LONDON (AP) — One year after Qatar hosted the men’s World Cup, the gas-rich emirate and soccer governing body FIFA were urged Thursday by human rights group Amnesty International to do more for migrant workers who were essential to prepare the tournament and still face labor abuses.
Qatar’s treatment of hundreds of thousands of imported workers, mostly in searing heat, plus the slow pace of labor law reforms and enforcement drew intense scrutiny and criticism for more than a decade before games started on Nov. 20 last year.
Progress has stalled since the month-long soccer tournament ended, Amnesty said Thursday.
“Qatar and FIFA must act urgently to ensure victims’ right to remedy and compensation are not denied or delayed any further,” Amnesty said in a statement.
FIFA and the United Nations-backed International Labor Organization acknowledge that challenges remain and more needs to be done enacting Qatari law reforms.
Labor rights are still an issue almost 13 years after FIFA leaders stunningly picked Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup, beating the United States’ bid in a final round of voting.
Qatar spent an estimated $200 billion on massive construction projects ahead of hosting soccer’s biggest event, including stadiums, roads, metro lines and hotels. Most of the same stadiums will stage the 24-team Asian Cup kicking off in January.
FIFA, under a different leadership, is now embarked on a similar journey toward Saudi Arabia hosting the World Cup in 2034.
“The abuses related to the 2022 World Cup should serve to remind sporting bodies that human rights must always be at the heart of decisions when awarding events,” said Amnesty’s head of economic social justice, Steve Cockburn, urging FIFA to “learn from its mistakes.”
Ongoing issues in Qatar, Amnesty claimed, include limiting workers’ freedom to change jobs, theft of wages and freezing the minimum wage at its 2021 level despite a global cost-of-living crisis since.
“Qatar’s continued failure to properly enforce or strengthen its pre-World Cup labor reforms puts any potential legacy for workers in serious peril,” Amnesty said.
The Qatari government said Thursday its commitment to safeguarding work rights “was always intended to continue long after the tournament ended.”
“Qatar now leads the region on workers’ rights and labor reforms, setting an example for other countries on how a system can be successfully overhauled,” the government media office said in a statement.
A key point for activists and some FIFA member federations has been compensating the families of workers in Qatar who were injured or died.
Weeks before the World Cup started, FIFA’s top lawyer had said it was open to helping create a compensation fund.
FIFA seemed to lose leverage with Qatar as the tournament approached and games began, and a more severe stance was taken in dealings with teams, World Cup sponsor AB InBev, the brewer of Budweiser, and fans.
Norway’s soccer federation pressed FIFA on funding compensation this year after the soccer body’s cash reserves doubled to almost $4 billion after taking its marquee event to Qatar.
FIFA created a Human Rights & Social Responsibility Sub-Committee which is studying if more should be done for migrant workers in line with its statutory obligations. The panel is chaired by the attorney general for Gibraltar, Michael Llamas, who also leads the soccer federation there.
“It is undeniable that significant progress has taken place,” FIFA said in a statement about Qatar, “and it is equally clear that the enforcement of such transformative reforms takes time and that heightened efforts are needed to ensure the reforms benefit all workers in the country.”
The International Labor Organization this month acknowledged “undoubtedly significant challenges” remain in Qatar.
“In the past year, the ILO has witnessed continued commitment from, and cooperation with, the Ministry of Labor and many other institutions in Qatar,” the Geneva-based labor body added.
On Thursday the Qatari government said its goal was “to establish a world-leading labor system that attracts people from all over the world to live and work in Qatar.”
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