Friday’s World Cup draw will see Qatar become the center of the footballing world, but the week’s build-up has been dominated by non-sporting issues.
At FIFA’s 72nd annual Congress on Thursday, Norway’s FA President Lise Klaveness delivered a stinging speech that labeled the decision to allow Qatar to host the World Cup as “unacceptable” and demanded that FIFA do more to defend its principles of human rights.
Klaveness’ comments came just a day after worldwide players’ union FIFPRO and a global trade union federation published an open letter that criticized Qatar for continued poor working conditions for migrants in the run-up to December’s tournament, even as it noted some “encouraging signs of progress.”
A former player for the Norwegian national team and the country’s first ever female football president, Klaveness said the sport’s “core interests” were disregarded when Qatar won the bid in 2010.
“Human rights, equality, democracy: the core interests of football were not in the starting 11 until many years later,” Klaveness told the delegation in Doha, Qatar’s capital.
“These basic rights were pressured onto the field as substitutes mainly by outside voices. FIFA has addressed these issues, but there is still a long way to go.”
Questions have been continuously raised concerning human rights issues in Qatar ahead of the tournament, especially over the treatment of migrant workers and the LGBTQ+ community.
The Guardian reported last year that 6,500 migrant workers had died in the country in the ten years following Qatar’s successful bid to host the tournament in 2010, most of whom were involved in low-wage, dangerous labor, often undertaken in extreme heat.
The report – “categorically” denied by tournament organizer chief executive Nasser Al Khater – did not connect all 6,500 deaths with World Cup infrastructure projects and has not been independently verified by CNN.
With homosexuality illegal and punishable by up to three years in prison, the only current, openly gay player in men’s top-flight football Josh Cavallo said in November that he would be “scared” to play in Qatar.
In response to the Australian’s fears, Al Khater told CNN that he would be “welcome,” adding that Qatar is a “tolerant” and “welcoming” country.
‘FIFA must set the tone and lead’
Klaveness addressed both issues without mentioning Qatar by name, saying that Norway had considered boycotting the World Cup but decided “dialogue and pressure” would be a better solution.
“The migrant workers injured or families of those that died in the build-up to the World Cup must be cared for,” Klaveness continued.
“There is no room for employers who do not secure the freedom and safety of World Cup workers. No room for leaders that cannot host the women’s game. No room for hosts that cannot legally guarantee the safety and respect of LGBTQ+ people coming to this theater of dreams.
“FIFA must set the tone and lead,” she added.
Qatar 2022 Secretary General Hassan Al Thawadi subsequently appeared on stage and rejected some of the Norwegian FA president’s assertions, emphasizing that his nation had “…spent 12 years of continuous work dedicated to delivering a tournament that leaves truly transformational social, human, economic and environmental legacies.”
Al Thawadi went on to express his disappointment that Klaveness “made no attempt to contact us and did not attempt to engage in dialogue before addressing Congress.
“We have always welcomed constructive criticism, constructive criticism that is based on discussion, understanding the issues … and the facts that are on the ground. We will always continue having our doors open for anybody who wants to understand the issues … and educate themselves before passing any judgment.”
FIFA President Gianni Infantino later told the delegation that Qatar had done “exemplary” work in regard to changes on human rights issues, adding that labor legislation reforms in the country had been “incredible.”
“The only way to provoke positive change is through engagement and through dialogue,” Infantino said, asserting that in Qatar, “we organize the best ever World Cup.”