A stadium mural pays tribute to migrant workers.  When the world cup started, it was gone.

A stadium mural pays tribute to migrant workers. When the world cup started, it was gone.

LUSAIL, Qatar – The giant mural with thousands of faces was certainly a striking feature for visitors to Qatar’s flagship stadium in the months leading up to the World Cup.

When the buses pulled up and the visiting journalists exited, they were directed to a location near Gate 32. There, in the shadow of the vast golden bowl of the billion-dollar Lusail Stadium, stood an intricate mosaic that stretched along a long wall. almost 20 feet high. There were passport-style photos of men on it, staring straight ahead.

The mural, a representative of Qatar’s organizing committee said, was a way for the country to pay tribute to the army of men who had labored for years under the scorching desert sun to build the ambitious cathedrals. of the country when it comes to the World Cup.

But then the World Cup started and the faces disappeared.

Instead, VIPs and high rollers driving around in expensive cars and luxury vans under Gate 32 will only see a wall covered in World Cup logos and slogans. There is no record of these men, who lived – and sometimes died – to bring about a $200 billion nation-building project.

No official reason was given for the removal of the mural – a cause for pride less than six months ago. According to two officials familiar with World Cup planning, there were growing concerns that the mural would draw more attention to the scathing criticism Qatar has received for its treatment of migrant workers. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly on the preparations.

After the publication of this article, the Supreme Committee of Qatar, the organization responsible for the construction of the stadiums, said that the change was made because the Lusail arena “is currently in tournament mode, with the exterior of the stadium dressed in FIFA World Cup branding”.

The committee also hinted that the mural, or something like that, might come back after the fans leave. “As part of the Lusail Stadium legacy plan,” he said in a statement, “the Supreme Committee is finalizing the designs to serve as a permanent celebration to recognize the contribution of all those who have contributed to the construction of the stadium.”

Countless thousands of migrant workers from some of the poorest corners of the planet are drawn to the Persian Gulf and other wealthy countries in Asia every year to work on construction projects, as service workers and in other jobs. Human rights groups say thousands of workers who worked on projects related to the 2022 World Cup have died since Qatar was granted hosting rights in 2010, a figure officials Qataris strongly contest.

In interviews, fans attending the tournament have acknowledged their discomfort with the idea of ​​essentially vacationing in a place built through the hardships of others.

“We wouldn’t be here, the tourists wouldn’t be there, the players on the pitch wouldn’t be here without them,” said Ezequiel Gatti, raising his voice to be heard above the tumult of Argentina’s traveling army. after a victory over Mexico on Saturday in Lusail. Fernando Lalo of Buenos Aires said he was unaware of the mural, but hoped something similar might take its place once the tournament is over.

“There should be visibility so people can see, so they can know,” he said.

On Thursday, hours before the opening match of the Brazil tournament inside the Lusail stadium, workers continued their work nearby, constructing an apartment complex. Several said they had seen the mural of workers’ faces before it was covered up, but were unaware that it had now been removed. But anyway, they said they won’t attend the World Cup matches.

“It’s just plain rude and disrespectful to put these men in the spotlight when it suits you and then completely obscure their role by painting over them,” said Nicholas McGeehan, co-director of Fair Square, a human rights group. which focuses on treatment. migrant workers in Qatar.

“I hate to use ‘virtuous signaling’, but it seems appropriate in this case, highlighting worker sacrifice when it suits you from a PR perspective and removing them from the picture when they cease to be helpful.”

Qatar, like most other Persian Gulf countries, relies heavily on migrant workers. Nearly 90% of the country’s population are foreigners.

“The World Cup wouldn’t have been possible without them,” McGeehan added of the migrant workers. “They build and maintain everything. If they disappeared tomorrow, the country would cease to function.

After years of criticism and reporting on the plight of migrant workers, Qatar has enacted some of the most comprehensive labor reforms in the region. They include the abolition of the kafala system, a type of employment contract that tied employees to a single employer but has led to frequent abuse. Qatar has also introduced a minimum wage, the equivalent of nearly $300 per month.

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