Football cannot ‘turn blind eye’ to Qatar deaths - Sepp Blatter
Fifa president will meet emir of Qatar but says ‘we can’t assume the duty of supervising security on building sites in the world’
Fifa president Sepp Blatter addresses the media in Zurich. Photograph: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters
Under pressure to act over revelations that dozens of Nepalese workers have died in recent weeks alone, Blatter said he would meet the new emir of Qatar to discuss the issue. But he also reassured the Qatari organisers they would not be stripped of the 2022 event and insisted the sport’s governing body could not directly intervene to change the situation.
Unions have warned that 4,000 construction workers could die before a ball is kicked if conditions don’t improve for the labourers employed on more than £100bn worth of infrastructure projects ahead of the tournament.
In a letter to Fifa, the 2022 organising committee chief executive Hassan al-Thawadi said it considered the “findings presented by the Guardian newspaper to be of the utmost seriousness”.
“Officials at the highest levels of our government are engaged on this issue to ensure it is handled in the appropriate manner. Our prime minister has personally stated to us his firm and resolute commitment toward ensuring that genuine progress is made in the sphere of worker’s welfare.”
Blatter’s comments are likely to be criticised by pressure groups, however, after he said the issue of worker’s rights was beyond Fifa’s remit and that the trip to Qatar was a courtesy visit.
The Fifa president said: “We can’t assume the duty of supervising security on building sites in the world. What has happened now, we are not indifferent to that. We can’t turn a blind eye and say this does not concern us. That is why a trip to Qatar is planned.
“You can plainly see what Qatar has already done. We have 209 associations, in 209 associations you have different social and cultural associations. We can only do something when we see and when we hear and when we know ourselves – this has been confirmed by the Qataris themselves that something is amiss.”
Blatter said European construction companies must also take their share of the responsibility for the rights of workers on their projects. Many of them are tied to their employers and owe huge sums to the fixers who brought them to Qatar.
“The workers’ rights will be the responsibility for Qatar and the companies – many of them European companies – who work there. It is not Fifa’s primary responsibility, but we cannot turn a blind eye. Yet it is not a direct intervention from Fifa that can change things,” he said.
“The executive committee requested the president of Fifa to go to Qatar. 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.”