At a time when Qatar is fending off criticism from all sides about its human rights record, two international football players have gone public with reports of poor treatment, contract disputes and delayed payment from their local clubs.
The tales of the two athletes, one of whom is banned from leaving Qatar and is threatening to go on a hunger strike, were reported by CNN yesterday.
The Qatar Football Association and the Qatar Stars League did not respond to media requests for comment, save to say: “All parties are analyzing in depth the matter and action for defamation is being taken.”
French-Algerian player Zahir Belounis, who said he has not been paid for almost two years by Al Jaish SC, told Jeune Afrique:
“This is a crazy story… I cannot move around freely, I cannot work anymore, I’m 33 years old … Who wants a player who has not played for months? Frankly, my career takes a hit.”
He added to CNN that he is considering a hunger strike:
“It’s going to start next week. They treat me like a dog but I will fight. I will die here in Qatar.”
Meanwhile, French-born Moroccan Abdessalam Ouadoo, who left Qatar last November after playing for Lekhwiya, said the club owes him five months worth of salary. Following complaints of ill treatment and being traded unwillingly to another club, Ouadoo told CNN he wanted to break his contract and leave the country.
“When I asked for my exit visa from my first club, my sponsor at Lekhwiya, he [a club official] told me: ‘We will not give you an exit visa until you take out your complaint. Qatar has many interests in FIFA and it is not good’.”
The men’s experiences have brought the debate over Qatar’s kafala system, which gives sponsors the right to prohibit their employees from leaving the country, among other things, back into the spotlight.
“When you work in Qatar you belong to someone. You are not free. You are a slave. Of course it is not the same situation as the [construction] workers in Qatar, but there is a parallel. It is the same methodology. They can throw you away like old socks.”
Officials in Qatar have acknowledged kafala’s flaws for years, but progress on changing the system has been slow, in large part due to popular support among the local population.
According to a recent report from Qatar University’s Social and Economic Survey Research Institute, some 9 out of 10 Qataris interviewed did not want to see kafala weakened.
Credit: Photo by Great Beyond