E60's "Qatar's World Cup" special.

The 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar begins on Nov. 20, but the event is under several clouds even before it starts. Those include the deaths of more than 6,500 migrant workers in the country since 2010, the conditions for migrant workers (including on World Cup stadium projects), the restrictions on fans (and on LGBTQ+ fans in particular) and media, and the bribes that led to this event being played there in the first place.

Jeremy Schaap has been covering much of this for ESPN’s E60 since the World Cup was awarded to Qatar back in 2010. His past coverage there includes a hard-hitting 2014 segment that got particular attention for its interviews with migrant workers. And that’s led to a lot of anticipation for a new “Qatar’s World Cup” special from Schaap and the E60 team announced last month and premiering this Sunday (at 8:30 p.m. Eastern on the main ESPN network, available for streaming on ESPN+ afterwards). ESPN put out a release on that Tuesday, along with a trailer, and it looks like it will be well worth a watch for those interested in what’s really going on around this World Cup.

The quotes from the first worker there really stand out. “Here is no good for us. It’s just by force we are here. …Nobody has freedom here! Nobody! You can’t be free here. Never.”

Here’s more from the ESPN release on this special:

E60 first reported on the plight of migrant workers in 2014. At the time, it was estimated that thousands of laborers would die before a game was played in the 2022 World Cup. E60 crews visited Qatar’s capital city of Doha where they witnessed squalid living conditions and met workers who feared for their safety. E60 also traveled to Nepal to speak with the families of young, healthy workers who had died while working in Qatar.

In May 2022, reporter Jeremy Schaap and his crew traveled back to Doha where they visited the new stadiums, spoke with workers, and interviewed government officials to find out what has changed over the last eight years. E60 also filmed with workers who had been in Qatar more recently. One such worker from Bangladesh described how he was imprisoned and deported for participating in a protest over wages while in Qatar. E60 also spoke with the family of a Bangladeshi man who died while working at a stadium site in Qatar.

As is reported in the program, independent reports state that an estimated 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since it was awarded the World Cup. All in a country that by most metrics is one of the world’s richest and is reportedly spending $220 billion to build stadiums and infrastructure for the World Cup.

The release also outlines the interviewees for the special. Those include several Qatari officials, but also international labor officials, Gaziur Rahman (a migrant worker imprisoned and deported for protesting wage theft), Abdus Salam and Surma Begum (adult children of Mosharraf Hossen who died while working in Qatar), and “a dozen migrant workers in Qatar along with families of Nepali workers who died in Qatar and managers and doctors at labor camps in Qatar.” That’s remarkable considering how hard Qatar has pushed to keep media away from labor camps and from these workers.

The E60 special here looks to be a worthwhile watch for those who want to find out what’s actually going on in Qatar. And it looks to be a lot different than anything that airs on English-language rightsholder Fox during the World Cup. Last month, Fox made it clear they’re not going to go out of their way to cover any off-field issues. Here’s what executive producer David Neal told Jonathan Tannenwald of The Philadelphia Inquirer on that front:

“Our approach is clear, and it’s identical to what it was four years ago in Russia,” executive producer David Neal told The Inquirer. “We believe that viewers come to Fox Sports during the World Cup to see the greatest sports event in the world. They don’t come to us expecting us to be [HBO’s] Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, or [ESPN’s] E: 60. That’s not who we pretend to be, and I don’t think that’s what the viewer expectation is.”

…“If a story affects the field of play, if it affects the competition in the tournament, we will cover it fully,” Neal said. “If it doesn’t, if it’s ancillary to the tournament, if it has to do with the construction of the venues or what have you, we’re going to leave that to other entities to cover. Our focus is entirely on the 64-game tournament.”

Thus, this kind of coverage is unlikely to show up there. So for those who are interested in more on the full story of how these stadiums were built, and the human cost they took, this E60 special looks like it will be a place to go.

E60: Qatar’s World Cup will premiere on ESPN Sunday at 8:30 p.m. Eastern, and will be available to stream on ESPN+ afterwards. Excerpts will also be featured in Outside The Lines on SportsCenter, and the ESPN Daily podcast will explore the story further.

[ESPN Press Room]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.