DOHA, Qatar – On the outskirts of Qatar’s capital and miles from the stadiums and the brilliance of the World Cup, thousands of true nation builders gathered in a fenced parking lot in Asian Town, between a center commercial and a cricket stadium.
They were a cross section of migrant workers, mostly men on leave, thronging to watch Qatar open the World Cup, cheering on a country that doesn’t always recognize them.
They pointed their phone cameras at a gigantic video screen to record the opening ceremony, knowing that they had played a part in the show.
And as kick-off approached, thousands squeezed into the narrow gates of the 13,000-seat cricket stadium with enough energy to make security guards nervous. Just as those funnels cleared, thousands more people streamed into the fan zone and then into the stadium, thrilled to find a vantage point from which they could see another giant screen displaying the action.
“I’ve lived here for eight years and it feels like home,” said Al Amin, 29, a chef at a vegan restaurant who sends 60% of his salary to his father in Bangladesh. He said he cares deeply about Qatar, where he plans to live and work for at least a year.
A short guide to the 2022 World Cup
What is the World Cup? The quadrennial event pits the best national football teams against each other for the title of world champion. Here is an introduction to the 2022 men’s tournament:
Qatar is a land of migrants, mostly poor workers from distant lands who have built a country and an economy for the rich. There are around 300,000 Qatari citizens in a country of around three million people, which means that almost 90% of the population comes from elsewhere. Most migrants come from South Asia (particularly Nepal and India) and Africa, and there is little chance of obtaining citizenship for foreigners.
Much of the argument against hosting the World Cup in Qatar has been made on their behalf. Dots are relegated to shorthand – migrants drawn like magnetic deposits from the poorest places to do the thankless, low-paying and sometimes deadly work of building and maintaining the infrastructure of wealth and sport. It is a system, not entirely different from others in the world, which views the migrant worker as disposable, if they see it at all, and unworthy of equal rights.
But they made noise on Sunday night in a fan zone about 45 minutes away and a world away from Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, where Qatar made their World Cup debut.
They cheered at kick-off, groaned over Ecuador’s opening goal and cheered again when a video refereeing decision cleared it.
In the midst of it all, they laughed with friends and colleagues. They made FaceTime calls at home. They pointed their cameras at the big screen and took selfies.
Unlike the fans who crowd the tourist areas of Doha, they were mostly unadorned with team shirts and other fandom totems. But a few Qatar jerseys freckled the crowd.
It was to say that they had come to be part of it. It was also telling that they were here, away from the action and tourists and Qataris, hidden in the shadows of a parking lot.
Most migrant workers live far from the sparkling city center, where foreign visitors congregate near wealth and air conditioning, and where towers sprout near the Arabian Gulf like rods of glass, glistening in the relentless or shining sun. like neon crayons at night.
Migrant workers are mostly dumped on the sandy outskirts of Doha, on dusty islands divided largely by race and nationality. Hundreds of thousands of them live on the grim streets near Asian Town, in sprawling, gloomy housing estates called the Industrial Zone.
Much has been said and written in recent days and years about the slow progress made for migrant workers in Qatar. Since 2021, the country has had a minimum wage of 1,000 Qatari riyals per month, or about $275, regardless of the job or nationality of the worker.
Mohommad Faizan, 29, has been in Qatar for almost four years, working as an air conditioning technician. He sends money home to Sri Lanka, where he has a wife and a 6-month-old daughter he has yet to meet. He plans to work for a few more years in Qatar to pay for a house back home.
“I support Qatar,” he said, “because my life is here now.”
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