Doha, Qatar – Questions and concerns over Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers took centre stage as the 72nd FIFA Congress kicked off in the capital Doha, a day ahead of the final draw for the 2022 World Cup.
Thursday’s meeting was the first in-person Congress of football’s world governing body since 2019 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
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Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers and its human rights record have been under the spotlight since it was awarded the hosting of football’s 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa bin Abdulaziz Al Thani, delivering the opening remarks at the Congress, said the country was “looking forward to hosting everyone”.
“We will be representing not only our country but also the Arab world, opening a window to help the entire world see the potential of the region, looking forward to building bridges between our culture and the culture of the world,” Al Thani said.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino pointed to “the changes that have happened in this country” as a positive sign towards Qatar being awarded the World Cup.
“The human rights, workers rights, all this wouldn’t have happened without the World Cup being here,” Infantino added.
Qatar’s record questioned
Norwegian Football Federation President Lise Klaveness took to the stage during the Congress and termed the awarding of the tournament to Qatar in 2010 “unacceptable”.
”In 2010, World Cups were awarded by FIFA in unacceptable ways with unacceptable consequences,” said Klaveness.
“Human rights, equality, democracy, the core interest of football, were not in the starting eleven until many years later. These basic rights were pressured on to the field as substitutes, mainly by outside voices.
“FIFA has addressed these issues, but there is still a long way to go. The migrant workers injured or families of those who died in the build up to the World Cup must be cared for. FIFA, all of us, must take all necessary measures to really implement change.”
Her speech was followed by remarks from Hassan al-Thawadi, chief of Qatar’s World Cup organising committee, who said labour reforms achieved by Qatar have been “historical” and the event would leave “truly transformational social, human, economic and environmental legacies”.
“Through taking time to understand complexities on the ground and a shared commitment, once adversaries have now became our allied partners,” al-Thawadi said.
“We have showcased to the world what a tournament being hosted in a country can achieve. Legacy is being delivered as we speak. Going forward, organisations will look towards us as a benchmark on how to utilise these tournaments to leave a legacy.
“What we say is what we’re offering them, providing a safe World Cup, a welcoming World Cup for everybody. And this is the opportunity for everybody to sit down and build relations.”
In August 2020, Qatar announced landmark changes to the labour law, including scrapping the need for an NOC – employer’s permission to change jobs – that rights activists said tied workers’ presence in the country to their employers and led to abuse and exploitation.
Qatar’s Government Communication Office (GCO) has told Al Jazeera in the past that the country “has made substantial progress on labour reforms and it continues to work with NGOs… to ensure that these reforms are far-reaching and effective”.