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Fifa must be held accountable and compensate migrant workers suffering abuses in Qatar


3 min read

When the Fifa World Cup kicks off in Qatar on 20 November, it will be one of the darkest days in the history of this amazing sport.

The spectacle of millionaire footballers playing in stadiums built by workers who have endured appalling conditions – with many suffering injuries and others losing their lives while effectively trapped by their employers in bonded contracts – will damage the image of the sport across the world.

Will it show humility for the mistakes of what has been criticised as the corrupt regime that took the tournament to Qatar? Or will it revert to its old habit of behaving like it is too big and powerful to be beholden to any international conventions on non-football issues, such as human rights abuses?

I would never put pressure on players and coaches to boycott the tournament. I do not believe that politicians can demand that a generation of sportspeople miss the opportunity to compete against the best of the best in their chosen sport. Such chances may only come once in a career, and we should respect that. 

Millionaire footballers playing in stadiums built by workers who have endured appalling conditions will damage the sport across the world

The decision to award the tournament to Qatar is a legacy of an era in sport that was imbued with corruption and bribery at the very highest levels.   We live in hope that sport will never see such corruption again.

Sadly, rather than recognise the flawed decision imposed by the previous regime, Fifa president Gianni Infantino has decided to double down. He has written to the 32 countries playing in Qatar asking them to respect diversity, stating that “no one culture is better than any other”.  What he fails to recognise is that what makes Qatar such a controversial choice of host are issues of fundamental human rights which are not merely differences of culture.

There are more than two million migrant workers in Qatar. Not all of them will be working on projects relating to the World Cup, but many will be. The “Kafala” sponsorship-based employment contracts commonly used in the region, and which have been criticised by human rights groups, place restrictions on migrant workers’ rights, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation by their employers. This means that they can lose their work permits, have wages stopped and be prevented from changing jobs. Many will have paid expensive recruitment fees in order to get jobs in Qatar, including jobs related to the World Cup.  

Since Qatar won the bid to host the tournament, more than 6,000 migrant workers have lost their lives. Again, not all of them will be working on the World Cup projects, but many will be. It is not just the stadiums that they are building – the tournament has generated investment in a new airport, roads, hotels, and much more. Infantino has commented on the benefits to Qatar of this wider investment but has ignored the appalling treatment of the workers.

Gianni Infantino had the opportunity to regain some respect for Fifa. His letter should have offered Fifa’s backing for the workers’ remedy fund that would compensate bereaved families, repay illegal recruitment fees, pay unpaid wages and make payments for injuries. He cannot pretend that none of this is happening as a consequence of Fifa’s decision back in 2010. That decision is now recognised as being mired in bribery and corruption. The human rights issues in Qatar were known when the decision was made.

Fifa now has a choice. It can either recognise the wrongs of the past, or it can continue to be despised as an organisation that believes itself to be above any form of accountability, even when it comes to matters of life and death.


Clive Efford, Labour MP for Eltham.

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