Thursday 13 October 2022, 10:45

FIFA tells Council of Europe hearing of tangible progress on human rights in Qatar

  • FIFA Deputy General Secretary speaks at a Council of Europe Parliamentary hearing

  • Says the FIFA World Cup 2022 has been a catalyst for improved labour rights

  • Stresses importance of leaving a legacy in human rights issues

FIFA’s Deputy General Secretary Alasdair Bell has told a parliamentary hearing at the Council of Europe that Qatar has made “real, tangible” progress in addressing labour rights issues as it prepares to host the FIFA World Cup 2022, which starts on 20 November. Mr Bell spoke during a hearing on “Sports governance and social rights: the protection of workers’ rights in Qatar”, organised jointly by the Committee on Culture, Science, Education & Media and the Committee on Social Affairs, Health & Sustainable Development of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg. The session was moderated by Lord George Foulkes, rapporteur of the recent Football Governance report by the Council of Europe. Introductory remarks were made by Bjorn Berge, Deputy SG of the Council.

Mr Bell explained FIFA’s role as a football organization which appreciates input and support on human rights issues from NGOs and international institutions, such as the Council of Europe. “We are a sports organisation but with human rights as a strong commitment,” he said. “It’s not fluff, it’s real. It has actually improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.” He told the hearing that there had been clear progress in improving human and labour rights in Qatar, a process in which FIFA has been very active, and this has been recognised by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the International Trade Union Congress (ITUC), among others. “This is a combined effort to improve the standards and the FIFA World Cup was also an important catalyst to change legislation positively in Qatar,” he said.

PACE hearings on FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022

For example, Qatar has started to dismantle the kafala, or sponsorship, system and has also introduced a non-discriminatory minimum wage, strengthened heat stress protections and set up worker committees. “There has been real tangible progress in Qatar. We have worked hard with the Qatari authorities and the NGO’s. The labour conditions in World Cup sites are setting the standards in Qatar. In 2020, something like 250.000 people were able to change jobs because of these reforms. Nearly 300.000 workers benefitted from the introduction of the minimum wage. We will look at ways to build on these reforms, to ensure they are enduring. A centre in Qatar where migrant workers can receive advice is being explored. So is the possibility to find redress for anyone who suffered injury. It is not the simplest thing to put into place.” He also accepted that more needed to be done and that FIFA was working with Qatar to ensure that the FIFA World Cup 2022 leaves a legacy in terms of workers' rights. “It’s important that all the progress we have made is not lost after the tournament. Once the spotlight of the World Cup is turned off, it is important that these changes remain and also spread wider in the Middle East,” he said.

PACE hearings on FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 in Strasbourg - wide view

Mr Bell explained that, in 2017, FIFA had introduced human rights requirements into the bidding processes for all FIFA tournaments. “We raised the profile of human rights in FIFA and that has had some significant spill over effect. This World Cup in Qatar will be the first big sporting event with a lasting positive effect in the area of human rights,” he said. “It’s not something to be triumphalist about, but it is a fact, a matter of record.” The Council of Europe signed a Memorandum of understanding with FIFA in 2018 and the two organisations have worked very closely together on a number of important topics such as on child safeguarding, good governance, anti-match manipulation, safety and security at football matches.

Mr Bell said he looked forward to further co-operation with the Council of Europe in the future. “There is work to be done, we need to focus on that in terms of legacy. Football has the power to achieve different things. It stimulates and provokes public interest and so can make a difference. We should really try to make sure that this difference is enduring and positive.”