ZURICH: FIFA has been urged by the international players’ union to help resolve the dispute which has seen French-Algerian footballer Zahir Belounis trapped in Qatar over a dispute concerning unpaid wages.
FIFPro has written to world federation president Sepp Blatter who visited Qatar only last Saturday with workers’ rights – albeit in the construction industry – high on the agenda.
Belounis, 33, has been stranded in the Gulf nation, together with his wife and two daughters, after being denied an exit visa until he agrees to drop legal proceedings against his former club, Al-Jaish, over a claim of almost two years of unpaid wages.
His case is an exact footballing example of the problems raised by the antiquated kafala system of tied employment which has so disturbed the international trades unions and other human rights campagners.
In a letter to Blatter, FIFPro secretary-general, Theo van Seggelen, requested FIFA’s urgent intervention to see that that Belounis be allowed to leave Qatar and receive his wages immediately.
At the very least, Van Seggelen added, he should be freed, able to play for a new club and be guaranteed that he can claim his unpaid salary in a case before FIFA’s Dispute Resolution Chamber (DRC).
Without income for a prolonged period and forced to sell off most of personal possessions, Belounis and his family are said to be living in an apartment with no furniture which they must vacate in a matter of days.
As a result, FIFPro will offer financial assistance from its Hardship Fund to help the Belounis family find accommodation. These funds will be made available immediately.
In addition, FIFPro board member Mads Øland, together with representatives from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), is set to travel to Qatar to meet with the Belounis family and force the issue of their extraction, if it has not been achieved before then.
Belounis joined Qatari side Al-Jaish in 2007. He extended his contract, in 2010, until June 15th 2015. He was made a Qatari national to enable him to appear in the national team that participated in the Military World Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2011.
On his return from Brazil, Belounis was sent away on loan, as the club had engaged more overseas players than allowed. The following season Al-Jaish did not even send him on loan, and from November 2011 the club stopped paying his salary.
In October 2012 Belounis engaged legal help to pursue fulfilment of his contract. The club then put Belounis under considerable pressure to terminate his contract and sign a document confirming he was owed nothing by Al-Jaish. The club told him he could not leave Qatar unless he signed. Belounis refused, concerned that his signature would invalidate any claim.
In a statement, FIFPro said: “[We are] aware that there are many more players (and coaches) who are experiencing similar conflicts with Qatari clubs. FIFPro is very familiar with issues of this kind in Qatar, the country which will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, having acted to help resolve a similar situation involving Abdeslam Ouaddou, earlier this year.
“Therefore FIFPro wants to have discussions with the Qatari authorities and FIFA regarding the application of the kafala sponsorship system.
“The kafala sponsorship system requires a player who is employed by a club to obtain an exit permit from his employer in order to be able to leave Qatar, even after the employment relationship has ended. The system is causing great injustice where a player wishes to leave Qatar and he is in dispute with his club.
“In these circumstances, the club can, as a condition of granting the permit, demand that the player waives any claims against the club even where the club has unilaterally terminated its playing contract with the player in breach of FIFA regulations.
“FIFA has clear standards on these matters. A player is well within his rights to refer any employment related dispute to the local courts or, if it has an international dimension, to the FIFA Dispute Resolution Chamber. That dispute should not be allowed to interfere with a player’s ability to continue to carry on his profession as a footballer. Commonly, FIFA takes provisional measures to allow players to continue to play with another club even where a contractual dispute exists.
“FIFPro wants to make sure that these principles are upheld and respected.”