Gianni Infantino, FIFA’s president, has taken exception to criticism that FIFA, soccer’s governing board, and Qatar, where this year’s World Cup is being held, have run roughshod over the rights of migrant workers drawn to the Middle Eastern country on promises that they would be paid fairly for their work in constructing the numerous facilities needed for the soccer tournament.
“Today I feel Qatari,” Infantino said Saturday at the start of his first news conference of the World Cup. “Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel [like] a migrant worker.”
Human Rights Watch and a coalition of rights organizations have urged Qatar and FIFA to make a commitment to acknowledge and remedy the labor and human rights abuses that thousands of migrant workers suffered while preparing Qatar to host the sports event.
Rights groups have accused Qatar of subjecting migrant workers to harsh working conditions that include nonpayment of wages and long hours in oppressive heat.
Michael Page, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Middle East and North Arica director, said, “FIFA’s failure to provide a remedy while accruing billions of dollars in revenue has left everything in sight in Qatar – from the roads to the stadiums – as reminders of the migrant workers who built and delivered the games but did not receive their wages or died with no compensation for their families.”
Infantino, meanwhile, praised Qatar for allowing the migrants to work and chided European countries for restricting the flow of migrants.
“We in Europe, we close our borders and we don’t allow practically any worker from those countries, who earn obviously very low income, to work legally in our countries,” Infantino said.
“If Europe would really care about the destiny of these people, these young people, then Europe could also do as Qatar did. But give them some work. Give them some future. Give them some hope. But this moral-lesson giving, one-sided, it is just hypocrisy.”
Shariful Hasan, program head of the Migration Program and Youth Initiatives of BRAC, a development organization in Bangladesh, says more than 1,300 Bangladeshi workers died in Qatar, with many of the deaths attributed to heart attacks.
“We must answer to the people who have died – not only in Qatar but in any Middle Eastern country,” he said. “We cannot forget this pain. ... It is not only the hard work of the migrants; it is their blood. It is their life.”
HRW says the reforms that Qatar has recently adopted have come “either too late, were too narrow in scope, or were too weakly implemented for many workers to benefit.”
Companies have often failed to notify families when their loved ones have died, HRW says, and have also failed to help or repatriate workers or their bodies to their home countries.
The World Cup opens Sunday.
Some information in this report came from The Associated Press.