Human rights groups urge FIFA to match World Cup prize money for Qatar migrant workers

A coalition of human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, have called on FIFA to match $440 million of World Cup prize money with an equivalent payment to migrant workers.

The demand was made in an open letter to Gianni Infantino, the president of FIFA, which awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. The hosting of this winter’s tournament in the country is controversial for the reasons outlined in this article.

Ten groups co-wrote the letter — Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, Fair/Square, The Army of Survivors, BWI, Busines & Human Rights Resource Centre, Independent Supporters Council, Equidem, Football Supporters Europe, and Migrant Rights.

The construction of eight new stadiums has required a small army of migrant workers, who have also helped expand Qatar’s infrastructure so the country can accommodate a World Cup.

A new metro rail system, built at an estimated cost of £36 billion, links most of the venues, as well as new hotels, roads and hospitality sites.

Impressive as the transformation of this oil-rich state might be, it has come at a stark human cost. Migrant workers from countries including India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have been exploited, injured and, in the worst cases, lost their lives.

The exact number of the latter will never be known. The UN’s International Labor Organization reported last year that Qatar has inadequately investigated and reported worker deaths, with autopsies not routinely carried out.

Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, tasked with staging the World Cup, has railed against the suggestion that thousands have lost their lives, calling such estimates “wildly misleading” and insisting the true data is “on par with wider demographics globally”.

The open letter read: “Qatar, FIFA, the Supreme Committee and other actors including employing companies all bear a responsibility, independent of each other, to contribute financially to a remediation programme.

“Paying for the scale of remedy for families of those who have died, to compensate for unpaid wages, to reimburse illegal recruitment fees, and to support initiatives to protect workers’ rights in the future will require a significant investment proportional to the abuses suffered.

“FIFA should reserve an amount not less than the $440 million prize money offered to teams participating in the World Cup, to be invested in funds to support remediation.

“This would represent just a small percentage of FIFA’s anticipated $6 billion revenues from the tournament and the US$1.6 billion it holds in reserves.”

Agnes Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty, added: “Given the history of human rights abuses in the country, FIFA knew⁠ — or should have known⁠ — the obvious risks to workers when it awarded the tournament to Qatar.

“Despite this, there was not a single mention of workers or human rights in its evaluation of the Qatari bid and no conditions were put in place on labor protections. FIFA has since done far too little to prevent or mitigate those risks.”

In response to the letter, FIFA told The Athletic it was “assessing” the proposals.

It added: “FIFA welcomes the fact that Amnesty International and other signatories of the report also recognize the progress that has been made regarding workers’ rights in Qatar in relation to FIFA World Cup projects and beyond — a significant achievement that FIFA is proud to have contributed to.

“FIFA has actively pushed for the implementation of broader labor reforms that apply to all companies and projects across the country and benefit all workers in Qatar.”

A spokesperson for the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy also said: “The Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) has worked tirelessly to ensure the rights of every worker engaged on Qatar’s FIFA World Cup projects are respected via dedicated teams of workers’ welfare Experts, and significant improvements have been made across accommodation standards, health and safety regulations, grievance mechanisms, healthcare provision, and reimbursements of illegal recruitment fees to workers.

“The SC has worked alongside many renowned international partners on its workers’ welfare program who rightly recognize the significant work being undertaken by the SC to ensure the rights of workers on Qatar’s FIFA World Cup projects are protected, and have stated publicly on multiple occasions that this work is setting new benchmarks across the industry and region.”

(Photo: Getty Images)

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