Soccer tournament in Qatar gives migrant workers a chance to shine

A soccer initiative in Qatar aims to boost migrant workers’ community involvement in the Gulf state in the run up to the 2022 World Cup. (Reuters)

As Qatar prepares to host the world’s top soccer tournament in 2022, a new initiative has emerged to unite the local communities through the love of sport.

The “Workers Cup 2013” is a soccer tournament aimed to provide the expatriate “blue collar” workforce in the Gulf state an opportunity to participate in recreational activities in the run up to the 2022 World Cup, according to the organizers.

“We aim to open up sport to all sections of the community: men, women, children. We are on a variety of different programs and that has naturally led to what you see here today, the first official Qatar Workers Cup, which is sponsored by the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee and Qatar Stars Leagues,” says Benjamin Panton, Director of Public Relations & Marketing at QSports Leagues.

Migrant workers make up about 94 percent of the workforce in Qatar. Poor working conditions are common across the Gulf, where impoverished men and women from South Asia work on construction, oil projects and as domestic help.

The tournament not only provides the workers an opportunity to take a break from their daily routine, it also allows them to play in the stadiums and pitches that they helped to build.

“Being here is already, you know, a already a great pleasure for us. So, since this is really a great opportunity for us to be able to be together and of course compete with other teams and nationalities as well,” says Lorence, team captain of Qatar Lubricants Company.

The competition features 16 teams of 18 players each and gives those involved the chance to represent their company in the first event of its kind in the region, say the organizers.

Each company had to pay an entry fee of 6,000QR (1,647.81 USD), but it cost nothing for the participating workers.

The winning team will be awarded 18,000QR (4,943.43 USD) which is to be divided equally between the players. The prizes for the second and third place teams will be 9,000QR and 6,000QR respectively. The best player and best goalkeeper will each receive 1,500QR, according to the organizers

A range of companies with migrant workers were approached by the tournament organizers to support the initiative, which allows their employees - rather than senior management - to represent the company on the soccer pitch.

The tournament can also help workers lead a healthier life, says one participating company.

“We are always keen to allow our employees time to be active. Their fitness is very important, as our operations are in our restaurants and hotels which are very busy, so our employees must have time to be able to play [sports],” says Amjad Aziz Moussa, Operations Manager at Aspire Katara Hospitality.

The tournament follows a traditional format of group games, with the top placed teams progressing into the knock out stages. Final games will be played in the world class stadiums that are being constructed by Qatar. The third place playoff and final are expected to take place around a Qatar Stars League match, which will further enhance the interaction between professional footballers and the rest of the community.

The tournament has received extremely positive feedback, say the organizers.

“It was fantastic. It was really overwhelming. So we’ve got, as you can see, we kicked off today. We’ve got 16 teams officially registered in this tournament. We’re actually oversubscribed. We had 24 teams registered to play. Because this is the first year, we’re treating this almost as a trial, a pilot, to see what the response is. We hope that next year we can increase the level of organisation, have companies training their staff particularly for this cup,” says Panton.

The Workers Cup kicked off on Friday (March 29) at Al Rayyan Stadium in Doha and will continue until the final match day and trophy ceremony on April 13.

Last Update: Tuesday, 02 April 2013 KSA 21:07 - GMT 18:07