In an effort to break a world record, event organizers in Doha, Qatar reportedly forced impoverished migrant workers to take part in a state-sponsored “megamarathon” against their wills this past Friday.
As first reported by Doha News, the Al-Sadd Sports Club, which runs the country’s most successful soccer club, bused in migrant workers to compete in the Qatar Mega Marathon, forcing many to run in jeans and flip flops in the midday Arabian heat, in a failed effort to break a world record.
Organizers had hoped to have 50,000 participants in the marathon, which would have broken the world record, currently held by the U.S., for the most active runners in a marathon.
Organizers claimed that 33,000 runners participated, but witnesses told Doha News that no more than a few thousand participated, most of whom were migrant workers. Multiple participants claimed they saw organizers shouting at migrant workers who tried to leave the race, telling them they needed to turn around and finish.
At one point, staffers claimed they were told to stop handing out water bottles to runners.
One runner told Doha News it was one of the most “disorganized and chaotic events I have ever had the displeasure of attending.”
The report is another mark on Qatar’s already spotted human rights record.
After the nation was awarded the 2022 FIFA World Cup amid suspicions of bribery, the country’s attitude toward migrant workers came under intense international criticism.
In order to prepare facilities for the World Cup, Qatar brought in hundreds of thousands of poor migrant workers to finish massive construction efforts under the kafala system.
Under the kafala system employers are responsible for the visa and legal status of the migrant workers, who generally come from highly impoverished backgrounds in countries ranging from Nepal to India to Indonesia. As a result, many employers take away the passports of their laborers and refuse to give them “exit permits” that would allow them to pursue work elsewhere, essentially holding the workers captive within the Qatari borders, and forcing them to endure widespread abuse.
The system, which fits the International Labour Organization’s definition of modern-day slavery, has allowed employers to beat and withhold food from their laborers with little to no repercussions, and has contributed to dangerously hazardous working environments for laborers.
More than one migrant worker died every day in 2014 building 2022 World Cup infrastructure, and by the time construction finishes in eight years, The Guardian reports as many as 4,000 migrant workers will have died.
Organizers of the race claimed no wrongdoing.