It is a World Cup of superlatives: the most expensive, the most controversial – and it will be delivered by perhaps the most diverse workforce.
During your stay you in Qatar, you are likely to interact with more nationalities than there are teams in the World Cup. That begins the moment you step off the plane.
As you walk through Doha’s immaculate Hamad International airport almost everyone you meet – from cleaners in the toilets and security guards on patrol, to helpers guiding you through immigration – will be a migrant worker, as 95% of Qatar’s working population is from overseas.
Step outside and grab a taxi to your hotel, and you may meet someone like Saeed from Pakistan. Just be sure that he is alert.
“I’m so tired. I work 15, 16, 18 hours a day. What to do? We need to make money, so we have to work,” he says.
He earns between 100 and 300 rials (£23-£70) a day, but that gets whittled away by the fee he has to pay to rent the car, along with petrol, insurance and the annual cost of his visa. Much of what he earns is sent home to his wife and three young children, who he has not seen for almost two years. “I came here to support my family. If I don’t send them money, they don’t eat,” he says. “I miss them so much, but I’m happy because I can help them.”
Saeed is hopeful business will pick up during the World Cup. “It’s good for everyone. People are coming from lots of countries,” he says.
As Saeed drops you at your hotel, you may not notice the security guard standing discreetly at the entrance, but if you come out to explore 12 hours later, John may still be there. Such long shifts are not unusual in hotels here, especially among sub-contracted security companies, like the one he works for.
“In Uganda the income is not good so I decided to come to Qatar to look for the green pasture,” says John. He is yet to find it.
Like the vast majority of low-wage workers in Qatar, John had to pay an agent in his own country for his job. It cost him about £1,125, which he paid for with a loan that came with a 10% interest rate. He used the land his family live on as security for the loan.
“You work for the debt, the debt does not go, the debt is growing … remember the whole family is on your land; what if they take the land?”
John says he earns about 1,700 rials a month including overtime pay. “If you compare the work and the money, it is not enough. I feel bad, but there’s nothing to do. You must work if you are looking for greener pastures.”
Shafiq is also a security guard at one of Doha’s top hotels, but he has had a different experience. Unlike John, he was recruited from Bangladesh directly by the hotel, at no cost. He works long hours but they are within the legal limit, and he knows it. “Our hotel teaches us about our rights,” he says.
He pulls out his phone and proudly shows a photo of his twin sons, born a couple of months ago. Asked if he has been home to see them, he shakes his head, eyes brimming with tears, “My mother suffered a stroke recently and so I need to stay here to earn enough money for her treatment,” he says.
With thousands of fans put up in apartments, and even modified shipping containers, demand for food delivery services will soar, which should come as good news for Abbas, who is from Pakistan.
Before the World Cup, he was lucky to earn 60 rials in a 14-hour day. Much of that time was spent waiting for orders.
The company he works for is not his employer. Instead, he is hired by what is called a “supply company” and sent out to work for the delivery firm. As such, he’s the last to get an order, and is usually dispatched to the most remote locations.
“Supply companies have brought a lot of workers over for the World Cup. There are too many riders and not enough orders,” says Abbas. “Two of my friends have already gone back. I’ll only stay if I can get a better job.”
If you would prefer to head out for a meal, Doha’s metro system will get you there. It is clean, efficient and staffed by polite, eager people. They are clearly proud of their role, but also a little nervous.
“The only thing you can do is stay sane and stay alive! The Arab Cup [held a year ago] was crazy, a lot of noise and people falling over. The World Cup will be even more,” says Gloria from the Philippines.
Throughout the World Cup, regular staff like Gloria will be supported by thousands of “volunteers”, like Mohan. They have been hired for three months, just for the World Cup, and are paid a small salary. Mohan, who is from India, is happy with the deal because he hopes to stay on afterwards. “My main intention is to get a permanent job over here,” he says, admitting he is job hunting on his days off.
“It will be challenging to manage the crowd. I like these challenges and I’m eager to work in this World Cup,” he says. Asked if he likes football, he says, “I play football but I like cricket the most.” Only in Qatar would football’s global showcase be delivered with the help of an army of cricket lovers.
There is one group of workers you may not see much of: the low-wage construction labourers who built the airport you arrived at, the roads you drive along and the hotel you stay in. Much construction has been put on hold for six months due to the World Cup and thousands of workers, like Baburam, have been sent home.
Back in Nepal, he says he is now in a worse condition than when he left for Qatar because he was sent back before he was able to repay his recruitment debt. “The workers are not getting any benefits. They are being sent home because of the World Cup,” says Baburam. “Our family’s situation was already bad and now its even worse. Whatever we had before we’ve lost.”
* All names have been changed to protect workers’ identities.