FIFA’s Executive Committee is meeting in Zurich today and tomorrow, and world football’s governing body has much to discuss.
UEFA President Michel Platini’s has stated that he is “much more concerned” about the issue of migrant workers’ rights in Qatar, host of the 2022 World Cup, than the ongoing debate over the proposed switch of the event from summer to winter. This is a welcome realignment of priorities. His fellow executive committee members should put internal politics to one side and grapple with an issue where they can exert significant influence.
Sports administrators often rationalize the vast sums of money that go into hosting sporting tournaments like the World Cup by making reference to their “legacy”. The legacy of Qatar 2022 can be overwhelmingly positive if it becomes a vehicle for change where migrant workers’ rights are concerned. There are three simple steps the Executive Committee members could take to play their part in that transformation.
First, they should insist on a timetable for labor reform in Qatar which ensures the fundamental rights of all migrant workers, not just those directly involved in 2022 projects. FIFA executive committee members are not experts in labor reform, but they should demand that Qatar consult with groups and individuals who are.
Second, they should offer whatever technical assistance they can to the Qataris on the issue of heat-related deaths. The modern game benefits from the expertise of top-level physicians and sports scientists. These individuals would have been offering advice on how to minimize the risks to players of playing in the summer months. Likewise, they can offer advice on how the migrant workers building the tournament can be protected.
Finally, they should insist on the abolition of the exit visa system as evidence of Qatar’s bona fideson migrant workers’ rights. The system serves no legitimate purpose and is used to trap workers in the country, including the French professional footballer Zahir Belounis.
For all the controversy over Qatar’s selection to host the 2022 tournament, the scrutiny and pressure that the Qatari authorities are now under after The Guardian’s reporting make genuine labor reform in the country a possibility. That would be some legacy.