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FIFA trio quizzed on Qatar rights

Blatter’s opponents asked about workers’ rights in Gulf state

FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s three challengers claimed yesterday that they would challenge Qatar to protect workers should they be elected head of football’s world governing body.

Hundreds of deaths and well-documented abuses of migrant workers in the rich Gulf nation are priority issues for trade unionists and human rights campaigners but have largely been ignored in the campaign.

Blatter claimed last month after meeting Qatar’s autocratic ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani that “progress has been made” but more should be done “to ensure uniformly fair working conditions.”

Blatter’s opponents Luis Figo, Michael van Praag and Ali bin al-Hussein had not taken a clear stand on the conditions of workers building facilities for the 2022 World Cup.

Figo and Van Praag’s published manifestos don’t mention the nightmare scenario faced by migrant workers in the absolute monarchy.

The workers also don’t get a look in in Hussein’s nine-page prospectus, although he says that a full manifesto will be published soon.

Challenged on workers’ rights, Hussein provided by far the most exhaustive response and took a swipe at Blatter, whose “leadership on this issue” had been “lacking.”

The Fifa vice-president said it should bring in new safety standards to prevent construction deaths “and ensure labour rights and fair working conditions.”

If elected on May 29, he committed to propose “clear guidelines that all host nations of Fifa events must adopt — ensuring the safety and security of every worker employed to deliver Fifa’s football projects.”

The Jordanian prince continued: “I believe that the emir of Qatar is committed to delivering the positive social change and improvements to conditions for workers.”

Meanwhile Van Praag pledged to “follow what happens in Qatar very closely … so the World Cup legacy and the labor rights situation improves beyond the border of one nation alone in that region.”

He said that bid rules should specifically mention human rights.

Former Portugal international Figo responded with just 85 words. Football authorities must look at workers’ rights “with the greatest attention,” he said.

Human Rights Watch Gulf researcher Nicholas McGeehan was unconvinced.

“With the apparent exception of Prince Ali, it seems Blatter and the other challengers are paying lip service to the issue out of necessity rather than outlining clear proposals to show how Fifa intends to exert its influence,” he said.

After rights groups and unions condemned working conditions, Qatar committed to improvements, and Fifa started paying an interest. But far more needs to be done.

Under Qatar’s kafala system migrant workers, mostly from southern Asia and outnumbering Qataris about five to one, workers need their boss’s permission to change jobs, leave Qatar or even open a bank account.

Qatar last May announced plans for a new law that could eventually end the practice, but has yet to do anything.

by Our Sports Desk

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