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Tuesday, March 9, 2021

New FIFA president Infantino makes first official visit to Qatar

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New FIFA President Gianni Infantinto
New FIFA President Gianni Infantinto

The new head of football’s global governing body made his inaugural visit to Qatar today amid calls for FIFA to pressure the country into improving its human rights record.

Gianni Infantino, who was elected in February and replaced Sepp Blatter, toured Khalifa International Stadium this afternoon, following a visit to Russia earlier this week.

While here, he is scheduled to meet board members of Qatar’s 2022 World Cup organizers, as well as senior government officials.

Infantino’s visit comes a day after a senior FIFA official conceded that the organization was too slow to raise concerns about the abuse of blue-collar workers in Qatar.

Speaking at a human rights conference in Doha this week, FIFA’s head of corporate social responsibility Federico Addiechi said, according to Reuters:

“When it comes to human rights policy… we started, in connection with Qatar and its bidding process for 2022, late, yes.

As soon as we acknowledged… that an organization like FIFA should be involved in addressing possible violations of human rights in stadiums, we did (contact Qatar),” he said.

Amnesty questions delay

Addiechi’s comments follow a highly critical assessment of FIFA by Amnesty International.

In a report late last month, the group said that despite efforts by local organizers in Qatar to protect stadium construction workers, some were still being abused.

The report highlighted how it took FIFA five years from the time it awarded hosting rights to Qatar to begin establishing a process for monitoring human rights issues related to preparations for the 2022 tournament:

“In 2010, when FIFA awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, it knew, or ought to have known, that most construction work in Qatar involves migrant workers and that migrant workers were subjected to serious and systemic labour exploitation,” Amnesty said.

“Yet FIFA did not put in place any measures to ensure that the men who would build the World Cup infrastructure would not be exploited.”

Ruggie report

Last week, a Harvard University professor hired by FIFA told the football organization that it needs to change its mindset and add human rights considerations to its decision-making processes.

Specifically, John Ruggie said that bidders for the World Cup and other FIFA tournaments should explain how they will address human rights risks and meet certain requirements.

Construction workers at the Khalifa Stadium
Khalifa Stadium is being renovated to be ready for the 2022 World Cup hosted in Qatar.

However, Ruggie’s recommendation that FIFA “consider suspending or terminating” its relationship with World Cup hosts who fail to clean up their human rights records drew the most attention and set off a fresh round of media speculation that Qatar was on the verge of losing the right to host the World Cup.

Speaking to Doha News on the sidelines of this week’s human rights conference in Qatar, Ruggie said he was not calling for the Gulf state to be stripped of the World Cup.

“But the (newspaper) headline writers saw something different,” he said.

Since Ruggie’s report was released last Thursday, several media outlets have altered their stories.

The Guardian newspaper changed its headline from “Fifa told to consider stripping Qatar of World Cup if abuses continue” to “Fifa faces ‘tough decision’ over Qatar World Cup if human rights abuses continue.”

Similarly, ESPN went from “FIFA advised to terminate Qatar World Cup” to “World Cups should be taken from human rights abusers – FIFA report.”

FIFA’s Addiechi said the organization was not considering dropping a host country as leverage for human rights reforms, according to Reuters.

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