World Cup: Qatar reaffirms commitment to workers' rights after Socceroos urge 'lasting legacy'
The organizers of the Qatar 2022 World Cup have said the global tournament has delivered a "transformative impact" in host country Qatar with new laws passed and reforms implemented in areas like worker rights, in response to criticisms raised in a video posted by Australia's football team known as the Socceroos.
“We commend footballers using their platforms to raise awareness for important matters”, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the official name of the organizing committee, said in a statement shared with Doha News on Friday, but insisted that Qatar has "committed every effort to ensuring that this World Cup has had a transformative impact on improving lives, especially for those involved in constructing the competition and non-competition venues we're responsible for".
The Socceroos posted a three-minute video to social media on Wednesday highlighting their concerns over workers' rights issues and legal restrictions on same-sex relations in the Gulf state.
"We have learned that the decision to host the World Cup in Qatar has resulted in the suffering and the harm of countless of our fellow workers," midfielder Jackson Irvine claimed.
But the Socceroos in the video also acknowledged the progress made in Qatar over the last decade.
“We have learned that progress has been made on both papers and in practice. The Kafala System has largely been dismantled, working conditions have been improved, and a minimum wage has been established,” said defender Alex Wilkinson.
The footballers insisted more needed to be done in Qatar to ensure a “lasting legacy” for human rights.
In the video as well, midfielder Denis Genreau also said: "As players, we fully support the rights of LGBTI+ people, but in Qatar people are not free to love the person that they choose".
Qatar like most Arab countries is yet to decriminalise same-sex relations but Qatari officials have said "everyone will be welcome" at the World Cup regardless of their background. Earlier in the week, British LGBTI+ rights activist Peter Tatchell staged a controversial protest in Doha to draw attention to the issue, in a move some criticised as a "dangerous stunt", but the Qatari authorities did not appear to interfere.
On Wednesday, the UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly Cleverly said Qatar was willing to make compromises on this issue.
“I have spoken to the Qatari authorities in the past about gay football fans going to watch the World Cup and how they will treat our fans and international fans. They want to make sure that football fans are safe, secure and enjoy themselves. And they know that that means they are going to have to make some compromises in terms of what is an Islamic country with a very different set of cultural norms to our own," he said.
“One of the things I would say for football fans is, you know, please do be respectful of the host nation. They are trying to ensure that people can be themselves and enjoy the football, and I think with a little bit of flex and compromise at both ends, it can be a safe, secure and exciting World Cup.”
Since we won the honour of hosting the World Cup, Qatar has been subjected to an unprecedented campaign that no host country has faced
Qatar has come under increased pressure issues in the run-up to the World Cup in November, but in Doha aspects of this media coverage have been slammed as an unfair campaign of criticism that appears to single out the small Arab nation in a disproportionate manner for a host country.
Earlier this week, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani hit back at what he said was an unprecedented campaign against his country.
"Since we won the honour of hosting the World Cup, Qatar has been subjected to an unprecedented campaign that no host country has faced," he said in a speech to the country's legislative council.
The emir added that the tournament was a chance for Qatar to show "who we are, not only in terms of the strength of our economy and institutions but also in terms of our civilisational identity".
The emir added that Qatar will continue to build on its strength and build its capabilities in areas such as media, higher education, investment and mediation to resolve conflicts between countries, and the hosting of major global events.
Conditions on World Cup construction sites have long been criticised by international labour organizations - ranging from safety standards to hours worked in the searing summer temperatures. However, Qatar has been praised over the past few years by the same groups for making progress on these issues, going further than any other neighbouring Gulf country by abolishing the notorious kafala system.
“No country is perfect, and every country – hosts of major events or not – has its challenges. This World Cup has contributed to a legacy of progress, better practice, and improving lives – and it’s a legacy that will live long after the final ball is kicked", said the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy in the same statement.
“Protecting the health, safety, security, and dignity of every worker contributing to this World Cup is our priority," it added.
“This is achieved through our commitment to holding contractors accountable via our worker welfare standards, continuous work on enhancing health and safety practices, creating and developing worker representation forums in collaboration with international unions and experts, robust auditing that includes an independent third party monitor, working with contractors to ensure workers who paid recruitment fees are entitled to repayment, and ensuring that these policies lead to a change in work culture that lasts far beyond 2022.”