World Cup 2022: “By calling to ‘focus on football’, Gianni Infantino is trying to exonerate FIFA from any responsibility”

On Sunday, November 20, 2022, FIFA President Gianni Infantino will take his place in his chair to watch the opening match of the 2022 World Cup, which will pit hosts Qatar against Ecuador at the stadium. state-of-the-art Al-Bayt, in Doha. Of the seven venues built specifically for the tournament, this is the crown jewel of a massive development project that has transformed the capital of Qatar and its surroundings since 2010, when FIFA awarded the country the organization of the World Cup.

At an estimated cost of 200 billion euros, infrastructure including training centres, hotels and highways has been built in anticipation of the arrival of 1.5 million supporters for what is undoubtedly the biggest event athlete in the world.

For the millions of migrant workers who have made this project a reality, the price to pay was also very heavy. This is particularly the case of Nepalese Tul Bahadur Gharti who, at the age of 34, died in his sleep in November 2020 after working for more than 10 hours in temperatures rising to 39°C on a construction site. His wife, Bipana, never received any explanation of what had happened to her husband. According to the death certificate issued by the Qatari authorities, Tul Bahadur Gharti, who had no medical history, died of “natural causes”.

In May 2022, Amnesty International and 24 civil society organizations and trade unions wrote to Gianni Infantino asking him to set up a reparations program for victims of human rights abuses, such as Gharti and Bipana. Behind the shimmering facade that Qatar will present to the world from November 20, stories of suffering like theirs are countless.

The facts, widely documented by Amnesty International and other organisations: hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, mainly from Africa, South and South-East Asia, victims of exploitation and abuses of generalized work. These violations included exorbitant recruitment fees, working conditions amounting to forced labor, lost and unpaid wages, and long periods of work without a day off. Like the death of Tul Bahadur Gharti, thousands of migrant worker deaths remain unexplained.

Amnesty International’s call for compensation is drawing a growing list of supporters, including football associations of England, Germany, France, the Netherlands and the United StatesWorld Cup sponsors Coca-Cola, Adidas, Budweiser and McDonald’s, and, with a video went viral in october, the Australian national team. According to a world poll commissioned by Amnesty International, 84% of potential World Cup spectators are in favor of this compensation proposal.

Amid this growing clamor, the most crucial voice of all, that of Gianni Infantino, remained remarkably silent. Despite the private and public assurances of FIFA, which claimed to “study the proposal”, Gianni Infantino, apart from a few platitudes, constantly evaded the question. He still hasn’t responded to our joint letter. Then, on November 4, he sent a letter to the 32 competing nations, urging them to “focus on football” and brushing aside human rights concerns, not wanting to be drawn into these “ideological or political battles”.

His letter is a crude and unequivocal attempt to absolve FIFA of its responsibility for these human rights abuses and towards these workers. FIFA’s commitment to remedy the violations to which it contributes is nevertheless enshrined in its own policy. Given Qatar’s well-documented history of labor rights abuses, FIFA knew – or should have known – of the obvious risks to workers at the time of awarding the World Cup to that country. Yet in the assessment of Qatar’s candidacy, no mention was made of human rights, or workers’ rights, and no conditions were set to protect them. FIFA then took action very insufficient to prevent or mitigate these risks.

The entire FIFA hierarchy has not been so silent. In October, its Deputy Secretary General, Alasdair Bell, told the Council of Europe that it was “important to consider that any worker injured in the context of the World Cup can obtain in one way or another a repair”, adding: “It is something that we wish to progress. ” Beautiful feelings that show that support is gaining the highest levels of FIFA. Without the blessing of Gianni Infantino, however, these words will remain meaningless.

Since taking over as FIFA president in 2016, Mr Infantino had made a notable shift in the world football governing body’s approach to human rights. His tenure also coincided with positive labor law reforms in Qatar, although there is still a long way to go. The definition of FIFA’s first human rights policy in 2017, the announcement of the Sustainable Development Strategy for the World Cup in Qatar in 2020 and the human rights criteria for World Cup bids 2026 marks real progress. At the heart of these policies is FIFA’s responsibility to remedy the harms to which it contributes and to ensure that they do not recur in the future. FIFA must now walk the talk. By promising to grant compensation, Gianni Infantino would demonstrate in a tangible way that she takes her commitment to respect human rights seriously.

FIFA and Qatar like to repeat, like Alasdair Bell speaking before the Council of Europe, that a “package” of compensation measures would be complicated to develop and apply. Admittedly, the number of people involved and the scale of the violations make this commitment complex, but this cannot be used as an excuse for inaction or further delay. The solutions exist, it is a question of the will to implement them.

All we ask at this stage is that FIFA make a firm commitment to compensate the victims of abuses and to fund prevention programmes, including a center where workers can learn about their rights and obtain legal assistance and advice. All it takes is a simple stroke of the pen from Gianni Infantino. The details, to be worked out in collaboration with the Qatari authorities, trade unions, independent experts and the migrant workers themselves, can be settled after the World Cup. Money should not be an obstacle, given the six billion euros in revenue that FIFA should reap.

For Bipana and so many others, no amount of money can erase the suffering or bring back their loved ones. But financial compensation will help victims and their families rebuild their lives. If Gianni Infantino really wants the world to focus on football during the 2022 Cup, he should start by making sure those who made it happen get the justice and redress they deserve. Hurry up.

This article was originally published in Spanish in El País and in French in The world

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