Ahead of FIFA presidential elections in May, candidates running against longtime incumbent Sepp Blatter have said they are concerned about human rights violations in Qatar, but none endorsed the idea of pulling the 2022 World Cup from the Gulf state.
There are three people running against the 78-year-old Blatter: retired Portuguese footballer Luis Figo, Royal Dutch Football Association Chairman Michael van Praag, and Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, a FIFA vice-president.
In response to questions from the Associated Press, none of the candidates called for moving the tournament out of Qatar, which has been a strategy dismissed by Blatter but favored by some football officials and rights groups concerned about labor violations here.
Prince Ali told the newswire:
“The 2022 World Cup should go ahead in Qatar as planned, and I believe that the emir of Qatar is committed to delivering the positive social change and improvements to conditions for workers that the international community and FIFA are demanding.”
And though Van Praag proposed some of the tournament’s games be held outside of Qatar “so the World Cup legacy and the labor rights situation improves beyond the border of one nation alone in that region,” he said:
“Qatar promised to improve and we want to make sure they do, which includes giving them all the assistance they require.”
Meanwhile, Figo called on FIFA to “investigate, inform and act according should a disrespect of labor rights (be) consistently found.”
Rather than go after Qatar, many of the contenders continue to distinguish themselves from Blatter by calling for improved transparency and leadership within the world’s governing football body, whose reputation has taken a hit over the years amid bribery and corruption allegations.
Who Qatar supports
Despite the contenders’ positions, Qatar and several other Gulf countries continue to back Blatter, who is now running for his fifth term.
In January, when Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah, Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) president, issued his endorsement of the official, he suggested that the 39-year-old Prince Ali lacked experience for the top post:
“If he takes my advice, I think it is too early for him. I was speaking for Kuwait. We will support Blatter very strongly and we will not allow anyone to challenge him.”
According to some analysts, several Arab countries remain behind Blatter for political reasons. Speaking to Doha News previously, MidEast Soccer’s James Dorsey said:
“One would assume that QFA wouldn’t want to turn on Blatter at a time that they need him in Qatar’s battle to keep its World Cup hosting rights. Qatar will not be the only Middle Eastern association that is likely to vote for Blatter rather than one of their own.
Sheikh Ahmed of Kuwait has already said that he won’t allow anyone to undermine Blatter. It’s politics and vested interests – not regional solidarity or what would be best for FIFA – that dictates votes.”
Elections will be held on May 29. Thoughts?