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Belounis seeks payback for Qatar stay

French-Algerian footballer Zahir Belounis says he has been partially “ruined” after being forced to stay in Qatar against his will but is vowing to make those responsible pay.

Zahir Belounis greets his mother at the airport after his arrival in Paris.
Zahir Belounis greets his mother at the airport after his arrival in Paris.

Belounis, 33, returned to France on Thursday night after finally being granted an exit visa by the Gulf state.

Migrant workers are not allowed to leave Qatar unless their employer grants them permission, and Belounis says he was unable to leave after taking legal action against El-Jaish Sports Club over unpaid wages.

“When I wanted to file a complaint I was told: ‘You’re going to regret it,’” Belounis told reporters on his arrival at Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris. “And in part they have ruined me. But it’s not finished.”

Belounis claimed he was owed 18 months’ worth of wages and was left stranded in Qatar for almost a year.

The story is embarrassing for the 2022 World Cup hosts and has been jumped upon by those who feel that Qatar should not have been granted the tournament, but the player himself was keen to stress that it was the club, not the state, that he was in conflict with.

“It’s important to say it -- I have no problem with Qatar,” he said. “My problem, it was with the club, and certain people at the club are going to pay for what they did.”

Belounis, who received the support of international players’ union FIFPro, also thanked Qatari authorities and the French Embassy for helping secure his exit.

Former Fulham, Nancy and Rennes player Abdeslam Ouaddou was one of the people present to meet Belounis on his arrival. Having had a similar dispute with a club in Qatar, Ouaddou said the player’s release represented a minor victory.

“There are still 1.3 million workers who suffer the same mistreatment because of this slave-like system,” he said. “You won’t be entirely happy until the day this system is really reformed because, don’t forget, they have to organise a World Cup.”

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