World Cup hotel shields England team from fans – and Qatar’s labour abuses

Security guards working near secluded Qatari venue have paid extortionate fees to endure long shifts for just over £1 an hour

Workers at Qatar’s World Cup stadiums toil in debt and squalor

Far from the glittering towers of Doha, off a road lined with scruffy fast-food outlets and down a narrow, bumpy lane that leads to a beach, stands the hotel that will host England at the World Cup.

When David Beckham and Gary Neville visited recently, their initial reaction was less than enthusiastic.“Who chose this?” was Neville’s blunt assessment, as they stood in front of the Souq Al Wakra hotel’s modest entrance.

But what the hotel lacks in glamour it makes up for in privacy. High walls enclose the venue, which is built in the traditional style of the souk that surrounds it. Rooms are arranged around small courtyards to preserve guests’ privacy. There are few externally facing windows; the only view of the beach is from a rooftop seating area.

Once inside, Beckham was more upbeat. “The thing that you look for is tranquillity more than anything. You want to be in the middle of nowhere,” he said as he strolled through the hotel’s grounds. “This is the perfect set-up.”

The entrance of the Souq al-Wakra hotel in Qatar
The entrance of the Souq al-Wakra hotel. Photograph: Pete Pattisson/The Guardian

The beachfront has the feel of a rundown English seaside town, only hotter. As the heat eases in the evening, families come to swim in the sea or take a camel ride along the beach.

Back inside, the staff appear excited at the prospect of hosting top footballers. “Do you know the England team will be staying here? They’ve booked the whole hotel. David Beckham came – I served him,” an Indian waiter says eagerly.

“There’s no alcohol allowed. We are a dry hotel,” he adds, suggesting privacy is not the only reason the England manager, Gareth Southgate, favours the hotel.

For footballers used to outrageous luxury, it is a modest choice, more four-star than five. The standard rooms are small; there are few facilities, limited eating options and no swimming pool (not that December is swimming season in Qatar). Rooms are available from about £70 a night.

While 24 of the tournament’s 32 teams will be based within 10km of each other in Doha, England’s hotel is in Al Wakrah, a small town about 25 minutes’ drive south of the capital. Beyond the beach and souk, there is little to see or do, but in a country as small as Qatar, nothing is very far away.

England’s designated training ground is a few minutes from the hotel. Al Bayt Stadium, where England could play most of their games, is the farthest away of the eight stadiums, but is still less than an hour’s drive away.

Sitting in the hotel’s main courtyard, with fountains gurgling in the background, Beckham – who has reportedly signed a multimillion-pound deal to promote Qatar – told Neville what an “incredible experience” the World Cup would be. This is going to be a tournament that you’re not going to want to miss.”

A courtyard with a pool, fountains and palm trees
The main courtyard of the Souq al-Wakra hotel. The layout is designed to ensure the privacy of guests. Photograph: Pete Pattisson/The Guardian

However, while the England team may be able to escape the frenzy of fans in their beach-side hideaway, they will not be able to avoid the shadow of labour abuses that will fall on this World Cup.

In the souk outside and along the beachfront promenade, security guards from places including Kenya, Nepal and Pakistan endure 12-hour shifts for just over £1 an hour. They say they work 30 days a month. “If I take a day off, they cut my salary,” says one.

They say they have all been forced to pay extortionate fees – of up to £1,360 – to agents in their home countries to secure their jobs, meaning they have to work for months just to repay the costs.

Recent reforms to Qatar’s labour laws – touted by Fifa’s president, Gianni Infantino – should mean they are free to change jobs and look for something better, but the workers who spoke to the Guardian say it is impossible.

“The company will not give us permission to leave. They tell us we have to cancel our visas, go home and then apply for another job,” says one.

Near the hotel, a Kenyan security guard, in the middle of another 12-hour shift, has a different take from Beckham. He explains that his salary is far lower than he was promised when he left home.

“It’s a trap, because you are told one thing in Kenya and another in Qatar,” he says. “There’s nothing you can do. Just keep quiet and get on with it.”

Under Qatari employment law, foreign workers have the right to change jobs if their contract is terminated and legal procedures are in place if an employee does not receive their wages or allowances at the end of their contract.

The Qatari government also said a fund to support workers, including by reimbursing unpaid wages or benefits, had paid out £152.5m by last month.

Sign up for a different view with our Global Dispatch newsletter – a roundup of our top stories from around the world, recommended reads, and thoughts from our team on key development and human rights issues, delivered to your inbox every two weeks.

Sign up for Global Dispatch – please check your spam folder for the confirmation email


Pete Pattisson in Al Wakrah

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The road to reform: have things improved for Qatar’s World Cup migrant workers?
A year before kick off, workers claim companies are refusing to enforce sweeping new labour laws created to stamp out human rights abuses

Pete Pattisson in Doha

22, Nov, 2021 @8:00 AM

Article image
Pride and poverty: Qatar’s World Cup fever tempered by legacy of labour abuses
With a year to go, the new stadiums, hotels and roads are finished and locals are excited, but the low-paid workers who built them are ambivalent

Pete Pattisson

18, Nov, 2021 @8:00 AM

Article image
Workers at Qatar’s World Cup stadiums toil in debt and squalor
Months before tournament starts, migrant labourers at Qatar’s stadiums face poor living conditions and claim they still pay illegal fees and cannot change jobs

Pete Pattisson in Doha

20, Sep, 2022 @11:00 AM

Article image
‘We have fallen into a trap’: for hotel staff Qatar’s World Cup dream is a nightmare
Exclusive: Seduced by salary promises, workers at Fifa-endorsed hotels allege they have been exploited and abused

Pete Pattisson in Doha

18, Nov, 2021 @12:00 PM

Article image
Low-wage workers have paid dearly for Qatar’s glittering World Cup
As the 2022 draw takes place in Doha, the Gulf state’s migrant labour force continues to face exploitation

Pete Pattisson

01, Apr, 2022 @11:14 AM

Article image
World Cup stadium workers ‘had their money stolen and lives ruined’, says rights group
Report on conditions in Qatar alleges labour abuses are widespread and calls on Fifa to set up compensation fund

Pete Pattisson

10, Nov, 2022 @3:44 PM

Article image
Migrant workers in Qatar left in debt after being ordered home before World Cup starts
Early end to migrants’ contracts leaves many owing large sums to recruiters and unable to support their families

Pete Pattisson in Doha

22, Sep, 2022 @8:00 AM

Article image
Female migrant workers speak out about harassment in Qatar’s World Cup hotels
Globally, women hospitality workers are vulnerable to abuse, with sporting events linked to increased risk. We spoke to five women about their experiences in Qatar’s hotels

Louise Donovan

17, Nov, 2022 @3:00 PM

Article image
Ten years of hurt: how the Guardian reported Qatar’s World Cup working conditions
As the tournament begins we look back over a decade in which our coverage of conditions for migrant workers has been instrumental in forcing change

Annie Kelly

19, Nov, 2022 @10:00 AM

Article image
What do Qatar’s World Cup workers now fear most? Being sent home | Pete Pattisson
Migrant workers in labour camps face poor pay and conditions but their fear of losing those jobs underlines their exploitation

Pete Pattisson in Doha

23, Sep, 2022 @10:58 AM