Anger over Fifa president’s ‘stick to football’ letter to World Cup teams

Amnesty International’s secretary general has made an urgent plea to Fifa before the World Cup, calling on it to commit to a compensation package for migrant workers who suffered abuses in Qatar.

Agnès Callamard urged the world football governing body to issue a “cast-iron commitment” that “abused workers will be compensated and that programs to prevent further abuses are funded”, adding that such a package would go “a long way towards helping victims and their families rebuild their lives”.

She also proudly criticized Fifa president Gianni Infantino’s request to World Cup teams that they should “focus on the football” rather than discussing human rights issues in Qatar. “Infantino’s letter is a crass attempt at shirking Fifa’s culpability,” Callamard said.

This is a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

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This is a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

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In the letter, sent last month, Infantino had suggested critics were “handing out moral lessons to the rest of the world” and said nations should “not allow football to be dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists”.

Rather than calming criticism of Qatar, the letter angered human rights groups and football leaders, with countries including England and Wales saying they would continue campaigning on off-pitch issues. “Human rights are universal and they apply everywhere,” they said in a joint statement with eight other European football associations.

Amnesty head Agnès Callamard
Amnesty head Agnès Callamard accused Fifa of ‘shirking its culpability’ over migrant worker abuses in Qatar. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

The hosting of the World Cup by Qatar has attracted protest worldwide over LGBTQ+ rights and labor issues. Ten captains of European teams have said they will wear “One love” armbands to promote diversity and inclusion during the tournament. While, last month, Australia released a video in which players criticized Qatar’s human rights record.

Last week, the Danish football association said Fifa had rejected a request to allow its players to train at the World Cup in shirts with the words “human rights for all” on them “due to technical reasons”.

Also last week, England’s largest LGBTQ+ supporters’ group criticized David Beckham for his role as a paid ambassador for the Qatar World Cup, saying it was “incredibly disappointing” that he had taken the role given that Qatari law criminalizes homosexual behaviour.

“I’m just so disappointed because we – the LGBTQ+ football family – have put David Beckham on a pedestal, as a great ally,” said Di Cunningham, the co-founder of the Three Lions Pride group.

The comments from Callamard come six months after Amnesty and 24 other rights groups wrote to Infantino urging Fifa to establish a remediation program for the abuses suffered by workers in Qatar.

The rights groups say hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, efficiently from south and south-east Asia and Africa, have been subjected to “rampant labor abuses” including “extortionate recruitment fees, conditions amounting to forced labour, lost and unpaid wages, and long hours without days off”.

It also highlighted the cases of workers harmed in Qatar, including a Nepali citizen, Tul Bahadur Gharti, who is reported to have died in his sleep in November 2020 after working more than 10 hours in extreme heat on a construction site.

A death certificate issued by the Qatari authorities said that Gharti, 34, died of “natural causes”.The call for compensation has been backed by the football associations of England, Germany, France, the Netherlands and the US, and by World Cup sponsors , including Coca-Cola, Adidas, Budweiser and McDonald’s. However, Qatar has disputed reports about the scale of the labor abuses and rejected calls for a Fifa-led compensation fund, describing them as a “publicity stunt”.

In an op-ed for international media on Friday, Callamard wrote: “Amid this growing clamour, the most crucial voice of all has remained conspicuously silent: Gianni Infantino.

“Despite private and public assurances from Fifa that they are ‘considering the proposal’, Infantino, a few platitudes aside, has consistently dodged the topic. To date, he has provided no response to our joint letter.”

She added that “given the well-documented history of labour-rights abuse in Qatar”, Fifa “knew – or should have known – the obvious risks to workers when it awarded Qatar the tournament.

“A pledge from Infantino to provide compensation would provide a tangible demonstration that Fifa is truly serious about its commitment to respect human rights,” she said.

In a statement to AFP last month, Qatar’s labor minister, Ali bin Samikh Al-Marri, said the Gulf state was already handing out hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid wages, and described critics as “racist”. He added that the ministry’s “door is open”, saying that “if there is a person entitled to compensation who has not received it, they should come forward and we will help them”.

In response to the statement, Amnesty International, which is part of a campaign called #PayUpFIFA, said that while money paid out already was “undoubtedly important”, Qatar must expand its existing compensation funds or establish a new one.

It is calling for Fifa to pay $440m towards reparations – matching the prize money it will pay during the World Cup.

On Saturday, Fifa said it “remained in positive continuing dialogue” with labor organizations and the Qatari authorities over “initiatives that will benefit migrant workers in Qatar long after the final game of the World Cup”.It said there had been a “great response ” to Infantino’s letter calling for teams to “focus on the football”, with various teams backing it.

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