Qatar relents and releases French footballer Zahir Belounis after outcry

Belounis has been stuck in Qatar after being refused an exit visa

Chief Football Correspondent

The French footballer Zahir Belounis who was prevented from leaving Qatar will have an emotional reunion with his wider family on Thursday evening at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport when he finally returns to the country after a bitter battle over his exit visa.

Belounis’s plight, picked up by The Independent, became an international cause that threatened to damage Qatar’s attempts to burnish their international reputation ahead of the 2022 World Cup finals. The Gulf state finally relented on Wednesday and granted the player an exit visa after decisive pressure was brought to bear by FifPro, the international footballers’ union.

Belounis, 33, had been told he could not leave the country unless he dropped a legal action begun in February against his former club El Jaish over what was then 18 months’ unpaid wages. Campaigners from the International Trade Union Congress (ITUC), who have supported Belounis, said that his legal case will continue even after he arrives back in Paris at 7pm on Thursday.

The tipping point came this week when the latest round of negotiations to secure Belounis an exit visa, under the controversial kafala system of visa sponsorship, came to nothing. It was then that FifPro opted to make public their concerns and the Qatari authorities decided that they would accede to the request that Belounis and his family could leave the country.

The French national, whose case was taken up by his country’s president, François Hollande, when he visited Qatar in June, to no avail, admitted in September that his effective captivity in the country had driven him to the brink of suicide. He benefited from high-profile interventions in the football world, including public support from Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger.

Belounis’s case was also aided by the former Morocco international Abdeslam Ouaddou, who has been highly critical of his own treatment during a spell playing in Qatar. The next challenge for Belounis will be to rebuild his life in France in the knowledge that his career as a footballer is almost certainly over.

The ITUC is campaigning for fair conditions for construction workers in Qatar, especially those involved over the next nine years in building the infrastructure for the World Cup finals. Tim Noonan, a director at the ITUC, who has worked closely with Belounis, said that Qatar had still not signed up to the international trade union standards.

He said: “We remain concerned about the hundreds of thousands of workers in construction and domestic work who are still under the kafala system – that has not changed. It has taken two years of immense pressure to get one person’s cause resolved. His legal case will continue.

“I have spoken to Zahir and he is extremely happy. As to why the system would allow this abuse to happen is beyond any reason. It reinforces the cause that reform is needed. The community in France will have to help Zahir find his feet again in a professional sense but also to overcome the psychological damage done to him.

A delegation from FifPro will travel to Qatar on Thursday to speak to the authorities there about the kafala sponsorship system and how it affects footballers.

Belounis’s brother Mahdi praised the role FifPro had played in the affair. “I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that it happens the day after FifPro said they were going to Qatar to get him,” he said.

“But we should not forget that other players are still trapped in Qatar.”

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence