Anger over Fifa president’s ‘stick to football’ letter to World Cup teams

Hosting of World Cup by Qatar has attracted worldwide protest over LGBTQ+ rights and labour issues

Amnesty International’s secretary general has made an urgent plea to Fifa before the World Cup, calling on it to commit to a compensation package for migrant workers who suffered abuses in Qatar.

Agnès Callamard urged the world football governing body to issue a “cast-iron commitment” that “abused workers will be compensated and that programmes to prevent further abuses are funded”, adding that such a package would go “a long way towards helping victims and their families rebuild their lives”.

She also fiercely criticised Fifa president Gianni Infantino’s request to World Cup teams that they should “focus on the football” rather than discussing human rights issues in Qatar. “Infantino’s letter is a crass attempt at shirking Fifa’s culpability,” said Ms Callamard.

In the letter, sent last month, Infantino had suggested critics were “handing out moral lessons to the rest of the world” and said nations should “not allow football to be dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists”.


Rather than calming criticism of Qatar, the letter angered human rights groups and football leaders, with countries including England and Wales saying they would continue campaigning on off-pitch issues. “Human rights are universal and they apply everywhere,” they said in a joint statement with eight other European football associations.

The hosting of the World Cup by Qatar has attracted protest worldwide over LGBTQ+ rights and labour issues. Ten captains of European teams have said they will wear “One love” armbands to promote diversity and inclusion during the tournament. While, last month, Australia released a video in which players criticised Qatar’s human rights record.

Last week, the Danish football association said Fifa had rejected a request to allow its players to train at the World Cup in shirts with the words “human rights for all” on them “due to technical reasons”.

Also last week, England’s largest LGBTQ+ supporters’ group criticised David Beckham for his role as a paid ambassador for the Qatar World Cup, saying it was “incredibly disappointing” that he had taken the role given that Qatari law criminalises homosexual behaviour.

“I’m just so disappointed because we — the LGBTQ+ football family — have put David Beckham on a pedestal, as a great ally,” said Di Cunningham, co-founder of the Three Lions Pride group.

The comments from Ms Callamard come six months after Amnesty and 24 other rights groups wrote to Infantino urging Fifa to establish a remediation programme for the abuses suffered by workers in Qatar.

The rights groups say hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, predominantly from south and southeast Asia and Africa, have been subjected to “rampant labour abuses” including “extortionate recruitment fees, conditions amounting to forced labour, lost and unpaid wages and long hours without days off”.

It also highlighted the cases of workers harmed in Qatar, including a Nepali citizen, Tul Bahadur Gharti, who is reported to have died in his sleep in November 2020 after working more than 10 hours in extreme heat on a construction site.

A death certificate issued by the Qatari authorities said that 34-year-old Gharti died of “natural causes”.The call for compensation has been backed by the football associations of England, Germany, France, the Netherlands and the US, and by World Cup sponsors, including Coca-Cola, Adidas, Budweiser and McDonald’s. However, Qatar has disputed reports about the scale of the labour abuses and rejected calls for a Fifa-led compensation fund, describing them as a “publicity stunt”.

‘Platitudes aside’

In an opinion editorial for international media on Friday, Ms Callamard wrote: “Amid this growing clamour, the most crucial voice of all has remained conspicuously silent: Gianni Infantino.

“Despite private and public assurances from Fifa that they are ‘considering the proposal’, Infantino, a few platitudes aside, has consistently dodged the topic. To date, he has provided no response to our joint letter.”

She added that “given the well-documented history of labour-rights abuse in Qatar”, Fifa “knew — or should have known — the obvious risks to workers when it awarded Qatar the tournament.

“A pledge from Infantino to provide compensation would provide a tangible demonstration that Fifa is truly serious about its commitment to respect human rights,” she said.

In a statement to AFP last month, Qatar’s labour minister, Ali bin Samikh Al-Marri, said the Gulf state was already handing out hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid wages and described critics as “racist”. He added that the ministry’s “door is open”, saying that “if there is a person entitled to compensation who has not received it, they should come forward and we will help them”.

In response to the statement, Amnesty International, which is part of a campaign called #PayUpFIFA, said that while money paid out already was “undoubtedly important”, Qatar must expand its existing compensation funds or establish a new one.

It is calling for Fifa to pay $440 million (€440 million) towards reparations — matching the prize money it will pay during the World Cup.

On Saturday, Fifa said it “remained in positive continuing dialogue” with labour organisations and the Qatari authorities over “initiatives that will benefit migrant workers in Qatar long after the final game of the World Cup”. It said there had been a “great response” to Infantino’s letter calling for teams to “focus on the football”, with various teams backing it.