Migrant workers ‘forced to run Qatar marathon’

Workers allegedly “press-ganged” into participating, although organisers deny claims of coercion

PHOTO: Workers were brought in from labour camps on buses to swell numbers at a recent Qatar marathon, reports say. Credit: Archives

Qatar is once more courting controversy over the treatment of migrant workers following reports that organisers of a marathon allegedly forced workers to participate in their event to swell numbers.

Al Sadd Sports Club reportedly tried to break a world record for attracting 50,000 runners to its Mega Marathon on Friday. However, as the numbers fell short, organisers allegedly bussed in workers from their dormitories to take part in the marathon.

Other participants were surprised to see workers clad in unsuitable attire running at the event, The Telegraph reported. Although some tried to drop out, one witness said the workers were ordered to keep running, it was reported.

“The worst part of all was that there was a large mass of labourers wearing jeans, flip-flops and no proper running equipment. Some labourers tried to leave but were turned back and were yelled at that they need to stay and cross the line,” a participant told Doha News.

According to reports, the Mega Marathon faced difficulties from the start. Initially scheduled for February 6, the event was pushed to March 27 and changed to a half marathon.

A spokesman for the club said that organisers had asked companies to encourage workers “with decent jobs” to participate, insisting that participation was voluntary and proper running kit had been offered to the workers.

“If they didn’t want to run, we advised them to go to their buses,” Mega Gonzales Cervantes told The Telegraph.

Moreover, buses were provided because the labour camp where the workers resided was located in a remote industrial area in the desert with no other means of transport, he said.

Cervantes added that workers were briefed about the attempt to break the world record, reiterating that they weren’t forced to do so.

Despite the organiser’s attempts however, the marathon clocked in only about 33,000 participants, well below the 50,000 target.

Nicholas McGeehan, a researcher on the Gulf for Human Rights Watch, said this wasn’t the first time migrant workers had been coerced into participating in events to inflate numbers.

“If migrant workers have been press-ganged into competing in an event that demands physical endurance then whoever is responsible has shown a contemptible disregard for their dignity and welfare,” he told The Telegraph. “Qatar’s Athletics Federation should investigate these very serious allegations immediately.”


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