DOHA: Sepp Blatter put all his diplomatic skills behind FIFA’s decision to award the 2022 World Cup when he paid a first formal visit to the new Emir.
Blatter was completing a week-long round trip which took in negotiations over Cyprus and carried on to Iran and then the United Arab Emirates for the final of the World Under-17 Cup.
He met the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and the abicated father, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, for a lunchtime agenda which included the awkward issues of World Cup timing and workers’ rights.
Blatter did so to a background of comments made in the UAE suggesting that FIFA had not given up the idea of allowing neighbouring nations to host 2022 matches if Qatar had any ‘issues.’
He told a press conference: “First let me reiterate the FIFA executive committee’s decision in October that there is not a single doubt that the World Cup will be hosted by Qatar. This (decision) is not reversible.
“Qatar is on the right track and I am sure they will host a wonderful World Cup in nine years’ time.”
He also repeated his assertion in the UAE that if the finals were switched to winter that meant November-December.
Blatter said: “We have begun a consultation process involving various stakeholders like the media, the marketing and economic partners to decide the schedule of the 2022 World Cup, but it won’t be held in January-February for sure.
“We have to respect the [winter] Olympics. We cannot have the World Cup at the same time. With all the media, the TV and the marketing involved, two competitions at the same time don’t make any sense.”
As for match-sharing, Blatter added: “I have been asked if Iran or the UAE could share some matches but FIFA is very clear on its stand that only one nation should host the World Cup.”
He said Qatar was doing everything in its capacity to ensure that the allegations regarding its treatment of migrant workers, especially in the construction sector, are addressed.
At least his visit prompted the Qatar supreme committee to produce a presentation from secretary-general Hassan al-Thawadi detailing plans to improve the lives of workers.
Blatter said: “They are aware of some problems and they are reacting to the problems. The labour laws are in the process of being amended, special inspection teams are being formed to ensure that workers get proper accommodation and regular discussions are being held with human rights and trade union groups like Amnesty International and the ILO.
“A workers’ welfare charter has been put in place under which violations of labour rights will be red-carded . . . What was presented shows they started working on the problems several months ago.”
Also at the press conference, organising managing director Sheikh Mohamed bin Hamad al-Thani invited the foreign media to come and study the measures being put in place.
He said: “We are taking full advantage of the World Cup to bring about changes so that we can be an example to other nations hosting similar events.
“When the US hosted the World Cup (1994) critics claimed the country had no football history and when the event was held in South Africa (2010) there was a lot of talk about the high crime rate there.
“The fact is Qatar existed for long before 2010 (when Qatar won the bid) and our commitment to improve the living standards of the workers won’t go away after the World Cup in 2022. Both governmental and non-governmental agencies are working hard to ensure that workers are treated well.”