FIFA yesterday said it could not get involved in labor issues in any country, amid calls for action after claims that dozens of migrant workers had died on construction projects linked to the 2022 World Cup.
The head of the sport’s world governing body, Sepp Blatter, however said that the federation could not turn a blind eye to the reports, which also alleged that thousands of other workers endured conditions akin to “modern-day slavery” in Qatar.
“FIFA cannot interfere with the labour rights of any country, but we cannot ignore them,” Blatter said on his Twitter account @SeppBlatter in his first public comments on the issue first raised by Britain’s Guardian newspaper last week.
The daily said it had found evidence of forced labor on huge World Cup infrastructure projects in the tiny Gulf state, which was a controversial choice three years ago when it was picked to host the globe’s most-watched sporting event.
Some Nepalese workers alleged they had not been paid for months and had salaries held back to prevent them fleeing, while a group of 30 had sought refuge in the Nepalese embassy to escape the conditions of their employment.
Others complained that employers had confiscated workers’ passports and refused to issue identity cards, while others said they had been denied access to drinking water despite the fierce desert heat.
The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) said that, at current rates, at least 4,000 migrant workers could die before the tournament begins in nine years’ time and has demanded better conditions for workers involved in World Cup projects.
Qatar, for its part, denies mistreating migrant workers, calling the allegations “exaggerated.”
FIFA belatedly included the issue on the agenda of its executive committee meeting, held at its headquarters in Zurich on Thursday and yesterday.
The meeting had been expected to be dominated by the scheduling of the 2022 event, with widespread concerns about holding the tournament at the height of the Gulf summer.