Is Gary Lineker right?
Usually, questions like that refer to his opinion about a refereeing decision, but this week English football icon and BBC voice of football Gary Lineker has called on twitter for a FIFA enquiry into the way Qatar is holding footballer Zahir Belounis in the country against his will under the infamous kafala labour system that also affects tens of thousands of migrant construction workers, some of them building the stadiums for the 2022 World Cup.
And the answer, as so often, is that Gary Lineker is right. FIFA must hold an enquiry into the decision to hold the 2022 World Cup in a country that enslaves footballers and builders alike. A ten-day UN mission to Qatar has recommended the Qataris adopt the right to form and join trade unions, proper grievance procedures, a minimum wage and the abolishment of the kafala system. As the ITUC #rerunthevote campaign demands, unless Qatar abides by ILO labour standards – including outlawing forced labour – it must have the World Cup stripped from it.
The ITUC and FIFPro, the global body of professional footballers’ unions like the TUC-affiliated Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), have raised the issue of footballers Zahir Belounis and before him ex-Fulham player Abdeslam Ouaddou, trapped in Qatar after going there to ply their trade, unable to leave the country because their employers hold their passport and refuse to sign off their exit visas. The Qatari authorities are so powerful that when one trapped worker managed to flee the country illegally recently, claiming asylum in a European embassy in a neighbouring country, he was meekly returned to Qatar within hours!
But even worse than the plight of the footballers – and that plight is so serious that Zahir is reported to be suicidal – is the situation facing migrant construction workers, especially those from Nepal, who face not just slavery but death on the unsafe, unregulated construction sites of the Gulf state. The arrival of body bags at Nepal’s Kathmandu airport is a regular occurrence, and it is the only way home for many Nepali construction workers, held in labour camps and forced to work in punishing heat that kills even more people than the unsafe conditions at work. These workers are not allowed trade unions to demand better wages, better health and safety, better living conditions. They are slaves.
The ITUC has estimated that more building workers will die constructing the 2022 World Cup stadiums than will play in them when the competition arrives, and there are many more fatality-producing construction sites across Qatar.
FIFA’s response to pressure over the Qatar World Cup so far has been derisory, and has often been limited to (albeit justified) worries about the heat stress footballers will face if the tournament is held in the Qatari summer months. So the TUC echoes Gary Lineker’s call for a FIFA enquiry into Qatar, and wider than just the treatment of footballers. No World Cup in Qatar without workers’ rights!