Qatar World Cup: a guide to the sights and stadiums – and how workers suffered to make them

Next week, football fans and tourists will be shown a pristine promenade, luxury hotels and magnificent stadiums, but follow this trail to see how the Qataris’ dream was built on a nightmare

This week tens of thousands of football fans will arrive in Doha for the 2022 Fifa World Cup. The city that awaits them is one that has been transformed in the 12 years since the small Gulf state won its bid to host one of the biggest sporting events in the world.

The stadiums, hotels, apartment blocks and tourist attractions built in preparation for the tournament have reshaped the city’s landscape forever.

Map of Doha

They are also the legacy of the sweat and toil of the migrant worker army recruited from some of the poorest countries around the globe who worked long hours in sweltering conditions to build Qatar’s World Cup dream.

As the first whistle is set to blow, we have created an alternative tourist guide to the glittering landmarks that will provide the backdrop to the tournament, based on over a decade of reporting on migrant worker rights and the exploitation, debt and squalor that so many World Cup workers told us defined their working lives.

Two migrant workers stroll on the Corniche in front of a view of the Doha skyline.

The Corniche

Start your day with a brisk walk along the Corniche, the promenade which skirts the bay in the heart of Doha. Count down the last hours until the tournament kicks off by the giant red clock in the shape of the World Cup logo, or take selfies in front of banners and displays with slogans like: “fabulous, connect, amazing, now is all.”

Here, you will meet people who have come to enjoy the tournament from all over the world. The only people you will not see are the men from India and Nepal who laboured in the ferocious summer heat to revamp the Corniche in time for your arrival.

Most of them were sent home long ago. In July, they told the Guardian they had been forced to pay huge and illegal recruitment fees to agents in their own countries in return for what they believed to be two-year contracts. Yet, in the rush to wrap up construction before the World Cup, many were sent home far earlier, leaving them fearing they would be left jobless, unable to support their families and deep in debt.

“Everyone will be sent back because of the World Cup. It doesn’t matter how long you have been here,” said one. “What can I do? I’m helpless.”

In a statement, a Qatari official said there was no government requirement for companies to repatriate employees or reduce their workforce before the World Cup.

A pool attendant (not interviewed for this story) working at a luxury hotel near Doha, Qatar.


From the Corniche, head through the glistening towers of West Bay and north to where some of Qatar’s most luxurious hotels look out over the exclusive stretch of coastline.

Inside, you will find cavernous marble-lined lobbies and opulent suites. If you’re lucky enough to stay in one, you may find there is even a TV installed in the bathroom, so you can watch the football from the comfort of your bathtub.

A single night in a standard room at most of these hotels is more than many of the staff earn in a month. Last year, a Guardian investigation found scores of hotel workers earning a basic wage of £1.25 an hour or less. Some sub-contracted security guards, were working 12-hour shifts without a day off for months. Many staff said they were unable to change jobs because their employer refused to let them leave.

“We’ve fallen into a trap and can’t get out,” said one.

In response, Qatari official said the country had a zero-tolerance approach towards violating companies, issuing harsh penalties that included fines and prison sentences.

If you’re an England fan, and you want to see where the team hotel is located, it’s on the coast in Al Wakrah. You won’t get in but you can enjoy the souk and nearby beachfront. Stop by the restaurants to enjoy a plate of fresh fish or take a camel ride along the beach.

As you do, spare a thought for the security guards patrolling the area. In July, they told the Guardian they endured 12-hour shifts, for 30 days a month. “If I take a day off, they cut my salary,” said one. They find themselves in a bind. They know they are being exploited, but even the meagre wage they earn here is more than they can make back home, and so they are reluctant to complain.

A Kenyan explained that his salary was far lower than he was promised when he left home. “You are told one thing in Kenya and another in Qatar,” he said. “There’s nothing you can do. Just keep quiet and get on with it.”

A worker walks towards the National Museum of Qatar in Doha, on 11 November 2022.

National Museum

If you want a break from football, drop in to the National Museum. On the outside, it’s made up of mind-bending interlocking discs, designed to look like a desert rose.

Some of the men who worked on the inside told the Guardian in 2016 they were earning a much lower salary than they had been promised when they were recruited in Nepal; a basic wage of around £135 a month. “If I had known I would [get so little], I definitely wouldn’t have come,” said one.

When the Guardian visited their labour camp in a rundown compound outside Doha, it found eight men sharing one room. With no lockers, their clothes were hung on lines across the wall and personal belongings stashed under their bunk beds.

An ice cream stand at Souq Waqif.

Souq Waqif

To end the day, why not head to Souq Waqif? It’s a popular spot for people from around the world who come to shop in its bazaar or have a bite to eat. But when the Guardian visited in 2016, one group of visitors did not appear to be welcome. Whenever the police spotted young south Asian men, they were quickly intercepted and directed to the exit.

That practice has now ended, but low-wage workers in Qatar continue to live in starkly different conditions to what visitors will experience.

The Qatari authorities have taken some steps to improve their living and working conditions, including introducing a minimum wage, partially dismantling the abusive kafala system and improving some worker accommodation, but for most of the men you have met on this alternative tour, it is either too little, or too late.

Workers from India constructing the Katara Towers project in Lusail.


If you head to the north of Doha you will enter Lusail City, a new district full of outrageous towers, like the crescent-shaped building formed of two giant curved arms reaching skywards. They host two hotels; one has five stars, the other six.

There’s another hotel in Lusail that holds a darker secret. It was built in 2014 by North Korean workers under conditions likely to constitute forced labour. They worked so hard and for so long, the site manager built a room for them so they could take a quick rest without having to return to their labour camp. Despite this, it is likely that they only kept about 10% of their earnings, while the rest was expropriated by the North Korean regime.

“We are here to earn foreign currency for our nation,” one said. The site manager said, “They don’t have a single rial themselves. They borrow money from us if they need small things like cigarettes.”

The stadiums

A map of Qatar’s World Cup stadiums

Al Bayt stadium

Drive out of Lusail and up the five-lane highway to the stunning Al Bayt stadium, which will host the opening game of the World Cup. If England reach the semi-finals, they are likely to play four games here.

The stadium is built to resemble a nomadic tent. If you need refreshments, pop into the on-site McDonalds, also decked out like a tent. Take a walk around the lush grounds that surround the stadium, brush your hand over the immaculate grass of the training pitches and enjoy the cool breeze coming off the small lake.

Then consider the men who maintain this welcoming green space. In the summer, the Guardian found them living on the edge of the desert, with up to six men crammed into tiny, windowless cabins.

Stadiums for Qatar World Cup: From left to right) the Al Bayt stadium in Al Khor on 26 August 2020; the Al Janoub stadium in Doha on 20 November 2020; the Ahmad Bin Ali stadium in the city of Ar Rayyan on 22 November 2021; the Lusail stadium on the outskirts of Doha on 2 September 2022; the 974 stadium in Doha on 7 December 2021; the Khalifa International stadium in Doha on 19 May 2017; the Education City stadium in Al Rayyan city on 29 April 2020; and the Al Thumama stadium in Doha on 22 October 2021.

They said they had been forced to pay illegal fees to secure their jobs and many were still in debt months later, which they were struggling to pay off because their basic salary worked out at just £1 an hour.

Despite a new law giving workers the right to freely change jobs, the gardeners at Al Bayt and two other stadiums said they were unable to switch employment. “If we could change jobs, everyone would leave!” said one.

The local World Cup organising committee started a programme in 2017 to reimburse stadium workers who had paid recruitment fees. About £20 million has been repaid so far. The Al Bayt gardeners had not received any repayments at the time the Guardian met them. Following the Guardian’s revelations, the men were moved to better accommodation.

Education City stadium in 2019 and 2022

Education City stadium

Now head back south to Doha and visit the Education City stadium. It’s been called the “diamond in the desert” on account of its shiny, angled surface.

Rupchandra Rumba, a Nepali labourer.

The construction of stadiums and other World Cup-related infrastructure has created hundreds of thousands of jobs for workers from some of the poorest countries in the region. Some have positive stories to tell; of earning a decent regular wage, which they sent home to pay for a new house or their children’s education. But for a few, their story has a very different ending.

In June 2019, a young Nepali man named Rupchandra Rumba, who worked as a scaffolder at the stadium, woke up gasping for breath in a squalid labour camp nearby. His friends called for help, but it was too late and he died shortly afterwards.

Back in Nepal, his wife, Nirmala Pakrin, has spent the last three and a half years wondering why she has never received compensation from his employer. She can’t understand how a country with so much money will not help pay for her son’s education.

Al Janoub stadium

Keep heading south and you will come to another futuristic arena, resembling a giant white spaceship. It’s called Al Janoub stadium.

Eight years ago, labourers preparing the ground for the stadium told the Guardian they were being paid as little as 45p an hour. They said their passports were held by their manager.

In 2018, another young Nepali, Tej Narayan Tharu was carrying loads high up in the stadium, when he fell to his death through a gap in the walkway.

Al Janoub stadium in 2018 and 2022

In Nepal, his wife, Renuka Chaudhary, was left confused and concerned about the future of their four year-old daughter. “I’m so worried. I have no one to earn money for the family now. How can I pay for her education and raise her?” she said.

Sita, Tharu’s mother, said: “I’m heartbroken. My son has gone for ever. He’s never coming back. He has a small daughter. Life is long and hard. How will she survive?”

Chaudhary later received compensation for her husband’s death.

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