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Opinion 'Football fans - it's time to make some noise on human rights ahead of this World Cup'

Fiona Crowley of Amnesty International Ireland says it’s time Fifa showed it really cares about human rights ahead of the tournament.

THIS SUNDAY, THE world’s eyes will focus on Qatar, as the host nation takes on Ecuador in the first match of the Fifa World Cup.

This World Cup has been 12 years in the making, with a reported $200 billion spent on new infrastructure for the tournament.

Beneath the glamour of the spectacle, however, lie images of abuse and discrimination of those who made this World Cup possible. It is a sight that, as fans, we must not look away from.

This is a World Cup that has been built on the shoulders of hundreds of thousands of workers, the vast majority of which have suffered rampant labour abuse and exploitation.

Workers have come from all over the world, mostly from Southeast Asia and Africa, to work on the infrastructure for the World Cup.

Many then work 12-14 hour days, without rest, in extreme heat for months at a time. Over the last decade, thousands of young migrant workers have died suddenly and unexpectedly, despite passing mandatory medical tests before travelling to the country. Yet the Qatari authorities have failed to properly investigate their deaths in a way that would make it possible to determine their definitive cause.

The Qatari government has made some efforts to reform their labour system, but abuse remains common. While conditions have improved for some workers, thousands are still facing serious issues such as delayed or unpaid wages, denial of rest days, unsafe working conditions, barriers to changing jobs and limited access to justice, while the deaths of thousands of workers remain uninvestigated.

Forced labour and other forms of abuse continue, particularly in the private security sector and for domestic workers, most of whom are women. The payment of extortionate recruitment fees to secure jobs remains widespread, with sums ranging between US$1,000 and US$3,000. It takes many workers months or even years to repay the debt, which ultimately traps them in cycles of poverty and exploitation.

These are just the human rights abuses directly related to the World Cup. Elsewhere in Qatar, laws discriminate against LGBT people. People can, and do, go to jail for same-sex consensual acts.

In October, human rights organisations documented cases in which security forces arrested LGBT individuals in public places — based solely on their gender expression — and searched their phones. They also said it was mandatory for transgender women detainees to attend conversion therapy sessions as a requirement for their release.

Women also continue to face discrimination in law and practice in Qatar. Under the guardianship system, women require the permission of their male guardian to marry, study abroad on government scholarships, work in many government jobs, travel if under the age of 25 and access reproductive healthcare.

Family law also discriminates against women, who face greater difficulties seeking a divorce, and more severe economic disadvantages if they do so, compared to men. Women also continue to be inadequately protected against domestic and sexual violence.

‘What can I do?’

What do we do with this information? Do we look away? Do we simply try and put it out of our mind and ‘focus on the football,’ as Fifa President Gianni Infantino stated in his facile letter to football associations across the world?

No. To do so would be to devalue the very workers whose labour has been exploited.

We, as fans, have to engage with this tournament and demand better from Fifa and Qatar.

In May of this year, Amnesty and 24 other civil society organisations and trade unions wrote to Fifa urging them to establish a remediation programme for the abuses suffered by people.

This year, $440 million will be handed out in prize money to the teams competing. We feel it’s only fair that the same amount be put aside as compensation for the workers that have been abused building this tournament. Fifa is expected to make over $6 billion from this World Cup. It should have no problem finding the funds.

Although a fund has started to pay out significant amounts to workers who have had wages stolen, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers have still not been compensated for labour abuses faced in the past decade.

Our call for compensation has garnered an expanding and diverse list of backers including the football associations of England, Germany, France, Netherlands and the USA; World Cup sponsors Coca-Cola, Adidas, Budweiser and McDonalds; and, via a viral video last month, the Australian national team.

A global poll commissioned by us in September revealed that 84% of likely World Cup viewers also favour the proposal. The IFA, the association in Northern Ireland, has also agreed to support our calls for a migrant worker compensation scheme and investigations into deaths and to raise them with senior Fifa officials.

The FAI has told us it supports the call for the protection and support of migrant workers and their families more generally, and that significant media attention on the tournament will shine a light on these important issues. However, they have not explicitly backed our call for compensation and investigation into deaths.

Our message to fans is the same message that we have given to broadcasters, teams and associations across the world in the run-up to this World Cup. Make noise. Make as much noise as possible about Qatar’s human rights legacy. Public pressure from all sides is the only way to bring about meaningful change and improve the lives of migrant workers and others in Qatar.

The noise generated so far has already pushed Qatar into some small labour reforms, such as introducing a minimum wage in 2017. While the steps taken by Qatar and Fifa so far are not nearly adequate to ensure full workers’ rights, it shows that, through continued pressure from nations, football associations, players and, yes, fans, we can make this a World Cup with a real human rights legacy.

What can you do right now? You can sign our petition to demand Fifa and Qatar commit to a compensation fund for migrant workers. You can also write to the FAI, or your local club, and ask them to do the same. Above all else, we cannot, while the spotlight is on Qatar, let this moment pass us by without fighting for what is right.

Fiona Crowley is the interim director of human rights for Amnesty International Ireland.

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