel advice for Qatar: "Host authorities have stated that ‘everyone is welcome’ at the World Cup. They have publicly confirmed there will be no restrictions on non-married friends or couples (including LGBT people) staying in the same room."

Qatari officials have said they will not change their laws on the LGBTQ+ community, but no visiting fan will be discriminated against at the tournament. Nasser al Khater, the chief executive of this year’s tournament, added that supporters will be able to wave rainbow flags and hold hands in public.

But despite this, in October 2022 there were reports of LGBTQ+ people in Qatar being arrested, with Human Rights Watch documenting 11 cases where people were allegedly beaten or sexually harassed in police custody. The detainees also said they were forced to unlock their phones and hand over private photos, as well as provide authorities with contact information for other LGBTQ+ people.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly recently faced backlash for advising LGBTQ+ fans to “be respectful of the host nation”, adding that “with a little bit of flex and compromise at both ends, it can be a safe, secure and exciting World Cup.” In response, Labour MP Luke Pollard called on the government to apologise for telling LGBTQ+ people to effectively “go back into the closet”.

Two men kiss next to a football goal during a protest against Qatar’s treatment of the LGBTQ+ community. Credit: Getty Images

How does Qatar treat women?

Under Sharia law, women’s freedom in Qatar is heavily restricted. They must obtain permission from a dedicated male guardian when getting married, studying, working in government jobs, travelling abroad, and receiving some kinds of reproductive healthcare.

In many situations, such as travel or visiting certain public places, women also must be accompanied by this male guardian, who is usually their father or brother, or for married women, their husband. Foreign nationals must have a similar-style male guardian in order to obtain visas.

Women take photos at Flags Square, in Doha ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup. Credit: Getty Images

Within family life, women cannot have primary care rights for their children, unless given permission by their male guardian. A woman is deemed ‘disobedient’ if she does not submit to one of her husband’s demands and has to appeal to the courts in order to seek a divorce. Men can do so unilaterally and instantly.

Women in Qatar are not required to wear a hijab, but they are expected to dress moderately - with their shoulders, upper arms and legs covered. They can be asked to leave public places if they do not comply.

In March 2021, Qatar’s government disputed the findings of a Human Rights Watch report on discrimination against women in the country, and pledged to investigate and prosecute anyone who had breached the law. By the end of the year however, no such investigations had taken place.

The country’s treatment of women came under further scrutiny in 2021 when 23-year-old Noof al-Maadeed, who had previously sought asylum in the UK citing family abuse, decided to return home to Qatar after seeking reassurances from the authorities. She started documenting her journey on social media but disappeared on 13 October after she reported threats from her family to the police. She re-appeared online months later in January 2022, and authorities claim she is safe, but fears for her safety remain.

Women’s freedom is restricted in Qatar. Credit: Getty Images

Some of the rights women in Qatar do have include the right to vote, which was granted in 1999, the right to work, if given permission by men, and, if unmarried, according to the law, the right to own property, enter business contracts, and control their own income. But, in practice, women must navigate the cultural limitations that determine what is considered appropriate.

Mr al Khater has assured fans that women will not be stopped from watching the World Cup. He said: “In Qatar, we have no restrictions on women’s access to stadiums. They have been attending matches for a long time.” He also highlighted that three female referees are presiding over major men’s games for the first time at Qatar 2022.

How has Qatar treated migrant workers?

Qatar has built seven stadiums, a new airport, a metro station, a series of roads and around 100 new hotels for the World Cup. Thirty thousand foreign labourers were hired just to build the stadiums, according to the government, most of whom came from Bangladesh, India, Nepal and the Philippines.

An aerial view of Khalifa Stadium in Doha, Qatar. Khalifa Stadium is a host venue of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. Credit: Getty Images

Under the Gulf nation’s ‘Kafala System’, there is a set of labour laws which allows Qatari businesses or companies to confiscate their workers’ passports to stop them leaving the country. According to human rights groups, this has allowed developers to exploit their employees - submitting them to gruelling working conditions for little pay, forcing them to live in squalid accommodation, and not allowing them to leave their jobs.

A 2021 report by Human Rights Watch also revealed that foreign workers were suffering from "punitive and illegal wage deductions" and faced "months of unpaid wages for long hours of gruelling work".

Meanwhile, The Guardian reported in February 2021 that 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had died in Qatar since it won its World Cup bid. The number is based on figures provided by the countries’ embassies in Qatar.

However, Qatar claimed this figure is misleading, because not all the deaths recorded were of people working on World Cup-related projects - and many of those who passed away had worked in the country for several years, meaning they may have died from old age or other natural causes.

Belgium’s supporters with a banner asking for protection of migrant workers’ rights in Qatar. Credit: Getty Images

The government said its accident records showed that between 2014 and 2020, there were 37 deaths among labourers at World Cup stadium construction sites, only three of which were "work-related". However, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) says this is misleading, as Qatar doesn’t count deaths from heart attacks and respiratory failure as work-related - even though these are common symptoms of heatstroke, brought on from doing heavy labour in very high temperatures.

What other controversies are there?

Outside of the country’s human rights record, there are also other concerns surrounding Qatar 2022. Some raised anxieties regarding the heat that players would have to play in.

Usually, the World Cup takes place in the summer, but this would have meant teams playing in temperatures of up to 43C. Fifa announced in 2015 that the tournament would instead run from November to December to help with this, when conditions would be much cooler - between 26C and 21C. The decision to move the tournament to winter was highly controversial amongst European teams and leagues, some of whom threatened to sue over potential match clashes.

Another issue is alcohol consumption. Fans usually enjoy a beer or two while watching the football matches, but Fifa has confirmed that the sale of alcohol at stadiums will be banned, reportedly due to pressure from Qatar’s royal family.

Budweiser, the tournament’s sponsor, tried to make light of the news, tweeting and then deleting on Twitter: “Well, this is awkward…” Fifa has said that there will still be some alcohol sales, but these will be confined to special ‘fan zones’ where pints cost £12, are only available at certain times, and are limited to four per person.

The final controversy is around Qatar’s bid for the World Cup in the first place. The country reportedly won its bid for the 2022 championship over the USA by 14 votes to 8, but given the human rights concerns surrounding Qatar, many were immediately concerned about corruption regarding the decision.

Fifa commissioned an investigation into the state’s methods, which found "no evidence of any improper activity by the bid team". But a US lawyer, Michael Garcia, whose name was included in the report, found that some Qatari conduct “may not have met the standards required by Fifa".