BRUSSELS: The prospect of major sports federations taking human rights issues into account when awarding host rights to their global events was raised by FIFA’s Theo Zwanziger during a European Parliament debate on Qatar writes CHRISTIAN RADNEDGE.
Zwanziger, German member of the world federation’s executive committee, was free to speak up because he was not a member of the exco when it voted to stage the 2022 World Cup finals in the Gulf state.
He was was participating in a hearing on Qatar’s human rights record which was organised in response to reports last year of the reported deaths of 185 Nepalese construction workers.
Predictably Qatar took a battering for its construction deaths record and medieval kafala system which has been described as akin to slave labour.
Zwanziger said: “It’s very important for us to stress that there needs to be an improvement in the conditions. It’s important that we have independent inspections. It’s not a huge country so I think it should be possible for us to take a look at the situation and see what actually is happening.”
He thought the current situation in the Gulf state “unacceptable” and cautioned that FIFA “won’t be deceived” after Qatar’s supreme committee said it will carry out inspections to make sure contractors adhere to standards set out in the implementation of a 50-page workers’ charter.
The charter includes measures such as allowing workers to keep their passports, just one aspect denounced by an Amnesty International report into migrant workers rights published late last year.
However, the charter was labelled a “sham” by International Trade Union Confederation general secretary Sharan Burrow.
The ITUC said in a statement that the items in the charter “do not deliver fundamental rights for workers and merely reinforce the discredited kafala (sponsorship) system of employer control over workers.”
“If you continue to run the World Cup in a state which enslaves workers, it shames the game. The government must end of the system of kafala if the World Cup is to be played in Qatar in 2022,” said Barrow.
Other condemnatory speakers included former footballer Zahir Belounis, who was stranded in the gulf state whilst he fought a legal battle with former club El Jaish.
He said: “I am just a humble footballer, but I was the unfortunate victim of this feudal system of kafala. All I wanted to do was to go home to France. I went through two years of torture and decided to stop playing because I no longer had the strength.
“I’m not fighting Qatar. I just want this to be brought to an end, to raise awareness, and for Qatar to put things right, not just in words but in deeds.”
After the hearing, Zwanziger dismissed the notion that the World Cup hosting rights would be taken away from Qatar – originally awarded in December 2010.
He said: “If we were to take the World Cup away from Qatar, which we can’t readily do from a legal standpoint, what would that mean? Then the human rights violations will continue without the spotlight on them.”
He was adamant, though, that the tournament would not be played in the northern hemisphere summer, saying, “No, a decision has been made. There will be one or more points that will need to be discussed because we know we can’t play there in the summer.
“But for now, it is first and foremost important that under this pressure of a global event that interests millions, billions of people … there is an opportunity for Qatar to show itself to be an open tolerant country as quickly as possible. All the events we have seen in the past few months are not in line with that kind of approach.”
The prospect of a dramatic Qatari reaction to the pressure came in an interview of Foreign Affairs Minister Khalid bin Mohammed al-Attiyah in the German business publication Handelsblatt.
He said: “We are taking this very seriously. If there are gaps in our law, we will fix them. We have hired one of the leading law firms in the world, to check everything, lay open any malpractices, and highlight to us, how we can improve the lives of the concerned workers.
“If the implementation of the laws is not enough, we will ensure that it is improved. We are very determined in that respect. If now a move to winter is wished, then that is welcome. We will also succeed in that, and show the world, how wonderfully we will host these games.”