QATAR: Empty stadiums and empty promises

The failures of the IAAF World Championships began long before the games themselves, says Human Rights Without Frontiers’ Willy Fautre.

By Willy Fautré

The Parliament Magazine (04.10.2019) – – This week commentators, athletes and spectators criticised the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) over numerous failures of the 2019 Athletics World Championships in Doha.

Victory laps in front of empty stadiums, unbearable heat and collapsing runners tell the story of a very different Championships to the one promised by Qatar when they bid to host the event in 2011.

Former British Olympic Champion, Denise Lewis, is among those in the athletics community who have been outspoken about the failure of the games, saying the governing body had “let athletes down massively”.

For many, the games will go down as a PR disaster, for both the IAAF and Qatar, who’s earlier promise of “no empty seats” rings as hollow as the stadium itself.

Clearly, the execution of the Doha World Championships raises significant questions for the organisers. However, the truth is that these Championships failed long before the first starting gun was fired and it is not just the athletes who have been let down by the IAAF.

The games failed when the athletics authorities allowed their showpiece event to be built by abjectly treated migrant workers, often unpaid and, in many cases, putting their lives at risk.

Contrary to the lucrative lifestyles promised, they have found themselves victims of abusive employment practices, with neither IAAF nor the Qatari state making any effort to protect their interests.

Amnesty International has consistently highlighted the plight of migrant workers in Qatar. According to their 2016 report workers on the main Khalifa Stadium have been ‘ruthlessly and systematically exploited’.

Last week, Amnesty International released their latest report, shedding further light on the exploitation of the thousands of migrant workers in Qatar, in particular relation to these championships and the 2022 World Cup.

The report found that at least 1,620 workers from three Qatari companies involved in construction and cleaning had submitted complaints over unpaid wages.

One Kenyan worker told Amnesty: “For five months I had to live with very little food and no salary. My family was really affected. Tears come to my eyes when I remember where we used to go to find food – in the bins. The company owes me a lot of money which they refuse to pay me.”

However, let us not be fooled by these figures. The true scale of the problem is likely to be far greater.

The US State Department estimates more than 6,000 workers submitted complaints to Qatar’s new Committees for the Settlement of Labour Disputes last year, with hundreds returning home without compensation.

This is tantamount to slave labour, no more, no less and it is time we started calling it out for what it is.

The international community has all the facts and a clear picture of the situation, there is no excuse for inaction. The abuse these workers are facing stands in dark contrast with the values of fair and generous behaviour that great sportspeople and fans hold dear.

To further quantify this tragedy, there were zero deaths in the building of London’s Olympic Games, 10 in the construction of 2008’s Beijing Games and 21 for Russia’s 2018 World Cup.

How is anyone able to stand idly by when it is estimated that by the time of the 2022 World Cup, the toll in Qatar could reach a staggering 4,000 deaths?

There are three years until the World Cup arrives in Doha. Before then we must resolve to bring an end to the suffering of migrant workers at the hands of the Qatari state.

No sporting spectacle is worth the suffering of innocent workers, who are simply trying to provide a better life for their families.

FIFA must finally step up where the IAAF has failed, call out and sanction Qatar for their appalling treatment of workers.

Open Letter to the OSCE/ODIHR

Will it be worthwhile participating in the next HDIM? All the participants’ statements and papers in the last five years have just been removed from the website of the OSCE/ODIHR.


For more than 20 years, I have participated in the annual OSCE/ ODIHR conference in Warsaw, now called Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM), a unique advocacy event for human rights defenders and CSOs, that started in the military barracks near the airport where, in 1955, the Warsaw Pact was signed.


I have regularly used the database of all the statements and speeches compiled on the website of ODIHR for my research, my papers and my conferences.


Earlier this month I again visited the website of the OSCE/ ODIHR on several occasions, until a few days ago I discovered that


ALL the pages devoted to the HDIM from the very beginning of this process until 2013 had suddenly and silently ‘disappeared’.

ALL the statements and speeches filed under the HDIM 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 had also ‘disappeared’.

What was kept on the website is irrelevant information: Hotels in Warsaw – Hotels Special Rates – Cost for Side Event Services, etc.


There was apparently a will to cleanse disturbing information, which looks like an act of censorship.


The statements at HDIMs and before have been erased from the history and the memory of the OSCE. This is not only its property but it is also the property of human rights NGOs and victims of human rights violations. This heritage is also the property of this and the next generations of human rights activists.


The materials presented at HDIMs is a monument to the victims of totalitarian and dictatorial regimes and also a reminder of the fragility of human rights in democratic states and as such, it is similar to a monument dedicated to the victims of Nazism and Communism.


Why was such a sacrilege perpetrated? Who was mandated to make such a mutilation? What is behind such a move? Did it disturb Participating States?


Will the statements and speeches of the 2019 HDIM also soon ‘disappear’ in the bowels of the oblivion as if the human rights violations denounced by CSOs had never existed?


Is it worth going to the 2020 HDIM if it is reduced to a confidential exchange of oral statements and rights of reply doomed to be withdrawn from the public eye after a short time?


Our recommendation to the OSCE/ ODIHR is simple: Fully restore the archives of the HDIM process and make them accessible again to the international community.

Human Rights Without Frontiers (Brussels)

Willy Fautré, director