Sepp Blatter’s claim that Fifa cannot exert any direct influence to improve dire workers’ conditions in Qatar has been dismissed as “totally inadequate” and an “insult” by human rights organisations.
Blatter announced on Friday that he will pay a “courtesy” visit to Qatar to meet the Gulf state’s new Emir and accepted that football’s governing body cannot turn a blind eye to reports that 70 Nepalese workers have died on construction sites since the start of 2012 as Qatar begins the Herculean building task required for the 2022 World Cup finals.
But the Fifa president said his body could not “change things.” Blatter also said emphatically that the finals will take place in Qatar come what may, despite growing concerns over workers’ rights combined with confusion over the practicalities of when the tournament might be staged – a date is now unlikely to be agreed until 2015 – and the fact that an investigation requested by Fifa itself into allegations of corruption surrounding the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 finals three years ago has only just begun.
“The workers’ rights will be the responsibility for Qatar and the companies – many of them European companies – who work there,” said Blatter. “It is not Fifa’s primary responsibility but we cannot turn a blind eye but it is not a direct intervention from Fifa that can change things.
“I will meet with the new Emir for a courtesy visit to confirm the World Cup 2022. We will also touch on this concern, the working conditions, but we are not the ones that can actually change it. It does concern us [but] this is not Fifa’s remit.”
It is a stance that dismayed the International Trade Union Confederation and Anti-Slavery International. The ITUC claim it first raised the issue with Fifa two years ago. It estimates 4,000 workers will die before the start of the 2022 World Cup if distinct action is not taken.
“The settlement of this global dispute is dependent on actions by Fifa and the political will of the Qatari authorities, which are still absent. Fifa’s offer is an insult to the bereaved families,” said Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the ITUC. Aidan McQuade of Anti-Slavery international tweeted: “Sepp Blatter’s leadership underwhelms again.”
The organisers of Qatar 2022 have written to Fifa outlining the action it claims they and the Qatari government are taking. Qatar 2022 have drawn up a workers’ charter that all contractors will be required to follow.
The thorny question of when the finals will be played also remains mired in confusion. There will be no decision on whether it will be a winter World Cup until probably 2015. Friday’s meeting of the Executive Committee decided on an extended period of consultation conducted by a working group co-ordinated by Jerome Valcke, Fifa’s chief executive. The committee will be “loosely overseen” by Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa, the controversial Bahraini who is president of the Asian Football Confederation.
The make-up of the working group and how it will be conducted is unclear. Richard Scudamore, chief executive of the Premier League, is likely to be part of it, while there may also be a role for Alex Horne, the Football Association’s general secretary. A move from summer will be the outcome, although the Qataris now favour a switch to April/May rather than the envisaged winter tournament. That is emerging as an increasingly credible option, even though temperatures would still be in the mid-30C. It would allow the leagues to squeeze rather than interrupt their seasons.
“We have decided we are going to carry out consultations with all the partners involved,” said Blatter as three years on from the vote and after extensive meetings little has become clearer. “We have to carry out very deep consultations. We have to display diplomacy and wisdom. [The working group] will have to set up a road map. In December they will present [the Ex-co] not a solution but a road map that will explain where we are heading with this consultation.”