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FIFA President’s ‘I Feel Like a Migrant Worker’ Speech Misleading

Football Industry, Fans Should Continue Demanding Worker Compensation Fund

FIFA President Gianni Infantino at a Press Conference in Doha, Qatar, November 19, 2022.  © 2022 DDP Images via AP photo

At a November 19 press conference, on the eve of the 2022 World Cup, FIFA President Gianni Infantino delivered a diatribe rife with “whataboutism” meant to deflect the global scrutiny Qatari authorities have deservedly received for the country’s poor human rights record. Infantino’s speech, which featured absurd claims such as “I feel [like] a migrant worker,” was greeted with widespread criticism and outrage from numerous commentators.

However, one highly misleading statement in his speech deserves particular scrutiny. Infantino claimed: “There is a legal framework [in Qatar] to cover [migrant] workers’ compensation” and referenced Qatar’s Ministry of Labour’s Workers Support and Insurance Fund, which “has paid over $350 million USD ... majority of that  for unpaid wages.” He also praised the labor minister’s assurances on compensation, saying, “If … there is a worker who has not received due compensation in accordance with the laws of Qatar … he or his family can go to the Ministry of Labour and seek for compensation. And if you don’t get it, let us know and we will help you.”

However, workers in Qatar face huge obstacles to access compensation. One worker said it had already taken four years to obtain compensation for several months of unpaid wages, and the ordeal had taken a toll on his health. “I had heart failure,” he said. “I urgently need the money to undergo a surgery.” As of July 2022, he still hasn’t received any compensation from Qatar’s Ministry of Labour. Meanwhile, it is virtually impossible for workers and their families outside the country to access Qatar’s existing compensation system.

The even bigger problem is that the fund does not deal with worker deaths. Qatar’s labor law allows families of workers whose deaths or injuries were classified by Qatari authorities as work-related to be eligible for compensation. However, Human Rights Watch has documented how Qatari authorities have classified thousands of deaths as due to unexplained or “natural causes” without proper investigations to ascertain the actual cause of deaths, leaving many families of deceased migrant workers ineligible for compensation.  

Football associations, the UEFA Working Group on Human and Labour Rights, and other key stakeholders in the football industry should not be fooled by Infantino’s highly inaccurate claims. Many migrant workers, especially the families of those who died, will never receive compensation if these claims go unchallenged.

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