Country has string of human rights abuses
30 November ~ The French-Algerian footballer Zahir Belounis was held as a virtual prisoner for 18 months in Qatar because Qatari labour laws allowed his club to prevent him from leaving the country. His ordeal poses a number of serious questions for football. Belounis's "crime" was demanding two years of unpaid wages; he has had to sell nearly everything to survive and is now said to be suffering from severe depression. He says that he is not the only footballer in Qatar in this predicament. The first question is, how FIFA could let this drag on for so long without intervening?
They are, after all, the world governing body and so you would expect them to have some teeth, while protecting players from such abuse should be so basic and obvious as to be not worth mentioning. But it seems that they do not see this as part of their duty to those who play the game they administer. Having awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar in highly controversial circumstances, they only needed to threaten to take it away from the country if Belounis, and any other players in the same situation, were not allowed to leave and it would surely have produced immediate results.
Belounis has now finally left Qatar thanks in part to the intervention of the international players' union FIFPRO. But once again one must ask what they have been doing for the last 18 months as one of their members languished in limbo. But there is a deeper question here. Do players really want to take part in their sport's blue riband event in a country where what happened to Belounis could happen to any one of them? FIFPRO should ballot their members on this. Even though most of them will probably have retired from all or international football by 2022, a negative response to the question of whether they would participate in a Qatar World Cup if it were being held now, under the present conditions, would surely knock a few Qatari heads together.
Of course more important than any of this are the appalling human rights abuses against guest workers in Qatar, including those creating the infrastructure for 2022. Maybe FIFPRO should ballot players on that too. They could ask them whether they really think that the pursuit of World Cup glory should come at the expense of trampling all over basic human rights. Their response might tell us whether we should waste our time following Qatar 2022 if it goes ahead.
Awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar was always a bizarre choice, but it is becoming more and more obvious that it is actually one of the worst possible places in the world to hold the tournament. It has the wrong climate. It has no football tradition to speak of. It is far too small. And, last but absolutely not least, its human rights record is utterly appalling.
If FIFA does not do something, it will be an accomplice in Qatar's human rights abuses. And that, from the governing body of the world's most popular sport, would make a mockery of their "Fair Play" and "Respect" campaigns. It would, in short, be unforgivable. Richard Mason