(Reuters) – Qatar acknowledges there are gaps in its labour system but the World Cup has allowed the country to make progress on issues related to worker rights, Mahmoud Qutub, a member of the tournament’s organising committee, said on Thursday.
Qatar, the first Middle Eastern country to stage soccer’s showpiece event, has come under severe scrutiny from human rights groups over its treatment of migrant workers in the run-up to the tournament, which kicks off on Nov. 20.
Despite Qatar’s efforts, the Council of Europe said more results need to be seen.
“The number of tragic accidents continues to run into the hundreds. And enforcement of new rules isn’t sufficiently effective. Workers don’t have the right of assembly,” said Lord George Foulkes, who chaired the hearing.
Qutub, the Supreme Committee’s executive director of workers’ welfare and labour rights, said that the labour landscape in Qatar had changed significantly since FIFA awarded the World Cup to the Gulf state in 2010.
“We embarked on this journey after we won the World Cup bid. There was an acknowledgment at the time that gaps existed. We have demonstrated through our various ecosystems that meaningful steps can be taken to fill those gaps,” he said.
Qutub was one of the speakers at a public parliamentary hearing on the protection of workers’ rights in Qatar, organised by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.
A 2021 Amnesty International report noted that thousands of migrant workers were still being exploited, an allegation denied by Qatar, with Qutub adding that the Workers’ Welfare Standards introduced in 2014 had helped protect labour rights.
“We recognise there are shortcomings. This was, after all, the reason why we pursued the World Cup bid… awarding the World Cup has done a lot of service to Qatar, the region, the globe,” Qutub said.
Rights groups have also pointed to homosexuality being illegal in Qatar and how laws discriminate against women and LGBTQ+ individuals.
Lise Klaveness, president of the Norwegian Football Federation, said: “We have yet to speak about some of the elephants in the room: ensuring independent investigation of unexplained deaths.
“We demand that safety, respect and rights for LGBTQ+ persons and fundamental respect for women’s football should be non-negotiable requirements for hosting the biggest sports tournament in the world.
“The positive changes need to reach more than the 2% of workers the Supreme Committee covers. And the changes need to be lasting before we can talk about any legacy.”
Nasser Al Khater, the chief executive of the 2022 World Cup, has said LGBTQ+ fans coming into the country would not have to worry about “persecution of any sort”, describing Qatar as a “tolerant country”.
However, Klaveness wants soccer’s governing body to take a stronger stance.
“There have been many discussions with FIFA about many things, and we have had many promises which have yet to be fulfilled. Dismissals, delays and hollow commitments just aren’t good enough on this issue. FIFA must now use all its leverage to get changes implemented,” she added.
(Reporting by Dhruv Munjal in Bengaluru, editing by Pritha Sarkar)