Doha (AFP) – FIFA’s decision to hold the World Cup in Qatar took centre stage at the global body’s annual congress on Thursday with president Gianni Infantino forced to defend progress made by the Gulf state on human rights.
Infantino and Qatar’s top organiser hit back after Norway’s football federation head, Lise Klaveness, a rare female leader on the international stage, said that giving the World Cup to Qatar had been “unacceptable”.
Speaking in the Qatari capital 235 days from the start of the tournament, Klaveness highlighted human rights in the host country and demanded that FIFA act as a “role model”.
“The migrant workers injured or the families of those who died in the buildup to the World Cup must be cared for,” she said in a speech at the end of the carefully choreographed congress when individual federations were allowed to speak out.
“There is no room for employers who do not ensure the freedom and safety of World Cup workers,” she added.
All World Cup hosts had to guarantee the rights of the LGTB community. Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar.
Klaveness also accused FIFA leaders of making a “hesitant” response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Her comments echoed statements made by several European nations and teams ahead of the tournament that runs from November 21 to December 18.
Qatar’s organising committee chief Hassan al-Thawadi immediately took the stage to say he was disappointed that Klaveness had made her comments without speaking to Qatari authorities.
He said the event, the first World Cup in the Middle East, would leave “truly transformational social, human, economic and environmental legacies”.
Qatar feels that much of the criticism it has faced has been unfair. It has ended a labour system in which employers could stop migrant workers leaving the country or changing jobs. It has also imposed a minimum wage.
Infantino said FIFA was aware of the problems and had confronted Qatar’s rulers.
“The only way to provoke positive change is through dialogue and engagement,” he said.
He told the congress that important progress has been made in Qatar and that the energy rich state would put on “the best World Cup ever.”
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