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Mar 19, 2014

ITUC: Qatar fears fully confirmed

FIFA executive committee member Theo Zwanziger says the current health and safety conditions in Qatar are unacceptable.

The boss of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has told Sport Bild that the 2022 World Cup needs to be taken away from Qatar if it does not make drastic changes to its labour laws.

There has been significant opposition to the decision to award the tournament to Qatar, which has raised concerns on a number of levels.

Within the game, there is resistance to the idea of moving the World Cup to winter -- as appears inevitable if it is to go ahead -- as it will cause major disruption to domestic leagues, and there have been claims that some television broadcasters object to a change in schedule.

There have also been allegations over impropriety in the voting process, and the Daily Telegraph this week reported that the FBI is investigating whether former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner illegally received $1.2 million from a company owned by Qatari colleague Mohammed Bin Hammam shortly after the 2022 hosting decision was made.

The UK politician Damian Collins has said that, if the FBI's investigation establishes that corrupt payments were made, Qatar should “should lose the right to host the tournament.”

In addition, there has been substantial controversy over the use of migrant workers in establishing the infrastructure for the tournament. In September 2013, it was revealed that several foreign workers had lost their lives on building sites in Qatar, and the ITUC, alongside the likes of the United Nations and Amnesty International, was one of many groups to apply pressure over the matter.

In November, FIFA president Sepp Blatter acknowledged that the situation was “unacceptable” and organisers accepted the need to modernise the “kafala” employment system, which the U.N. wants abolished and came to wider attention with the Zahir Belounis case.

That month, following a meeting with Blatter, the ITUC commissioned a report into the treatment of workers in Qatar, which has now been finalised and posted to FIFA headquarters in Zurich.

Sport Bild reveals the report, which covers a 10-day inspection in the Gulf state, is entitled: “Qatar is a land without conscience.”

In an interview with the paper, ITUC boss Michael Sommer said that, unless the “kafala” system -- which is linked to the exploitation of foreign workers -- is overhauled, Qatar should be stripped of the right to host the World Cup.

“Our fears regarding the regime in Qatar have been fully confirmed,” Sommer said. “The World Cup needs to be taken away from Qatar if they stick to their ‘kafala’ system and do not verifiably adhere to the normal standards of international employment rights and submit to the inspection of the international labour organisations.”

Last month, a “workers’ charter” was announced to protect the rights of migrant employees, but Sommer said he had been given no reason to hope that conditions would improve.

“Everything Qatar has done so far is just an attempt to throw dust into the public’s eyes,” he said. “They give the impression that they make progress but, taking a closer look, as we did during our inspection trip, you realise that nothing has changed.”

In the summer of 2015, the World Men’s Handball Championship is to take place in Qatar and Sommer revealed that the ITUC is already making efforts to see that tournament reassigned because it represents “support for the regime.”

He added that the fact clubs such as Bayern Munich and Schalke hold winter camps in Qatar, “in spite of other options,” also serves as tacit approval.

Sommer believes that, despite FIFA’s insistence that conditions will improve, the governing body has ultimately had no significant influence.

“I am under the impression that FIFA does indeed play an active part, but not in terms of actual results,” Sommer said. “They shun it [the opportunity to enforce change], in part due to financial reasons and sponsorship deals. FIFA needs to accept responsibility.”

Blatter has already said that the World Cup will not be taken away from Qatar, despite the claims of an unnamed FIFA employee in Die Welt am Sonntag that it was a serious option.

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