Doha, Qatar – Gianni Infantino, FIFA’s president, has announced plans to set up an independent committee that will monitor conditions for labourers working at Qatar’s World Cup 2022 stadiums following criticism of the country’s human-rights record.
The proposed committee will be led by the football’s world governing body, and include civil society representatives and “relevant FIFA stake-holders” to monitor the conditions for all projects leading up to the tournament.
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In his first trip to Qatar since becoming FIFA president in February, Infantino met the Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and visited Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, which was named in an Amnesty International report as a site where workers have suffered rights abuses.
Infantino said Qatar, the tournament’s first Arab host, supported the monitoring initiative.
“I acknowledge very much the efforts which are being done,” he said in Doha.
“I want to see these efforts now being put in practice. Of course we will not just sit and wait. FIFA will step up its efforts in overseeing … in order to ensure the protection of the workers’ rights in the construction of the FIFA World Cup sites is fulfilled.”
Infantino’s trip came hours after Federico Addiechi, FIFA’s head of sustainability, admitted that Qatar’s human-rights record was not taken into consideration when it was awarded the tournament almost six years ago.
Addiechi made the comments at a discussion around a FIFA-sanctioned report on the organisation’s human-rights responsibilities at a UN forum on human rights in Doha earlier this week.
John Ruggie, a Harvard professor and the author of the report, made strong comments at the forum, saying FIFA was involved in human-rights abuses through its relationships.
He also warned Qatar that when the tournament comes around, the whole world will be watching “not only the games on the pitches but what it took to get there”.
Explaining one of his recommendations that urges FIFA to terminate its relationship with hosts that are not able to address human-rights risks, Ruggie told Al Jazeera that even in such a case “FIFA could not terminate the relationship easily, especially if it’s very close to the Cup”.
“In that case, it [FIFA] should explain what it has done to try to induce change and why it hasn’t succeeded,” Ruggie said.
“It’s not like flipping a switch and it is not meant to exclude countries by definition. It’s a judgment issue.”
In his report, Ruggie said: “FIFA should set explicit human rights requirements of local organising committees in bidding documents for tournaments and provide guidance on them” for bidding of tournaments in the future.
The Supreme Committee of Delivery and Legacy, the body responsible for Qatar’s 2022 World Cup and which works with the local organising committee, defended the accusations made in the Amnesty report and by other human rights organisations.
‘Our situation not perfect’
Speaking at the UN forum, Hassan al-Thawadi, Supreme Committee’s secretary-general, said the committee has cautioned companies working on World Cup sites that were accused of involvement in human rights abuses.
“Action has been taken against a number of these companies,” he said.
“We know our situation is not perfect. We know there are people living in horrid conditions and we are trying to fix that, but there are physical constraints in trying to resolve these issues.”
Thawadi said that the Supreme Committee had prioritised issues “in terms of severity and what can be resolved with least constraints” and admitted that the committee’s internal audit systems “had gaps”.
Addiechi said that by commissioning the Ruggie report and showing the intent to following it, FIFA has shown that its approach had changed.
“We will no longer say that anything in connection with the construction of World Cup stadiums is not our business,” he said.
Infantino, for his part, also insisted that the move of forming an independent committee was reflective of the organisation’s efforts to ensure better welfare for workers.
“We have to make sure that what we say will be delivered and that we have high-profile persons,” he said.
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