A journalist who created a football card-focused project to document the stories of migrant workers who lost or risked their lives to make the World Cup in Qatar possible says he “wanted to tell the stories of the people behind the statistics”.
Martin Schibbye, 42, the editor-in-chief of Blankspot – a crowdfunded digital only platform for long-form journalism – worked on the project called “Cards of Qatar” with a team of local journalists.
Around 70 football cards, which were designed to try and resemble the official Panini Fifa World Cup football cards, were created from 100 interviews conducted with families of migrant workers who came from Nepal, India and Bangladesh.
The idea for the cards was sparked by Mr Schibbye’s colleague, Brit Stakston.
“She has a son who has always collecting football cards as child and so she said, ‘why don’t we make cards, but instead of putting professional football players on the cards, there should be pictures of a migrant worker and his/her story, why they left and what the consequences were for their family when they never returned home’,” Mr Schibbye told the PA news agency, from Stockholm, Sweden.
He added that at first glance, people might assume that the cards are the official Fifa World Cup 2022 cards. “And then you will look closer and see that it highlights a different type of story”.
Representing the stories of migrant workers who helped to make the World Cup possible was a key aim Mr Schibbye hoped to achieve through the project, who visited families in Nepal.
“There were a lot of numbers thrown around about how many people died,” he said.
“The Guardian mentioned the figure 6,500, while others said 10,000 and then we had the official Qatar response, who said that only three people had died in connection to the arena construction work.
“And I felt that what we were lacking was getting to know these families and these people who went to Qatar to provide for their families so that their kids could go to school, and who were skilled workers with dreams and ambitions and I felt that they were kind of forgotten.
“I wanted to tell the stories of the people behind the statistics.”
Bine Bahadur Bishworkarma was one of the migrant workers whose story was represented on one of the football cards.
“There was one interview I did with Nir Maya Bishworkarma, his widow,” Mr Schibbye said.
“He was from Nepal and worked in Qatar and his widow never received his body, so she couldn’t have a proper funeral ceremony.
“Instead, when she got the message that he had died, she collected clothes from his wardrobe and burned those clothes just to get closure.”
He added that she noted people online were calling for the event to be boycotted, but she just “wanted fans to remember him”.
She added that “I want them to learn his name and when they walk on that marble floor, which he had made, that he did a good job and it makes me proud of him and his work”.
Mr Schibbye said: “And her words have been with me through this process – it’s all about honouring and remembering all those people that built Qatar and made this World Cup possible.”
The cards – which have a limit of 600 characters – included the perspective of the family, which was represented by a quote from them, the cause of the migrant worker’s death, if known, and their age.
Mr Schibbye also showed the families in Nepal the cards and “they really took them to their hearts”.
“They felt that it was a really worthy way of remembering their relatives,” he added.
Interviews were also conducted with people that were injured or came back to South Asia, who have highlighted how the topic is not a “black and white issue”.
He said: “It’s also a very complex issue, where you have the sons of Bishworkarma wanting to go to Qatar to work because they want to provide for their mother and their younger sisters so that they can go to school, even though their father’s body never came back.
“And I think we have been looking in Doha for answers, but the answers are not really there – it’s in South Asia – and we need to understand poverty.
“It’s like a hammer and it really pushes people to go abroad and the money makes a difference – you really understand why people sacrifice themselves and take these huge risks.”
He added that many families did not receive any compensation and felt that proper investigations should have been conducted to find out why people died.
He said: “I mean, in Nepal, when bodies come home, in 70% of cases, natural death is recorded on the death certificate.
“Many do not know how their relatives died. What they had was stories from colleagues of co-workers.”
The cards were sent to Fifa and to the sponsors of the football event, with only Adidas responding.
Longer versions of the stories represented on the cards, as well as digital versions, can be found on the Cards of Qatar website: https://cardsofqatar.com/en/