More than 50 students gathered outside University Hall on Sunday for a march and vigil in remembrance of the migrant workers who died during preparations for this year’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
The World Cup, which occurs every four years, began Sunday. Attendees at the protest, which was organized by Nepali and Nepali-American students at Harvard, denounced FIFA for turning a blind eye to the work conditions faced by migrant workers ahead of the World Cup.
According to a New York Times investigation published earlier this month, at least 2,100 Nepali migrant workers hired for construction linked to the tournament have died in Qatar since 2010. In that time, hundreds of thousands of Nepali workers have been employed on the $220 billion project.
During the march, students chanted and displayed signs that read “People Over Profit” and “The Ugly Side of World Cup.” The protest, which took place in Harvard Square, ended with a vigil and open mic session on the steps of Widener Library.
The gathering was spearheaded by Kashish Bastola ’26 and Ang Sonam Sherpa ’23, who said the goal of the march was both to raise awareness about the experiences of the migrant workers and to pay respect to the workers themselves.
Bastola said the tournament “brings the world together” but is built on “human rights violations and abuses.”
“There have been similar human rights violations and abuses that FIFA has tried to address through their human rights advisory board, but obviously nothing has happened,” Bastola said. “Nothing has changed.”
In a statement to The Crimson, FIFA said the organization “does not accept any abuse of workers by companies involved in the preparation and delivery of the FIFA World Cup 2022.”
“FIFA is steadfast in its commitment to ensure respect for internationally recognised human rights across all its operations and events in accordance with FIFA’s Human Rights Policy and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights,” they wrote.
“With that in mind, FIFA is implementing an unprecedented due diligence process in relation to the protection of workers involved in the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022,” they added. “The robustness of this programme has been recognised repeatedly by experts and trade unions over the years reaching the highest international standards in terms of health and safety.”
Co-organizer Nabin Poudel ’24 said in an interview that the display was intended to be “more than a protest.”
“It’s a march to remember the lives that we’ve lost, and also to raise the awareness, to let the people know that the World Cup that’s currently happening — that people are celebrating — was built on the backs of literal people,” Poudel said.
Bastola said organizing the event also fostered solidarity among Nepali students at Harvard.
“There’s relatively few of us on campus in the first place,” Bastola said. “We all already know each other, but organizing and working to bring awareness to this issue has brought us, I would say, even closer and in very meaningful ways.”
Sherpa, who hails from Nepal, said it was a “very nice experience for the whole Nepali community to come together” in support of a common cause.
“It’s not really limited to the Nepali community at all,” Sherpa added. “We have reached out to the wider South Asian community, and all the responses have been incredible.”
Arjun Bhattarai ’24, who spoke at the vigil, said he appreciated the support from students in other campus affinity groups, including the Harvard South Asian Association, Harvard College Pakistani Student Association, and Harvard Ghungroo.
“We were really glad to see the solidarity,” Bhattarai said. “There are people in campus — there are people around — who want this issue to be raised.”
Correction: November 21, 2022:
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Arjun Bhattarai ’24 thanked the Harvard Saudi Student Association for its support at Sunday’s vigil. In fact, Bhattarai thanked the Harvard South Asian Association for its support.
—Staff writer Mert Geyiktepe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Vivi E. Lu can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @vivielu_.