Sport cannot ‘hide’ from human rights, Qatar conference hears


No country or body hosting global sports events can “hide” from the challenge of human rights, a conference in Qatar was told Tuesday by the expert drafted in by FIFA to advise on workers’ conditions.

Professor John Ruggie was speaking in Doha to an audience which included members of the Qatari government and the World Cup 2022 organising committee.

Qatar will, controversially, host football’s biggest tournament in six years’ time.

“No one can, or should, hide from human rights,” said Ruggie.

“Being proactive and dealing with human right challenges is, of course, better for those at risk but it is also better doubtless for sports organisations involved.”

Last week, Ruggie, a former UN advisor on human rights, published a report urging FIFA to get tougher on rights and brandish the threat of withdrawing a World Cup to prove it means business.

Ruggie was due to meet senior members of Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the body responsible for the 2022 tournament, later on Tuesday.

If sporting bodies did not act on rights, they ran the risk of irreparably harming their image, he added.

“Reputations hang in the balance as the whole world watches not just the games and participants but what it took to get there,” Ruggie told the audience at the 2016 Asia Regional Forum on Business and Human Rights, a two-day conference.

Qatar has been continually criticised for its record on human rights since being awarded the 2022 tournament.

Likewise, FIFA has also come under fire for its stance on human rights in other host states, including Russia, which will hold football’s biggest event in 2018.

Ruggie’s report was commissioned by FIFA in December to assess its human rights efforts, ahead of selecting a host for the 2026 tournament.

His report set out 25 recommendations for action, including signing up to the UN’s principles on Business and Human Rights.

The conference also heard from a long-time critic of Qatar, Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation.

She accused Qatar of treating workers like “slaves” but appeared to distance herself from claims that 4,000 workers would die at World Cup stadiums in the run-up to 2022.

She said the deaths would also occur across infrastructure projects.

“If you think the World Cup is only being held in stadiums that haven’t been built yet, that is complicity in itself,” she told reporters.

“You have to build hotels and roads, rail and infrastructure.”

The issue of labourers’ deaths has been a contentious issue for Qatar.

Last year it was claimed that 1,200 workers had already died in the country on World Cup projects, a claim denied by Qatar, which says no one has died.

Pressed on how accurate the death figures were, Burrows said: “If I get it wrong by a few hundred middle-class Indians does it negate that workers are at risk here?

“We know that workers are at risk here.”

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