Qatar will not be stripped of the 2022 World Cup despite concerns over its treatment of migrant workers, a senior member of FIFA’s executive committee said on Thursday.
“The decision is to grant the World Cup to Qatar. Whether I like it or not, that doesn’t play a role. It’s been decided. There are contracts and now we are working together with others, under the concept of joint responsibility to improve conditions,” said Theo Zwanziger, a former chairman of the German Football Federation.
Zwanziger was appearing at a European Parliament hearing on the emirate’s treatment of migrant workers working on World Cup-related construction projects. The issue has been in the spotlight even since Qatar was awarded the tournament.
“The decision to grant the World Cup to Qatar happened in a context where human rights was not given a very high profile,” he told lawmakers.
“We are going to have to give this issue a much higher status in the future.”
An investigation by Britain’s Guardian newspaper uncovered evidence of poor working conditions, squalid accommodation and unpaid wages.
Qatar’s kafala system has also been criticised by human rights organisations. Under kafala rules, a foreign worker’s residency permit is tied to their job. An employee cannot leave the country without his employer’s approval.
When asked by euronews if FIFA would push Qatar to abolish the system, Zwanziger said: “What do you expect from a football organisation? Two years after we made the decision we noticed (all this). I mean do you expect us to interfere in matters of state?” the 68-year-old lawyer told reporters in Brussels.
The FIFA executive’s appearance before MEPs came two days after Qatar published a ‘workers’ charter’ on the rights of employees, described as a “sham” by unions as it is not enforceable in a court of law.
Sharan Burrow, the secretary-general of the International Trade Union Confederation, said she was sceptical over whether the Qataris would change their legislation.
“Frankly, both the Qatari statement today and the workers’ charter are sham provisions. They are window dressing. We have seen it before. And it just seems like this is a country that wants to treat workers as less than human.”
The ITUC wants workers to be given proper legal representation; the right to form trade unions, and for the kafala system to be abolished.
At least 185 Nepalese workers died in Qatar in 2013 alone, according to official figures. The numbers for migrant workers from elsewhere have not yet been published.
Footballer Zahir Belounis was trapped in Qatar for two years amid a pay dispute with his club, which refused to sign his exit visa.
“When you want to leave the country, you have to ask your employer’s permission. Without their signature, you can’t leave the country,” he told euronews.
“There was a time that I wanted to be dead it was so horrible. They treated me as if I was the guilty one.”
Belounis has since retired from football, but he says he hopes his case will help bring the plight of other workers in Qatar to the world’s attention.
Euronews asked the Qatari ambassador to Belgium for an interview. The request went unanswered.