2022 World Cup

Sepp Blatter, FIFA president
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Qatar World Cup head: Blatter US support should be looked at

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LONDON (AP) The head of the Qatar World Cup says Sepp Blatter’s support for the rival United States bid for the 2022 tournament should face more scrutiny.

Qatar’s FIFA backers have been criticized for seemingly ignoring the inspection report before voting for the Gulf nation in 2010.

But Hassan Al-Thawadi, secretary general of the Qatar organizing committee, says then-FIFA President Blatter “wanted the U.S. to win regardless of the merits of the bid, regardless of anything else … that needs to be looked at.”

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Addressing a London audience, Al-Thawadi added that “it’s just fascinating that nobody is raising any concerns about that (Blatter) and looking into that … but fair enough. I guess we will take the flak again.”

The U.S. bid has not been accused of impropriety. Qatar has also denied any wrongdoing.

Worker dies after falling ill at Qatar World Cup stadium site

In this photo taken during a government organized media tour, workers use heavy machinery at the Al-Wakra Stadium being built for the 2022 World Cup, in Doha, Qatar, Monday, May 4, 2015. Qatar’s inability to ensure decent housing for its bulging migrant labor population was “a mistake” the government is working to fix as it prepares to host the 2022 World Cup, the country’s top labor official said Monday, vowing his country would improve conditions for its vast foreign labor force. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
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DOHA, Qatar (AP) World Cup organizers say a worker has died after falling ill on the site of one of the stadiums being constructed for the 2022 tournament in Qatar.

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The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy said Saturday that 48-year-old Indian national Jaleshwar Prasad died after he “fell ill on-site around 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday.”

The statement says that Prasad, who was a steel worker employed on the Al Bayt Stadium project, “received first aid treatment until paramedics arrived. He was transferred to Al Khor Hospital but sadly passed away around 11:30 a.m. Al Khor Hospital reported the cause of death as cardiac arrest.”

It adds that “a full investigation is underway.”

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Qatar is often criticized by rights groups and trade unions for alleged abuses and deaths on a range of construction projects linked to the 2022 World Cup since it won hosting rights in 2010.

Qatar is relying heavily on construction workers from south Asia.

A FIFA-appointed human rights expert from Harvard University recently advised that tournaments should be moved from countries where abuses persisted.

FIFA panel to monitor labor conditions at Qatar stadiums

Stadium is pictured as construction continues at 2022 World Cup Stadiums on December 27, 2015 in Doha, Qatar.
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DOHA, Qatar (AP) FIFA will create a panel to monitor construction at World Cup stadiums in Qatar to ensure “decent working conditions.”

During his first working visit to Qatar on Friday, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said the group will include “relevant sectors of civil society and other relevant FIFA stakeholders.”

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Qatar is often criticized by rights groups and trade unions for alleged abuses and deaths on a range of construction projects linked to the 2022 World Cup since it won hosting rights in 2010.

Last week, a FIFA-appointed human rights expert from Harvard University advised that tournaments should be moved from countries where abuses persisted.

“We take our responsibility seriously and are committed to playing our part,” Infantino said in a statement published by FIFA.

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Infantino visited the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha and workers’ accommodation during a two-day trip, and also met the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.

Amnesty International welcomed “steps in the right direction” announced by the FIFA president, who was elected two months ago.

“Finally, it appears FIFA is waking up to the fact that unless it takes concrete action, the Qatar 2022 World Cup will be built on the blood, sweat and tears of migrant workers,” said Mustafa Qadri, a spokesman for Amnesty on migrants rights in the Gulf region.

The gas-rich emirate is expected to spend tens of billions of dollars before the November-December 2022 tournament kicks off, preparing eight new and renovated stadiums and related projects such as transport links and accommodation.

Qatar is relying heavily on construction workers from south Asia who are tied to the “kafala” system of sponsorship common in Gulf nations, which critics say exposes migrants to exploitation.

Harvard professor John Ruggie said last week that FIFA should have gotten assurances from Qatar that the “kafala” system would not be used for any World Cup-related job before bidding even started in 2009.

Though Qatari authorities have promised reforms, progress with new laws has been slow.

“FIFA and I will take the Qatari authorities at their word and I look forward to the concrete actions which will be the real testament of will,” Infantino said, adding he was “confident that we are on the right track.”

The head of Qatar’s organizing committee, Hassan al Thawadi, said the first World Cup in the Middle East would meet all FIFA requirements.

“Crucially, we are also firmly committed to leaving a lasting social legacy after the tournament – including in the area of workers’ welfare,” Al Thawadi said in the FIFA statement.

Adviser: FIFA should strip nations of World Cups over human rights abuses

DOHA, QATAR - OCTOBER 23: (EDITORS NOTE: Image was created using a variable
planed lens.) A worker uses a wheelbarrow to move cinder blocks on a construction site in the budding new financial district on October 23, 2011 in Doha, Qatar. Qatar will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup football competition and is slated to tackle a variety of infrastructure projects, including the construction of new stadiums.  (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
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FIFA should strip World Cups from countries who are failing to eradicate human rights abuses.

Those are the views of a Harvard professor who was was tasked by FIFA to recommend human rights obligations for world soccer’s governing body.

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John Ruggie, who previously formed business and human rights principles for the United Nations, was asked by FIFA to produce a report following concerns over worked in Qatar being mistreated.

Qatar is due to host the World Cup in 2022 but numerous issues have been reported regarding human rights with migrant workers who are building soccer stadiums in the host nation.

“Where FIFA is unable to reduce severe human rights impacts by using its leverage, it should consider suspending or terminating the relationship,” Ruggie said.

More details from the Associated Press:

Among his conclusions, Ruggie writes “where FIFA is unable to reduce severe human rights impacts by using its leverage, it should consider suspending or terminating the relationship.” Ruggie says that should apply to any entity FIFA has a relationship with – from World Cup hosts to sponsors.

FIFA’s latest statues include a commitment to protect “all internationally recognized human rights.”

Current FIFA president Gianni Infantino had the following to say regarding Ruggie’s findings, as he also suggested cutting ties with any sponsors who have human rights issues.

“I would like to thank Prof. Ruggie for his work in producing this report, which, together with FIFA’s own analysis and ongoing work, will guide the way forward,” Infantino said. “This is an ongoing process and of course challenges remain, but FIFA is committed to playing its part in ensuring respect for human rights and to being a leader among international sports organisations in this important area.”

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According to its own statues, FIFA must uphold “all internationally recognized human rights.”

Amnesty report alleges labor abuse at Qatar World Cup venue

Stadium is pictured as construction continues at 2022 World Cup Stadiums on December 27, 2015 in Doha, Qatar.
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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Migrant laborers faced abuse that in some cases amounted to forced labor while working on a stadium that will host soccer matches for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, a new report released by Amnesty International alleged Thursday.

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Rights groups and news organizations have previously raised serious concerns about working conditions in Qatar, but the latest Amnesty report stands out because it links alleged mistreatment directly to work on a World Cup venue.

The group’s findings will intensify pressure on Qatar to accelerate labor reforms as the tiny and immensely rich Gulf country races to transform itself with sweeping infrastructure projects ahead of the games.

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Amnesty compiled the 52-page report based on interviews from February to May last year with 132 construction workers at the Khalifa International Stadium, one of several arenas that will host World Cup matches. The London-based group also interviewed 99 migrants doing landscaping work in a surrounding sports complex that is not directly related to the games, and three other gardeners working elsewhere.

Foreigners account for roughly 90 percent of the 2.5 million people living in Qatar, many of them low-paid migrant workers from South Asia. Most of the workers interviewed in the Amnesty report were from Bangladesh, India and Nepal.

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All of those interviewed reported some kind of abuse, including squalid or crowded living quarters, salary payments being withheld for months, and measures including passport confiscation that make it difficult to leave the country. Migrant workers elsewhere in Qatar have reported similar problems previously.

Many in the Amnesty report said their sponsoring employer failed to obtain or renew their working permits, leaving the workers subject to fines and detention.

Each reported going into debt to pay recruitment fees – illegal under Qatari law – ranging from $500 to $4,300 to secure work. Most discovered on arrival that they would be paid less than promised by recruiters back home. Some of those interviewed reported earning basic salaries of well below $200 a month, plus allowances of around $50 a month for food.

The report’s most damning findings center on what Amnesty says is evidence of forced labor involving workers employed on the refurbishment of the Khalifa stadium, a venue first built in the 1970s that is being overhauled to host World Cup matches.

The forced labor allegations involve workers employed by at least one small labor supply company contracted to provide manpower on the stadium project. The report includes comments from five workers who described being forced to work against their will after trying to leave or refusing to work because of pay disputes.

One worker who told Amnesty he tried to return home because of consistently late pay alleges his boss threatened to withhold his salary and told him to “keep working or you will never leave.”

Mustafa Qadri, Amnesty’s Gulf migrant rights researcher, said he believes many other workers face similar situations, but confirming that is difficult because of the challenges in reaching workers and the risks they face in speaking to researchers.

He acknowledged that Qatari authorities have taken some steps to improve labor conditions, but said they must put far more priority on the issue as preparation for the games intensifies.

“Clearly there’s a problem here. Whatever they’ve done has not been enough to prevent abuse,” he told The Associated Press. “What we’d like to see is not excuses but actual action.”

Qatar has announced planned changes to its “kafala” employee sponsorship system, which critics say leaves workers open to exploitation and abuse. The system, versions of which are used throughout the oil-rich Gulf states, gives bosses considerable power over workers by effectively binding them to a given employer and, in Qatar’s case, forcing them to secure exit permits before they can leave.

Changes signed into law by Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani last October are designed to make it easier for employees to change jobs or leave. Workers still won’t be able to immediately change jobs or depart whenever they want, however, and the changes don’t take effect until later this year.

The government has already made other changes, including moving some laborers into improved accommodations and instituting a “wage protection system” to tighten oversight of salary payments.

It says it is committed to doing more, calling its reform efforts a “work in progress.” It said in a statement Thursday that worker welfare is a top priority.

“Though many of the points raised by Amnesty have already been addressed through recent legislative changes, we are concerned by a number of allegations contained within the report,” the government said in a statement. The government ministry overseeing labor issues will investigate contractors named in the report, it added.

The labor regulations at World Cup sites are meant to be particularly stringent.

The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, which is leading Qatar’s development of tournament venues and other projects, requires contractors to adhere to specific worker welfare standards that it and outside auditors monitor.

The Supreme Committee acknowledged in a statement to The Associated Press that Amnesty “identified challenges in worker conditions existing during early 2015,” but said many of the issues raised in the report were addressed by June because of its own monitoring and enforcement efforts.

Problems cited by Amnesty “were not representative of the entire workforce” and were limited to four out of more than 40 companies working on the stadium – three of which are currently banned from World Cup projects, it added.

“The tone of Amnesty International’s latest assertions paint a misleading picture and do nothing to contribute to our efforts,” it said. “We have always maintained this World Cup will act as a catalyst for change – it will not be built on the back of exploited workers. We wholly reject any notion that Qatar is unfit to host the World Cup.”

Still, pressure is mounting. The International Labor Organization earlier this month gave Qatar one year to act on findings by an ILO delegation or face the possibility of a formal “commission of inquiry” by the U.N. labor agency.

Concern over Qatar’s human rights record also extends to FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, as it works to rebuild its scandal-tarnished image. In December, FIFA tapped Harvard professor John Ruggie to draft human rights requirements for World Cup hosts and sponsors.

FIFA said in a statement it remains “fully aware of the risks facing construction workers in Qatar and of the opportunity that FIFA, together with other stakeholders, has to facilitate the improvement of working conditions.”

FIFA’s head of sustainability, Federico Addiechi, added that he is confident steps taken by the Supreme Committee are “appropriate” and have improved workers’ situation.

“Of course many challenges remain, but we are on the right track,” he said.

Read the Amnesty report: http://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2016/03/qatar-world-cup-of-shame/

Follow Adam Schreck on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/adamschreck