We might have gotten this all wrong, guys. Much of the Western media’s focus on the 2022 World Cup to be held in Qatar has been on the terrible working conditions, the predicted and actual deaths, the slavery, and the corruption. But what if Sepp Blatter was right, and we were just being racist? Apparently, if you talk to the workers themselves, they’ll tell you everything is great!

Spanish sports daily AS has a dispatch today from the Middle Eastern nation that includes some interesting quotes from workers on the ground. The Qatari government granted AS access to one of the residential areas where they’ve housed workers. To hear them tell it, there’s nothing to the negative reports.

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The scene opens at the Al Wakrah stadium, where some 500 workers head off towards their daily grind, accompanied by two women, Megan, an Australian lawyer, and Mónica, a Spaniard. Megan begins:

“I take care of Human Resources, contract issues and monitor the workers. I’m happy, well-paid and haven’t encountered any problems”, she told AS. Megan isn’t the only women on site. Mónica is from Andalucia, Spain. “I’m happy here too,” she explains. “My only complaint is that I am not allowed to wear shorts at work and it gets very hot – and I’m from Marbella!”.

Not allowing shorts may sound a little sadistic when you think about the temperatures over there, but it’s nowhere near as bad as you’ve been lead to believe. And lest you think it’s only the Westerners who are being taken care of, the report also talks to two men from the area who reiterate the pleasant working and living atmosphere:

“[H]ere, there is no slavery or abuse of workers’ rights. What has been said about working conditions is merely to cause harm”, explains Sadeq from Jordan, who has spent 12 years in a country where he feels “welcome and respected.”

[...]

Kiran Bairagi, an engineer from Calcutta makes sure that the rules and regulations are strictly followed. “We haven’t experienced any problems at all, the only discussion we’ve had was about the exercise machines in the gym – there are only a few for a lot of people”, he said. The workers live on an estate which boasts a gymnasium; as well as a covered swimming pool, internet facilities and a mosque as the majority of the workers in Qatar are Muslim. The workers live in apartments which have a kitchen, living room and bathroom. There are nine apartments per floor, each housing 18 workers – three per room. “In that regard we woman have a better deal; we have two women per room. I share with a Serbian girl”, says Mónica.

Maybe those barefoot workers who were compelled to compete in a marathon were actually well-trained for the event at the fancy gyms on location, though we can imagine it’s tough to find an open Elliptical during peak hours. The only “exercise equipment” my building offers is when I’m motivated to high-step it up the stairs after seeing a rat scurry around the corner.

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But what about that whole slavery thing, and the kafala system that makes it practically impossible for workers to leave a job on their own volition? According to one local, the to-do around that is just more sensationalism that ignores the particular needs of Qatar:

“We lack people in this country; we need people who will honour their commitments. We pay them a good wage because we need their help. But they cannot just up and leave halfway through the project and leave the job half finished and pour shame on Qatar”, explains Faisal, one of the 200,000 Qataris (less than 10 per cent of the population) who defends the Khafala.

We’re nearly convinced! True, Qatar has a history of flying out reporters for lavish trips on their own dime and giving them guided tours that lead to fawning coverage, but there’s no guarantee that the journalist will return with some pro-Qatar copy. Indeed, AS does point out that Qatar isn’t perfect:

So, is all that glitters gold? No. There’s a shortage of schools and traffic congestion is an issue. Each family has between three and five cars (a litre of four-star costs around 10 centimos while a coffee will set you back four euros). It all depends on how many children are in the family. Boys and girls cannot attend the same school and so extra transport is required; there is still no metro system but one is in construction. Traffic jams seem eternal – a bit like the ones which might have brought Madrid’s M-30 to a standstill during Madrid 2012...

Armed with the relevant information, who will you choose to believe: the numerous reports on Qatar’s exploitation of migrant workers that rely on hard data and first-hand accounts, or this totally objective piece that’s based on a few quotes from workers who were definitely not fed talking points and surely felt totally comfortable speaking freely while under the watchful eye of a pair of Western bureaucrats? It really makes you think.

[AS]