Anger over Fifa president’s ‘stick to football’ letter to World Cup teams | Fifa

Amnesty International’s secretary general has made an urgent plea to Fifa before the World Cup, calling on it to commit to a compensation package for migrant workers who suffered abuses in Qatar.

Agnès Callamard urged the world football governing body to issue a “cast-iron commitment” that “abused workers will be compensated and that programmes to prevent further abuses are funded”, adding that such a package would go “a long way towards helping victims and their families rebuild their lives”.

She also fiercely criticised Fifa president Gianni Infantino’s request to World Cup teams that they should “focus on the football” rather than discussing human rights issues in Qatar. “Infantino’s letter is a crass attempt at shirking Fifa’s culpability,” Callamard said.

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Qatar: beyond the football


This is a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

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In the letter, sent last month, Infantino had suggested critics were “handing out moral lessons to the rest of the world” and said nations should “not allow football to be dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists”.

Rather than calming criticism of Qatar, the letter angered human rights groups and football leaders, with countries including England and Wales saying they would continue campaigning on off-pitch issues. “Human rights are universal and they apply everywhere,” they said in a joint statement with eight other European football associations.

Amnesty head Agnès Callamard
Amnesty head Agnès Callamard accused Fifa of ‘shirking its culpability’ over migrant worker abuses in Qatar. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

The hosting of the World Cup by Qatar has attracted protest worldwide over LGBTQ+ rights and labour issues. Ten captains of European teams have said they will wear “One love” armbands to promote diversity and inclusion during the tournament. While, last month, Australia released a video in which players criticised Qatar’s human rights record.

Last week, the Danish football association said Fifa had rejected a request to allow its players to train at the World Cup in shirts with the words “human rights for all” on them “due to technical reasons”.

Also last week, England’s largest LGBTQ+ supporters’ group criticised David Beckham for his role as a paid ambassador for the Qatar World Cup, saying it was “incredibly disappointing” that he had taken the role given that Qatari law criminalises homosexual behaviour.

“I’m just so disappointed because we – the LGBTQ+ football family – have put David Beckham on a pedestal, as a great ally,” said Di Cunningham, the co-founder of the Three Lions Pride group.

The comments from Callamard come six months after Amnesty and 24 other rights groups wrote to Infantino urging Fifa to establish a remediation programme for the abuses suffered by workers in Qatar.

The rights groups say hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, predominantly from south and south-east Asia and Africa, have been subjected to “rampant labour abuses” including “extortionate recruitment fees, conditions amounting to forced labour, lost and unpaid wages, and long hours without days off”.

It also highlighted the cases of workers harmed in Qatar, including a Nepali citizen, Tul Bahadur Gharti, who is reported to have died in his sleep in November 2020 after working more than 10 hours in extreme heat on a construction site.

A death certificate issued by the Qatari authorities said that Gharti, 34, died of “natural causes”.The call for compensation has been backed by the football associations of England, Germany, France, the Netherlands and the US, and by World Cup sponsors, including Coca-Cola, Adidas, Budweiser and McDonald’s. However, Qatar has disputed reports about the scale of the labour abuses and rejected calls for a Fifa-led compensation fund, describing them as a “publicity stunt”.

In an op-ed for international media on Friday, Callamard wrote: “Amid this growing clamour, the most crucial voice of all has remained conspicuously silent: Gianni Infantino.

“Despite private and public assurances from Fifa that they are ‘considering the proposal’, Infantino, a few platitudes aside, has consistently dodged the topic. To date, he has provided no response to our joint letter.”

She added that “given the well-documented history of labour-rights abuse in Qatar”, Fifa “knew – or should have known – the obvious risks to workers when it awarded Qatar the tournament.

“A pledge from Infantino to provide compensation would provide a tangible demonstration that Fifa is truly serious about its commitment to respect human rights,” she said.

In a statement to AFP last month, Qatar’s labour minister, Ali bin Samikh Al-Marri, said the Gulf state was already handing out hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid wages, and described critics as “racist”. He added that the ministry’s “door is open”, saying that “if there is a person entitled to compensation who has not received it, they should come forward and we will help them”.

In response to the statement, Amnesty International, which is part of a campaign called #PayUpFIFA, said that while money paid out already was “undoubtedly important”, Qatar must expand its existing compensation funds or establish a new one.

It is calling for Fifa to pay $440m towards reparations – matching the prize money it will pay during the World Cup.

On Saturday, Fifa said it “remained in positive continuing dialogue” with labour organisations and the Qatari authorities over “initiatives that will benefit migrant workers in Qatar long after the final game of the World Cup”.It said there had been a “great response” to Infantino’s letter calling for teams to “focus on the football”, with various teams backing it.

Southgate criticised for claiming Qatar workers ‘united’ in wanting World Cup | World Cup 2022

Gareth Southgate is facing criticism from human rights groups after claiming that workers in Qatar were “united” in wanting the World Cup to take place, despite the country’s poor employment rights record.

The England manager’s remarks were questioned by Human Rights Watch, which said families of migrant workers who had died, been injured, or cheated of their wages had told it they “would like to support the World Cup but cannot because their children are starving and their breadwinners died in Qatar”.

Amnesty International warned that although many migrant workers in Qatar were football fans, the majority were more interested in having their rights fully protected and being paid properly than in the World Cup.

Southgate made his remarks in an interview with CNN, in which he acknowledged there were ongoing issues with Qatar but said there was no question the World Cup should go ahead.

“I’ve been out to Qatar several times and I’ve met with lots of the workers out there and they are united in certainly one thing, that’s that they want the tournament to happen, and they want that because they love football,” he said. “They want the football to come to Qatar.”

However Minky Worden, the director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch, suggested such a viewpoint was misplaced.

“First, migrant workers in Qatar cannot speak freely because of security concerns, and the FA should know this,” she told the Guardian.

“Second, has Gareth Southgate and the FA attempted to contact migrant workers and families of those who died from Nepal, India, Kenya or elsewhere? Any family who received a loved one and breadwinner home in a coffin without compensation from Fifa and Qatar cannot cheer the opening of this World Cup.

“Southgate does not face any risks speaking to migrant workers, but migrant workers do face risks in speaking to him, including the loss of their jobs and deportation if they say something Qatari officials think is wrong.

There are many migrant workers who are proud of the work they have done to build the World Cup in Qatar. But there are also many who have suffered preventable deaths and harms and until the deaths, loans, injuries and wage theft are compensated, it is not correct to say all migrant workers are ‘united’.”

A worker stands in front of a billboard for the Qatar 2022 World Cup
Human rights groups have said while many workers are football fans they are more interested in having their rights protected and being paid properly. Photograph: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

The issue of human rights in Qatar remains a concern, despite Fifa and the Qatari organisers claiming that significant reforms have taken place. Last year the Guardian reported that 6,500 migrant workers had died since Qatar was awarded the World Cup 10 years ago. A more recent investigation found that workers employed on World Cup-related projects are having to work 12-hour shifts across 30 days a month to earn the equivalent of about £1 an hour.

In his interview Southgate stressed that the Football Association had been working with human rights groups to help them to seek redress before the tournament kicks off on 20 November. “We’re trying to support those ideas with compensation for families who have lost workers and a worker’s rights centre,” he said. “So we’re supporting the things we’ve been asked to support.”

However Ella Knight, Amnesty International’s migrants’ labour rights researcher, said far more needed to be done by Fifa and football as a whole.

“Many workers in Qatar will of course be football fans, but what migrant workers have really stressed to us is the need to have their rights fully protected, to be paid properly, able to change jobs freely and to enjoy safe and dignified working conditions – before, during and after this tournament,” she said.

“The World Cup is about to take place with vital labour reforms still very much unfinished business, and thousands of workers’ abuses remaining unaddressed.

“The opening game is now less than three weeks away and Fifa is yet to commit to remedying workers and their families for the abuses they’ve suffered despite widespread support from the public, FAs, players and World Cup sponsors. We urge the FA to maintain its pressure on Fifa, pushing it to recognise and urgently address the suffering of workers without whom the World Cup simply wouldn’t be possible.”

The Qatari Supreme Committee, which is responsible for organising the tournament, has insisted there have been improvements. In a statement last month it said: “The advancements in workers’ welfare is a legacy we are very proud of, and one that we are already seeing in action. We have always believed that the World Cup will be a catalyst to accelerate positive initiatives, leaving a legacy of meaningful and sustainable progress for the country and region.”