In Qatar, workers balance their love of soccer with the burden of treacherous work conditions.
The film explores the use of migrant labor workers from India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Nepal, and Africa as they tirelessly work to build the 2022 World Cup Facilities in Qatar.
The film follows the construction workers in the labor camps, where they painstakingly work, and where exploitation is rampant.
When Qatar was selected by FIFA to host the 2022 World Cup, criticism erupted because of Qatar’s reported rampant abuse and use of migrant workers. According to the Human Rights Watch, Qatar has a migrant workforce of almost 2 million workers. Some of these workers only earn $200 a month, and are often working in dangerous conditions, putting their lives in danger.
Sobel was inspired to make the film while he was living in Qatar. He started a production company that made current affairs news pieces for various international outlets, and he kept getting asked to cover the stories of migrant workers who were building the stadiums for the World Cup in Qatar.
After working on several stories about these migrant workers, he realized they could go deeper if they made a documentary.
“We wanted to find a way to create a meaningful piece that really honored the workers themselves, and the sacrifices they made in regards to their humanity and dignity,” says Sobel.
“The Workers Cup” dives into the conditions these migrant workers face, and shows how they are literally slaves to the companies they work for: the worker is not allowed to change or quit his job, nor leave the country unless granted permission by his company.
The workers are being tasked with building eight stadiums, numerous hotels, and roads. Since they began working on these infrastructures, the Human Rights Watch estimates that there may have been 2,000 migrant worker fatalities.
When the 2022 World Cup Committee announced that it would sponsor the Workers Cup, a soccer tournament specifically for the migrant workers, Sobel saw an opportunity to see how soccer plays out in the lives of these migrant workers, while also exploring the difficult labor conditions these workers face.
“We thought by using the Workers Cup, we could gain more access [to migrant workers] and tell the story on a deeper level,” he says.
There is an internal battle that many of the workers experience, as the film highlights.
Many of these migrant workers love soccer and feel pride for contributing to a sport they love. In fact, many of the workers meet every night to practice in preparation to play in the Workers Cup.
But it seems some of these workers were tricked into coming to Qatar in the first place. Kenneth, 21, wanted to play professional soccer one day. When a recruiting agent in Ghana convinced him to go to Qatar to join a professional soccer club, Kenneth instead found himself working in construction.
The real contrast takes places when it becomes clear that the migrant workers have a greater connection and deeper appreciation for soccer than the companies they work for. As they prepare for the Workers Cup, it’s the one place where they experience freedom and joy, and perhaps feel a little hope for their future.
The film is intended to make viewers feel uncomfortable, but also aware of what is happening with the migrant workers. There’s human currency at stake to build these venues that others will populate during the World Cup.
“I just want to sensitize people to what migrant workers go through, and what their lives might look like,” says Sobel. “Qatar is a very extreme example of a migrant worker’s experience. Most media tends to paint migrant workers either as victims or as resources, but not as individuals who have their own hopes and dreams with complex emotions.”
He hopes the film inspires people to start advocating on behalf of migrant workers so their work conditions will improve.
“The truth is that this labor system existed in Qatar before they were granted the World Cup,” he says. “Nobody cared about their migrant worker problem until then. Now we have the opportunity to start a conversation around it, and hopefully change what’s happening there.”