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Thursday, October 21, 2021

African journalists urged to dismiss ‘lobbying attempts’ to boycott Qatar 2022


Several calls to boycott Qatar’s major sporting event have emerged in recent months, many of which citing an inaccurate report released by The Guardian.

The Federation of African Journalists [FAJ] denounced attempts by several states to lure its members into calling for a boycott of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, Nigerian newspaper Leadership reported on Friday.

According to the report, FAJ’s President Comrade Sadiq Ibrahim Ahmed addressed growing “lobbying” attempts by “national interests in the Gulf” that appear to be targeting journalist unions to sensationalise reporting on migrant worker rights in Qatar.

Read also: Politicising the pitch: Whose politics are acceptable?

“The federation wishes to state that these attempts to manipulate journalists are totally misplaced and represent a dangerous attempt to involve African journalists in the political disputes in the Gulf,” Ahmed stated, calling on African journalists to be vigilant.

The leader of the Pan-African organisation, which represents journalists in 44 countries across the continent, said interfering in Gulf politics poses an obstacle to news coverage of other “pressing issues” in the Africa.

“Getting involved in Gulf politics threatens to divert us from pressing issues such as safety for journalists and the fight for freedom of expression, which should be the concern of anybody who wishes African journalism well,” he said, stressing the federation’s commitment to the position of the International Trade Union Congress [ITUC].

Rise in calls for boycott

Calls to boycott the major sporting event have increased in the last few months, mainly since the release of a report released by The Guardian headlined, “Revealed: 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar as it gears up for World Cup”. That report has been slammed as inaccurate and misleading by senior Qatari officials.

The report inaccurately linked the “shocking” death rate with Qatar’s start of the World Cup 2022 journey a decade ago, without clarifying the reasons for the deaths.

The Guardian also failed to cite official medical records explaining the circumstances of the deaths and whether or not the deceased worked on any World Cup related projects, but goes on to quote a labour rights in the Gulf experts who says it’s “likely that many workers who died were employed on these World Cup infrastructure projects”.

Norway and The Netherlands were among the countries who called for shunning Qatar 2022 and their national football teams last month launched an on-pitch protest at the event’s European qualifiers to ensure maximum publicity for the stunt.

Speaking to Doha News last month, the Dutch football federation admitted it was never in favour of the Qatari bid for the 2022 edition of the World Cup due to its “lack of football history and harsh temperatures”.

However, the KNVB said it does not believe that a boycott will help.

“If you want to help improve the situation, you go there and raise awareness,” KNVB told Doha News“Boycott does not help the people working there.”

Historic reforms

Criticism of Qatar has failed to make mention of major reforms in the Gulf state, especially when compared to its neighbours. Analysts suggest the anti-Qatar protests are even racially-driven, pointing to a lack of action at previous World Cups, all of which hosted by countries with questionable rights records.

Last year, Qatar dismantled its controversial kafala sponsorship system and imposed the region’s first ever “non-discriminatory” minimum wage law. Most notably, it nullified a No-Objection Certificate which had formerly been criticised as a way of confining migrant workers into one job. The new law now gives workers freedom to change jobs without permission from current employers.

Read also: Dialogue with Qatar ‘more effective than boycott’, senior ILO official says

As part of the major labour reform agenda, Qatar has drastically enhanced monitoring across the board to detect violations, enacting swifter penalties and further strengthening the capacity of labour inspectors, according to an announcement made by the Government Communications Office [GCO].

Employers who pay their staff less than the minimum wage will face one-year in jail and a QR 10,000 fine.

In a previous interview with Doha News, the former head of the International Labour Organisation [ILO] in Qatar, Houtan Homayounpour said achievements made by the country “speak for themselves”.

“Kafala has been dismantled, no more exit visa, no more NOC or non objection certificate required, free labor market mobility, non-discriminatory minimum wage, the first in the entire region, joint committees, democratic elections at the enterprise level workers picking their representatives,” said Homayounpour, pointing to Qatar’s achievements.

Meanwhile, FIFA President Gianni Infantino has also weighed into the global debate and assured protecting human rights is a top priority for FIFA.

“We need to be fair there (in Qatar) and admit a lot of progress has happened… in the conditions of the workers. Of course more can be done everywhere, always – even in Switzerland,” said the FIFA president.

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